The San Juan Bautista Festival is one of the year’s largest and most important events for the Peruvian jungle provinces. The festival honors the patron saint of the region, John the Baptist. It takes place at the same time as Cusco’s Inti Raymi Festival, on June 24th, although celebrations and events begin as early as ten days prior to the main day, and generally continue for a few days after as well.
Although the feast day of John the Baptist was imposed by the Spanish during the period of the Conquest, over the many years since the celebration began to take on a unique regional flavor. Each of the larger towns or cities in the Amazonian region, such as Iquitos (the bustling gateway for Amazon tours and the region’s main city), the urban center of Tarapoto, Pucallpa, and the miner’s outpost of Tingo María elect and crown their own festival queen, hold contests higlighting local folkloric dance and dress, open air concerts with traditional instruments such as bombos, drums and flutes, and sell the ever-popular Juanes which characterize the festival.
On the morning of the 24th, locals head out to stake out a spot by the riverside, as the ample rivers which carve through the Amazon are considered representative of the saint. Some shops and businesses will close only in the afternoon, but the majority will close all day long. As the cities and towns become deserted, the the riverbanks explode with festive activity, with families enjoying traditional food as well as beer or homemade wine under makeshift bamboo shelters and refresh themselves with dips in the river. A dip in one of the rivers on this day is known as the blessed bath, baño bendito, as it is believed that on this date San Juan blesses the waters and that those who bathe in them will have happiness and health in the coming year. Overall, it’s a happy and social time, so you might find yourself invited to share a drink or some food with newly-met friends.
The most traditional food for the festival (and year round) are Juanes, rice that is stuffed with chicken, egg and olives and steamed while wrapped in bijao leaves, which impart a distinct flavor. They are known as Juanes because the round shape of the parcel is said to represent the head of John the Baptist as it was requested on a platter by the daughter of Herod.
When it comes to dances, if you’re in the area hopefully you’ll be able to watch the most traditional of the folkloric dances, the Pandilla, which is danced around decorated palms laden with gifts along the top known as an Unsha, or perhaps wooden poles or fires. As the sun sets, it’s time to say farewell to the riverside and return to the towns, where you can dance to more modern beats through the night at parties and clubs. The following morning of the 25th is a sleepy one thanks in part to the collective hangover, but in the night street parades illuminated by paper lanterns bring life back to the main streets of the city.
Travel by boat along legendary Amazon River past floating houses and cayman alligators, walk along jungle with its outsized vines and trees in search anaconda, monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds, fish for the infamously voracious piranha, swim with the famous pink Amazon river dolphins, visit indigenous tribal communities to learn about life in the Amazon, and more- Pirwa Travel offers a variety of exciting tours designed to introduce you to both the natural and cultural wonders of the Amazon.