There’s just one month to go before the festivities begin in the jungle. San Juan is coming, the emblematic fiesta of the Amazon region, and this year it falls on Saturday June 24th. Let’s go!
Why San Juan?
Traditionally, on the night of June 23rd, men and women go to the rivers to purify themselves. It is said that on this special date Saint John blesses watercourses and that whoever bathes in them will have health and happiness throughout the coming year. On June 24th, meals and festivities are organized near rivers. And, of course, local people eat the traditional dish known as juanes: a recipe containing rice, eggs, olives, sacha, coriander and free range chicken, wrapped in the leaves of a plant known as bijao, which gives it its characteristic flavor. The rest of the celebration is all about partying, drinking beer, playing live music, dancing and watching the dancing girls. It is a raucous fiesta. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, this is not for you. But if you’re looking for fun, San Juan is your kind of fiesta.
On June 24th, the most traditional activity involves heading for the San Juan de Bautista [Saint John the Baptist] neighborhood, where a mass is celebrated and a procession is accompanied by a band with bass drums, snare drums and flutes. At the end of the procession, participants dance around a palm tree festooned with gifts. This so-called «unsha» event is the most festive and authentic celebration held in the city.
During San Juan it is traditional to go and relax at riverbanks and gullies around the city. One of the most popular spots is the village of Shapaja, on the banks of the Huallaga River, where there are extensive beaches. Another spot is Maceda, on the banks of the Mayo River. On this date as many as 8000 people have been known to turn up. One of the best kept secrets is the town of San Roque de Cumbaza. It has a small waterfall, beautiful pools and a tree house from where it is possible to dive into the water (at the Monzona pool). On the evening of the 24th, people gather at the main square in Tarapoto, where Miss San Juan is elected and crowned. In Moyobamba, just two hours away by minibus, local people celebrate their tourism week from June 10th to June 30th. On June 24th itself, there are festivities at the San Mateo thermal baths. On Sunday June 25th, the Juanes Festival is held at the port of Tahuishco. On the final day of celebrations, June 30th, there is a procession with allegorical floats and dance groups.
In Pucallpa on the evening of June 23rd, if you take a walk to the Main Square you’ll find the local schools organizing a dance competition, in which each group acts out the San Juan tradition. On June 24th, the festivities really get started at Lake Yarinacocha. Around the lakeshore, enormous stages are erected and competitions are held with exotic dancing girls on each stage. Try to stay until sunset, so you can enjoy a beautiful view across the lake.
This is possibly the least touristy San Juan festivity. Most visitors tend to arrive at the airport and head straight for one of the lodges on the Tambopata or Madre de Dios rivers. A good place to celebrate San Juan is the Tambopata corridor beyond the city. Here, you’ll find recreational centers like Villa Hermosa (villahermosadetambopata.com), with a swimming pool and typical food. When the river is low, sand beaches are formed at places like Botafogo. Events at the city’s main square begin at sundown when the heat has eased.