Colombia is a country of continuous celebration. Regardless of the time of the year, there’s always a reason to party and pay tribute to our culture. Throughout the year, our cities make room for unique and marvelous fairs and festivals which attest to Colombian authenticity. Some of such events treasure our legacy and traditions in such a way, that they have been declared Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Here are the most important:
The Manizales Fair , is without a doubt, one of the country’s biggest and most important events. In the first week of January, Manizales becomes the capital of Spain in Latin America. Inspired by the Seville Fair and considered one of the best in the Americas, Manizales Fair gathers the world’s best bullfighters. The event also pays tribute to the region’s most important product, coffee, by holding the International Coffee Beauty Pageant, where the most beautiful women from coffee producing countries go after the main title.
Blacks and Whites’ Carnival
Declared by Unesco as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Blacks and Whites’ Carnival is the largest celebration in southern Colombia. Gathering more than 1 million people, the Carnival has left Pasto’s borders to pass the joy along to neighboring towns. The festival offers a very diverse and colorful program that includes the Blacks’ Day –when people, using paint and cosmetics, coat themselves in black to celebrate their African heritage– and the Whites’ Day –when, this time, using powder and flour, the city gets dyed white. This is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular celebrations in Colombia.
Cartagena International Music Festival
Cartagena is the best stage for highbrow music. Cartagena International Music Festival, has become one of the most important classical music events in Latin America. Each year, music takes over the most beautiful stages in the city’s historic center around a specific theme that guides the tempo of more than 250 musicians attending the festival. Instrument building also plays an important part here, so free luthierie workshops are offered during the festival.
February / March
Carnival of Barranquilla
One of the most important celebrations in the country and the second largest carnival in the world, second to Rio’s. For 5 days, Barranquilla gives in to party before lent. The celebration is so big, that the city comes to a standstill and yields its streets to King Momo and his entourage of folk characters. In 2003, Barranquilla’s Carnival was declared one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.
Cartagena de Indias International Film Festival
Cartagena brings together the national and international film and entertainment industries for the International Film Festival (FICCI, by its Spanish acronym), one of the most important in the region. More than 150 films are shown for free all across the city, attracting more than 100,000 viewers. Some of the celebrities that have attended the festival in the past include Clive Owen, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Owen Wilson and Isabella Rossellini, who once said that “Cartagena is probably the most beautiful city in the world”.
April / May
Estéreo Picnic has managed to become one of Colombia’s largest music festivals. The annual event was created by two live music marketing companies focused on Colombian alternative and indie artists. With 10 editions already, Estéreo Picnic is now keeping up with the region’s largest festivals, giving Colombians the opportunity to enjoy heavyweights such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White, Kings of Leon, Nine Inch Nails, Calvin Harris and The Killers.
Holy Week in Popayán
Dating back to colonial times, Popayán’s Holy Week processions are also part of Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and it’s the only celebration of this kind to have been included in the list. During these religious marches, men called cargueros or carriers follow a 2-km or 1-mile walk through downtown Popayan with religious statues on their shoulders, while young women or sahumadoras burn incense bringing scents into the scene. These processions are so rooted in the city’s culture that a specific jargon of related terms have been developed.
The Vallenato Festival or Vallenato Legend Festival is the largest homage paid to vallenato, the Colombian quintessential music genre, which has also been included in the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. This celebration, which attracts thousands of enthusiasts, is held by the end of April, beginning of May each year, and aims at safeguarding vallenato music by rewarding those who excel at doing it with proper justice.
July / August
Rock al Parque
Created in 1994 and with more than 20 editions already, Rock al Parque (Rock at the Park) is Latin America’s largest free rock music festival. National and international rock bands gather at Simon Bolívar Park, where they perform at various stages. In 2004, its 10th edition broke all attendance records with an audience of more than 350,000. The festival has gone beyond performing only, and now features a space called Carpa Distrito Rock (Rock District Tent) which raises awareness on sustainable entrepreneurial projects related with rock music.
Fiestas del Mar
Santa Marta, Magdalena
At midyear, Santa Marta’s coastline gets packed with water and beach sports enthusiasts visiting from all around the world. Water polo, beach volleyball football and jetsurf, are some of the sports that bring Colombians and foreigners to the country’s oldest city. As any occasion is good to celebrate Colombian beauty, the event also includes the National Queen of the Seas pageant. In 2019, it hosted the first motorwatersport world championship to be held in the country.
Feria de las Flores
Each year, flowers are the perfect excuse to praise the values and culture of Paisa people. The city dives into an atmosphere of joy and celebration thanks to the several events that are held during the fair –the most important being the Parade of Silleteros. Using wooden structures called silletas, peasants from nearby Santa Helena carry and proudly display their flower creations. This tradition dates back to the early 20th century, when dwellers from Antioquia’s countryside relied on this method to transport the flowers they grew to Medellin to sell.
Festival de Música del Pacífico Petronio Álvarez
Cali, Valle del Cauca
The Pacific Petronio Álvarez Music Festival is considered the largest festival dedicated to African culture and heritage in Latin America. Each August, more than 50,000 attend the Petronio Alvarez arena in Cali to celebrate the music, customs and food of the communities of African descent that dominate the Colombian Pacific coast. It’s a colorful and joyful party that delights locals and foreigners alike.
Wind and Kite Festival
Villa de Leyva, Boyaca
During the second holiday weekend in August and for three days, the skies of one of the most beautiful towns in Colombia gets crammed with colorful flying structures. Kite devotees, eager to compete in different categories, including home-made kites, night flight or vertical flight, arrive to charming Villa de Leyva –already famous among astronomers for being a flawless location for stargazing–. The best part of the event is the display of gigantic three-dimensional kites –sometimes spanning 20 ft.– which definitely attest to the skills of those who dare to fly them.
September / October
Mompox Jazz Festival
Six hours from Cartagena, outlined by the Magdalena river, you’ll find one of Colombia’s most wonderful towns, Santa Cruz de Mompox. Its historic center, which oozes magical realism on every corner, was named a World Heritage Site thanks for its colonial architecture. This is the perfect setting to listen to the best national and international jazz musicians, who, between September and October, delight the city and its visitors with the best possible playlist.
Encuentro Mundial de Coleo
Colombian and Venezuelan plains, or llanos, offer a one-of-a-kind spectacle that displays the tenacity of llaneros: coleo –rodeo’s South American twin– which requires the cowboy to separate a bull or calf from the herd while horse-riding at high speed to finally make it stumble. Coleo started to shift from a regular country-side chore to become a staple of llanero culture and an excuse to gather people and celebrate. One of coleo’s major sponsors was Julio Santos Quiroga, who created this convention to bring together the region’s best cowboys in Villavicencio, right in the center of Colombian plains.
You’ve probably been thinking that having another genre-specific music festival would be impossible. But, there’s more. Jamming Festival is our very own reggae-themed music festival. With 51,077 sq mi of Caribbean coastline, we couldn’t miss reggae. This One-Love-only event gathers the best reggae, ska, dancehall and hip-hop artists there are in one place. Damian Marley, Cypress Hill, Method Man, Molotov, and Café Tacvba have been some of the most recent headliners.
Cali, Valle del Cauca
If there’s anything Cali people know how to do properly, is celebrating. Therefore, right after Christmas Eve and up to December 30th, the city enters full-on salsa mode, gathering more than 2 million people in what is considered the planet’s largest salsa event. The fair begins with the Carnival’s Awakening, a colossal assembling of more than 1,000 musicians and dancers, and continues at the Salsódromo, which brings together salsa companies from all over the world and paves the way for countless events all across the city.