Tarijeños are known throughout Bolivia for their love of music, dance and a good party. Though not as strongly influenced by pre-Christian beliefs as the festivals elsewhere in the Bolivian Andes, fiestas in Tarija are still deeply rooted in the agricultural cycle, as well as the calendar of Catholic saints’ days. The distinctive Chapaco folk music features strongly at all the fiestas, played on unusual woodwind instruments like the erque and quenilla. This music is accompanied by poetic and often comic folk songs known as coplas – usually sung as duets. The best known of the region’s folkloric dances is the chuncho, in which dancers wear brightly coloured robes, feathered headdresses and masks in ritual portrayal of the Chiriguano tribes of the Chaco.
Tarija’s Carnaval celebrations in February or March are among the most colourful in Bolivia. On the Thursday before Carnaval, the Dia de Comadres is marked by an exchange of cakes and gifts, and a parade of all the women in the city. Carnaval itself is celebrated with a mass parade of folkloric dances and campesinos in elaborate traditional costumes, and several days of water-fighting, dancing, singing, drinking and eating. The fiesta ends with the ritual burial of the devil. The end of Carnaval coincides with the Fiesta de la Uva (Grape Festival) in La Concepción, 35km south of Tarija, where grape-growers show off their wares amid further celebrations.
On August 15 Tarijeños celebrate the fiesta of the Virgen de la Asunción with a mass pilgrimage to the village of Chaguaya, 70km south of the city. Tarija’s patron saint is San Roque, whose fiesta is celebrated on the first weekend of September with a religious procession accompanied by troupes of chuncho dancers.