Mountains Alive with Music and Dance

Adopting the words from the famous musical “Sound of Music”, “…the hills are alive with the sound of music…” rings true for the mountain village of Cabana (and capital of Pallasca provincia) in the Ancash region of Peru. For 8-9 days the festival in honour of the Patron Santiago ensures at least 18 hours of music a day. You could just sit and enjoy the music or join in the many daily processions, each with a band, and dance your way around the village making friends and enjoying the culture and tradition that makes Cabana such a special place.

Band following in a procession through the village with the mountains as a backdrop

Situated in the mountains at c.3200m altitude, any view of the surrounding area includes ranges of mountains. Calling it breathtaking might be a bit of an understatement actually. Naturally for those coming from sea level, you might need a day to adjust to the altitude but the music and festivities make that much easier - and quicker. From the moment you arrive, you’ll be overwhelmed by how friendly people are and everybody greets and some want to chat of course; it’s impossible to walk 50m without being greeted and/or chatted with. During my visit I was also the only non-Peruvian in the village even though there were many people from abroad, they were originally and at least by descent, Peruvian.

Visitors in the Plaza de Armas of Cabana

Even though considered off the beaten track, it’s quite accessible with a 3-hour bus ride from the coastal city of Chimbote for c.$8. Slightly more expensive trips can be done by cars/colectivos. Fair warning here, have your camera ready even during the bus ride - the whole route and then the area around Cabana is like being on a 24-hour photoshoot. Then of course, once you’re in Cabana it will be impossible not to want to take photos all the time - that’s when you get a chance between chatting with the extremely friendly Cabanistas.

"Stetsoned" and Charly with even more beer

The festival commences on 17 July with the host family/families responsible for coordinating the whole event attending a dedication service in the church and a walk around the Plaza del Armas (town square) with the band. This year the hosts were the family and relatives of ex-President Toledo who hails from here. There is a slightly more “formal” (using this word loosely) ceremony of introduction with the Mayor of Cabana. The afternoon is dedicated to a huge party for all the kids, and I mean All of them. Families bring the children to come and participate in music and games with the obligatory sweet snacks and drinks. 

The first bull of the festival

The first donated bull is then paraded through the village and around the Plaza. It was during the parading of this bull I was working at getting some closer photos of it when it charged and hooked my leg and helped me on to 2m further. Luckily the horns did not penetrate my leg but I had a very decent bruise and graze to remind me of my 1st day at the festival. During the slaughter of this I was then given some of the first blood to drink - all good and ready for the rest of the fiesta! All food and drinks are freely available for the duration of the festival with everything coming from donations of bulls, sheep, vegetables & fruit which is prepared by cooking and kitchen staff who are also volunteering. Drinks like the Chicha (corn/maize beer) and beers etc. are also donated for the festivities. 

Lunch time - the first course!

Each donation/gift to the festivities is greeted by the members of the host family/families and a band where the donation is officially made and then received on behalf of the village and the festival. Followed by some dancing at that spot, there is then the procession from there, sometimes the home of the donor, which “collects” more people along the way resulting in a long, happy procession of people dancing to the music and enjoying their drinks. All the processions will at some stage go around and past the Plaza, the centre for everything during the festivities. Some of the donations are received in the Plaza on the steps of the lovely blue painted church.

As the festival progresses, more and more bands join and it’s very possible to find 5-6 bands at different locations - or you could find 3-4 at the same time in the Plaza. From about 9-10pm, there will be 2-3 bands on the Plaza alternately providing the music for dancing till 1am, the official time anyway. It did happen that a couple of guys with guitars started making music when the bands finished and continued till around 4am.

Some of the events this year included horses with young riders going around the Plaza throwing out sweets, fruit and drinks to spectators which results in some entertaining scrambles. Something similar happens on the 2nd last day (24 July) when adult benefactors ride their horses, at greater speed, around the Plaza throwing out a huge variety of snacks, fruit, drinks and other items.

Toro loco

On the 24th this continues from the balconies around the Plaza after the riders have dismounted. Midnight on the 23rd and 24th also brings massive fireworks displays on reed-towers (referred to as castillo) and accompanied by the the toro loco (mad bull), a crafted bull spewing fire (fireworks) as the holder runs around with it. As on the first night, a boat carried by 4 people is also carried around going crazy as the music picks up - duck and dive to stay out of the way and have heaps of fun.


One morning the schools will also display some of their crafts and skills their pupils have attained as part of capacity building; this display/expo is visited by the Mayor and senior officials. There will also be more (more than usual) food stalls selling a mix of local food ranging from fried chicken and fries, soup, beef and pork dishes, to ceviche (fish dish) although the latter seems to be more commonly sold late mornings/lunchtime.

A few of the 2014 sashes

The 24th is also when there is dedication again to the Apostle Santiago as the Patron Saint of Cabana and then the introduction of the host families for the following year. I was told that the festival will be massive in 2015 as there will be 5 host families so even more locations where food and drink is served and that serve as festival hubs.  The last day (25th) there are also more dedications and devotions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the last day as I had to head off north to the Ecuadorean border.

The accidental visit and subsequent stay in Cabana ranks in the top of my list of best travel experiences. I was immediately included in all activities and drawn in as if I were a Cabanista - by the middle of the week Cabana already felt like home to me. This little village has since become like my new home and I will return more than once, and not only for festivals, to enjoy the tranquility, friendliness and amazing panoramas that make this a dream location. Thanks again to all the Cabanistas and other Peruvians who contributed, knowingly or otherwise, to an amazing 9 days immersed in your culture and tradition.

(See previous post on how I got to Cabana and the amazing scenery)


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