The year is coming to a close. School is out and work is winding down for end-of-year festivities, but what happens once the juggernaut of all holidays, Christmas, is over and you’re still in the mood to party?
We’ve got you covered — here are some of Colombia’s most important festivals in the coming months that you’ll want to mark down on your calendar.
Courtesy Alcaldia de Pasto
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos
San Juan de Pasto, Nariño
Literally the ‘carnival of blacks and whites,’ Carnaval de Negros y Blancos is Pasto’s contribution to Colombia’s pool of UNESCO-listed Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and a celebration of ethnic equality.
The festival has its roots as a means of paying homage to the moon in native cultures but was banned by colonial authorities only to make a comeback later on.
Activities start December 28 every year, but the real action runs from January 2 to January 7. Expect a riot of color, music and dancing during the parades as massive floats vie for the top prize in the competition.
What sets this carnival apart and gives it its name is the Día de Negros (Day of Blacks) on January 5 when people paint their faces black to commemorate the end of slavery in Colombia. Don’t be surprised if someone on the street asks if he or she can paint your face!
On the next day, Día de Blancos (Day of Whites), people paint their faces white with flour or talc.
Courtesy Alcaldia de Manizales
Feria de Manizales
The Feria de Manizales, or Manizales Fair, is a heavyweight in the circuit of festivals in Colombia, alongside the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos of Pasto and the Barranquilla Carnaval, and this 60th edition promises to be as spectacular as ever.
It began after Manizaleaños, enchanted by the bullfights and festivities of the April fair in Sevilla, Spain, sent people to study that feria and implemented those customs in a major event, every January.
Which is why mainstays of the Feria de Manizales include bullfighting, cabalgata horse rides, parades and a healthy amount of dancing, and also events catering to those looking for more modern modes of entertainment, such as the Queen of Coffee pageant (which Miss Japan won in 2015) drawing contestants from South America and beyond, a tattoo fair and a concert on the last day, which will be headlined by Marc Anthony.
Officials say 1.3 million people descended on the city’s steep and winding streets in 2014 and 1.7 million this year, with 85% of hotel rooms occupied during this grand event. The feria’s official website provides useful information on getting to and around Manizales.
Courtesy Carnaval de Barranquilla
Carnaval de Barranquilla
Cumbia takes center stage at the coastal fiesta that is the Carnaval de Barranquilla, which may well be one of South America’s best-kept secrets. Counted by UNESCO as another of Colombia’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the scale of the festivities puts it right up there with Rio de Janeiro’s.
The party, which may have started as a slaves’ party during colonial
times, now begins the week before Ash Wednesday with a magnificent parade called the Battle of the Flowers on February 6. It kickstarts the rest of the parades where you’ll see dancers, floats, musicians and the population of locals and visitors looking for fun.
The carnaval is also made up of mini-festivals; namely a comedy festival, a festival of tradition and an orchestra festival. But be warned: locals take the fun up a notch by flinging a flour mixture at each other during the parades so consider your wardrobe options!
Before indulgimg in these three big cultural festivals early next year, December offers its own treats, with the Aguinaldo Boyacence celebrating 60 years in Boyacá’s capital city of Tunja.
Now for some, Tunja, is only a jumping-off point when heading to Villa de Leyva or the thermal springs of Paipa, but its end-of-the-year celebrations and traditional Christmas illuminations are a sight to behold.
Twenty music groups will take to the stage in the central Plaza de Bolívar, including bands Bomba Estero, Aterciopelados, Mexico’s Molotov, singer Andrés Cepeda and big salsa headliners, Grupo Niche.
The event kicks-off December 16 and runs until the 22.
Festival de los Genitores
Further north, in the department of Norte de Santander, the festival and parade of Los Genitores takes place December 28 and 29.
Known for its theatre presentations and the chance to be immersed in a remote colonial setting, this lesser known of many end-of-year events celebrates the founding by the Spanish of this territory.
Festival del Sombrero Vueltiao
And if you find yourself near Sincelejo, Sucre, or more specifically, the town of Sampués, then time to join in the party of the twisted or turned up hat – the sombrero vueltiao.
From December 23 to 29, the event is pure costeño folklore and a beauty pageant is held to celebrate their most famous accessory, you guessed it, the vueltiao straw hat.
Festival del Arroz
Last but never least, the Feria de Cali. While in Saldaña, Tolima, farmers host the Rice Festival from Dec. 22-26.
Across the cordillera it’s open air salsa concerts in the city’s very own Salsódromo. Round-the-clock activities, which include street parties and a very frilly costume parade, are all part of this celebration of caleño popular culture.