By Emily Culver

If you are looking for a trip that is truly off the beaten path in Peru, I highly recommend attending the Fiestas Patronales in Chaviña, Ayacucho which take place the 20th-24th of July each year and are full of dancing, traditional parades, bull-fights, orchestras and the friendliest people you will meet in Peru.

Ayacucho is where the uniqueness, mystery and danger of Peru most shows, where the contrasts of Peru are impossible to ignore. Here people from the coast, from the cities of Peru are as much strangers as I am. The livelihoods of people are based off the land, their language is Quechua, their customs handed down for generations.

I was traveling to Chaviña in a way that augmented these contrasts. I was with extended family that had once descended from Chaviña, but long ago left to live in Lima where they lived in the best neighborhoods, had the best professions. They all love Chaviña but their clear separation from those who stayed behind shone through in their attitudes, actions, speech and dress.

The first thing that struck me on this trip was the landscape. As our combi rattled over potholes, barely cleared the narrow turns and at one point traversed off road to avoid a broken truck, I noticed the shocking landscape. Immense, the land is largely the color of yellow straw with patches of gray-green that are clearly farmland.

But most striking is the parts at first unseen. The constant hills keep every corner a surprise. As you turn, even when on foot, you will suddenly come upon an expansive blue-greeny, almost turquoise lagoon, which was kept a secret by the rolling hills hugging its side.

To arrive from Lima, take a bus to Puqio which is the largest town close to Chaviña. It is approximately 10 hours. The buses leave around 7 to 9 am from Lima and the different companies are Wari, Sanchez, Lopez, Aga, Santa Clara. From Puqio there are many combis or autos that take you straight to Chaviña.

The fiestas are mind-blowingly incredible and fun, full of partying and traditions. Four live bands perform on the four corners of the old plaza (Spanish-built with the classic cathedral and gazebo) until the sun comes up.

Everyone dances in a giant circle, hands held, around and around until dawn. We drink calentitos, a mixture of hot tea, a dash of sweet fruit and generous rum, which we pass around the circle in giant bottles. These are crucial to warm up the body as the town is blazing hot in the day, freezing cold at night in the typical fashion of the Peruvian Sierras.

Accomodations are tricky but not impossible. There is actually one hostel within the town of Chaviña itself, located at the main plaza across from the church. Inquire for rooms during the festival (the bullfighters, and orchestra members all stay here). Another perfectly acceptable option would be to stay in nearby Coracora, which is a larger town equipped with more restaurants, many basic hostels and internet and is a short 30 minute bus ride from Chaviña.

The best option, would be to arrange a home-stay as the majority of houses in Chaviña are actually owned by people who live in Lima and travel only for this week and would be more than happy to open their hearts and homes.

Alternatively you can arrange to visit the Ayacucho region in a Peru travel package. For more details and information contact a specialist in package tours to South America.