The Best of the Peruvian Amazon: Festival of San Juan
It goes without saying that the Peruvian Amazon is known for its vast rainforest, incredibly diverse ecosystems, and amazing wildlife experiences. Along with this, it also boasts a rich history with numerous indigenous communities that inhabit the region. A trip to Peru isn’t complete without an immersive cultural adventure capped off by delectable food and local festivities. For those looking to discover this magnificent destination beyond its natural attractions, June is the perfect month to visit.
Every June, communities of the Peruvian jungle come together to celebrate the country’s biggest festival – Fiesta de San Juan (Festival of San Juan). Celebrated through music, dance, food, and traditional rituals, it’s a unique and unforgettable time that shouldn’t be missed.
The Origin of Fiesta de San Juan
For those unfamiliar, San Juan, or Saint John the Baptist, is a biblical character who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Fast forward a few thousand years and a group of missionaries – who embarked on a journey to spread the word of the God – named Saint John the patron saint of the Amazon.
Fiesta de San Juan was introduced in Peru by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. The festival took on its own unique form in the country as its celebrations were influenced by existing Peruvian traditions.
Prior to this, Peruvians used to celebrate Inti Raymi – the Festival of the Sun – on the summer solstice every June. Over time, these celebrations were combined with those of Fiesta de San Juan which takes place on June 24 every year, the birthdate of Saint John. Those who visit Peru during this time will get to witness traditions unlike any other in the world.
Customs and Practices
On the night of June 23, Peruvian locals take part in a custom called the “blessed bath” where they go to the river to purify themselves. Those in Loreto head to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve and fulfill this custom in waters inhabited by the legendary pink river dolphins. It’s believed that on this date, Saint John blesses the waters and bathing in them brings happiness and health for the year.
This is in stark contrast to how Fiesta de San Juan is celebrated in Spain and an example of how Peruvian traditions have made their mark on the festivities.
In Spain, the night before the festival is reserved for bonfires and a beach party. This in accordance with beliefs that the fire helps ward off evil spirits and protect the celebrants of the festival. Some even take part in the practice of fire-jumping to “burn” all of their problems away and make way for good luck.
Things to Do While Visiting
People from different regions of Peru head to the district of San Juan for celebrations. After mass, people dance, enjoy a parade of bands with drums and flutes, indulge in gastronomic food, and take part in contests such as juane-making competitions. The San Juan Festival is so widely celebrated that it even has its own tourist week. This special tourist week is also why many visitors choose to head to Iquitos, Loreto. There, you can authentically explore the best the festival has to offer.
Provinces like Madre de Dios, Ucayali, Tingo Maria, and San Martin also see lively festivities that visitors can take part in. While the essence and main practices of the festival remains the same in each province, there are different focuses and specialties in each place you may visit.
In Puerto Maldonado, it’s all about food with contests of typical dishes such as the juane and a gastronomic fair. In Huanuco you can enjoy traditional coffee at the Cafetea y Chocolatea Tingalés event before watching the coronation of the year’s Senorita San Juan.
For those looking for more entertainment, Ucayali offers the opportunity to watch – or even take part in – contests like banana peeling, break dancing, and sport fishing. The art and food lovers can also head to San Martin for handicraft fairs and the Juane and Mishquina Gastronomic Festival.
Our guests on Aqua Nera and Aria Amazon have the perfect opportunity to attend the Festival of San Juan as our itineraries traverse the heart of the Amazon, with journeys starting and/or ending in Iquitos. Those sailing with us in June can plan for a stay in Iquitos to indulge in the festivities along with a luxurious voyage on our world-class river boats. If this June is too soon, plan ahead for next year and enjoy our early bird rates when booking.