Colombia takes holidays seriously, and perhaps no other time of year generates as much excitement as Christmas.
Indeed, it would be impossible not to notice when the holiday season approaches. From the streets of big cities to the plazas of the tiniest towns, Colombia’s Christmas decorations are big, bold and anything but subtle, with colors and designs as vibrant as the country itself.
Unfortunately, nature dimmed the fun somewhat this year. An unusually strong El Niño pattern has caused severe droughts in parts of Colombia, straining energy production. In response, some electric utilities are cutting back on the hours that official Christmas light displays will be illuminated each night.
That’s not to say that there won’t be plenty of time to enjoy the holiday spectacle.
Millions upon millions of light bulbs will still illuminate much of the country for weeks surrounding Christmas. These light displays are some of the best of the best:
Villa de Leyva
For three days at the beginning of December, this normally sleepy colonial town in Boyacá is electric. Christmas lights and candles illuminate every nook and cranny of the city center, especially for the traditional Día de las Velitas, or Day of the Candles.
That’s when an impressive fireworks display lights up the sky as the highlight of the Festival de Luces, which runs from Dec. 5-7.
And at just a few hours’ drive from Bogotá, Villa de Leyva is an attractive and accessible holiday destination for residents of the capital.
From high above Bogotá, the city’s twinkling lights are a year-round spectacle. But each year for Christmas, the church overlooking Colombia’s capital goes all out with an impressive light display recreating the story of the Nativity.
This year should be even more special as Monserrate celebrates the reopening of its newly renovated cable car or teleférico, which carries visitors from Bogotá to the mountaintop.
And anyone who misses chilly winter weather for Christmas can enjoy a hot cider at more than 3,150 meters above sea level, where the air is always crisp.
The Festival of Candles and Lanterns of Quimbaya is one of Colombia’s better-kept Christmas secrets. While bigger cities around the country go electric for the holidays, Quimbaya’s light display, which runs from Dec. 7-8, is of a decidedly more traditional variety.
Thousands of handmade paper lanterns elaborately decorated like stained glass windows line the town’s streets and fill its church sanctuaries.
Quimbaya is in the heart of Colombia’s coffee region and just a short drive from Armenia, the capital of the Quindío department.
Colombia’s third-largest city is going bigger than ever for its 2015 Christmas display, although the show itself is as light as a feather. Dubbed “Tweets of Color,” the Christmas spectacle celebrates tropical birds.
More than 3 million light bulbs of all shapes and colors evoke peacocks, toucans and other exotic avians.
And if you’re in Cali after Christmas, stick around for the Feria de Cali, a five-day citywide festival with parades, concerts and plenty of rumba. The Feria runs from Dec. 25-30.
No other Colombian city even comes close to the annual Christmas spectacle on display along the Río Medellín. With more than 30 million light bulbs on strands of Christmas lights that stretch a combined 900 kilometers, the display is one of the world’s largest.
This year, Medellín’s Christmas light odyssey is entitled “Carnaval de Luz.” It features a circus theme complete with themed tents and carnival rides.
Whereas in years past pedestrians have been able to stroll along the river and check out the lights on foot, this year will feature a lit walkway through downtown parks instead. Lights on the river will be viewable by car only.
If the 2015 display seems subdued compared to past versions, that’s because the city is working to conserve energy in the wake of El Niño. But it’s still one of Colombia’s most impressive Christmas events.
The Antioquian capital celebrated its first alumbrado navideño in 1967, and the light display has since grown in size and popularity to become one of the planet’s most well known.
Christmas lights pop up everywhere in Colombia for the holiday season, whether in a multi-million bulb masterpiece or in apartment windows. So if you’ve got the scoop on an impressive display, let us know in the comments.