“Colombia es muy relajado!” proclaimed my friend this past Monday – on Día de la Raza – just one of the 18 national holidays in Colombia. He was drinking beer, grilling corn and enjoying the view of the valley from his finca in El Carmen, near KM26, on the road towards Buenaventura. He is right. In Colombia, there seems to always an opportunity to relax. Aside from having more holidays than you care to remember, Colombia also has a great amount of festivals, making sure there’s always a reason to celebrate.
Celebration is great part of the Colombian culture and probably one of the main reasons the country ranks among the happiest places on earth. Every village seems to have a feria, festival or Carnaval. Across the country there must be thousands of different celebrations taking place. The list below includes some of the best annual events that are worth a special journey.
Rock Al Parque is a three day festival that takes place in August every year in Bogotá’s Parque Simon Bolivar. This year’s event was the 21st edition and attracted 29 different bands from all over the world in categories such as rock, metal, reggae, electronic and fusion. Big names include Café Tacvba, POD and SUM 41.
Over the course of the year a bunch of a sister-events take place in the same park: Jazz al Parque in September, Hip Hip al Parque in late October, Salsa al Parque in late May and Colombia al Parque in June.
Estereo Picnic is another three day festival in Bogotá, that dates back to 2010. The event takes place in March every year and this year’s line up featured some very big names like Snoop Dogg, Noel Gallagher and The Flaming Lips.
Feria de Cali is what I believe the number one salsa event in the world and has been going on for more than 58 years. It starts every year on Christmas Day, December 25th, and continue through to the 30th. The entire city turns into one big celebration and the autopista is closed for hour-long salsa parades and rolling concerts. At night, the party atmosphere spreads to the rest of the city and you’ll have little trouble entertaining yourself until sunrise.
Petronio Álvarez in Cali was one the best events that I’ve attended all year. And the best part – it’s free! This is a six day festival that takes place in August every year, celebrating Pacific Afro culture in Colombia. It combines marimba concerts with delicious food and home-made liquor from the jungle. Also, this place has the highest concentration of beautiful black people that I’ve ever witnessed in my life. Robert Mugabe black or Beyoncé canela… the choice is yours. As they say, once you go black, you can never go back!
Carnaval de Barranquilla is a century old fiesta that takes place over the course of four days in February every year. Supposedly, this Carnaval is the second-largest celebration in South America, only surpassed by the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The streets fill with colorful parades, dancers and singers. At night, public concerts continue until the early hours.
Carnaval de Riosucio also known as Carnaval del Diablo – the devil’s Carnaval – has nothing to do with the anti-christ or worshipping the devil. It is known to be a very colorful event, that pays tribute to the local cultural roots of the department, while mocking the people of Riosucio in humorous way. It takes place every two years around January 6. Next one will be in 2017.
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos is a five day celebration in Pasto that takes place from the 2-7 of January every year. It is considered the biggest and most important celebration in southern Colombia, and dates back to 1546. In 2009 the Carnaval was named “Immaterial Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. It’s mixes aspects of the Andes, Amazonian and Pacific culture and is said to be quite a spectacle.
Carnaval del Fuego is the real Pacific experience in Tumaco on the coast, taking place in the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Music, parades, dancing and beauty contests mixed with the drink-till-you-drop attitude of the local population, sounds like an winning cocktail.
Feria de Las Flores is the big annual event in Medellín, and celebrates Paisa traditions, including the attire, food and music. Flowers are one of Colombia’s biggest exports and the event has a fair share of flower parades. It all started back in 1957 as a way to attract national and international tourists to the city. Today, the feria is considered one of the major cultural events in the entire country. Early August is the time to go.
Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata in Valledupar usually begins around the last weekend of April. If Carlos Vives is your biggest hero, and the accordion your favorite instrument, then you’ll be in heaven here.
Feria de Manizales runs from January 3-10 every year and includes dances, parades, cabalgata, concerts and a international coffee makers competition.
Las Fiestas Cuyabras in Armenia is a thirteen day celebration beginning on October 1 every year. Really, it’s more like a bunch of small festivals taking place within the same two-week period. With a 125-year long tradition for this event there should be plenty to keep you occupied. One of the highlights is El Desfile de Yipao, a tribute to the trustworthy old Jeep Willys that for generations has been a loyal servant to many of the local farmers. Proud owners showcase their funky driving skills in these well-restored classics.
Local villages Caicedonia and Calarcá also have their own Desfiles de Yipao. It makes for a great excuse to visit an otherwise sleepy little village.
Feria Bonita is a five day spectacle in Bucaramanga with more than 70 different events. This event has a 65-year history of celebrating the culture and traditions of the Santander department. Never been, but I’d love to go!
Tomatina en Sutamarchán is a copy of the famous tomato-throwing festival in Spain. It takes place over the course of three days June, and on top of splashing your friends in tomatoes, the event also includes music, dancing and fireworks.
Fiestas de San Pacho in Quibdó (Chocó), is another UNESCO heritage event taking place in late September / early October every year. The fiestas are a mix of dances, music, theatrical shows and competitions celebrating Francis of Assisi and the Afro-Chocóan culture.
If you’re the eccentric type, check out Colombia Festiva, where details about Feria de La Miel, Feria del Chontaduro, Feria del Burro etc. are available. Colombia.com is another place get a overview of many of the events.
Riddle of the day: A couple of years ago I saw an old picture hanging on the wall in a small café in Filandia. It showed a street full coffee farmers, bringing their harvest to the pueblo on horseback. I’ve forgotten the name of the village, but it was in Caldas, Risaralda or Quindío, and the event supposedly only takes place every four years. Can anybody help?
What are your favorite Colombian festivals? Please share in the comments below.