Festival and light displays from the Andes to the Caribbean.
December in Colombia is a magical time and an opportunity to leave the capital and check out some of the most incredible light displays across the country.
Villa de Leyva, Boyacá
One of the most beloved Christmas light destinations in Colombia, only about 150 kilometers away from Bogotá, is Villa de Leyva, a town known for its particularly festive light displays. In addition to keeping its celebratory lights on for the full month of December, the town hosts a much-loved weekend event, el Festival de Luces, or the Festival of Lights. This year, the celebration will take place from December 6 to 8, with December 7, el día de las velitas, the day of the candles, falling smack in the middle of the three-day festival.
Otherwise known as The Festival of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, día de las velitas, can trace its history to December 7, 1854, when Pope Pius IX declared that the Virgin Mary was conceived outside of original sin. Colombians marked this occasion by lighting candles and the tradition stuck. In Villa de Leyva, December 7 is a precursor to Christmas, with a calendar of events that includes choral shows, painting exhibitions, and a special annual fireworks show. You can expect to see the best home-made fireworks in the country, with a stunning display and fierce competition based on luminosity, height and shape.
In Quimbaya, a small town just northwest of Armenia in the heart of the Quindío department, el día de las velitas takes on its own, unique form. Locals refer to the tradition as la fiesta de velas y faroles, or the festival of candles and lanterns because they take the festivities to another level with lanterns in addition to candles. Regional artisans work to painstakingly create individual, ornate lanterns that illuminate each town block through the night of December 7.
It takes more than 100 lanterns to light up each town block, making for over 40,000 lanterns in total. The regional tradition is so special, that in 2009 it was deemed of “intangible cultural heritage” to the department of Quindío in 2009 by the national Ministry of Culture.
Alumbrados Navideños, Medellín’s official annual Christmas light displays, is back in 2019 with an extra surprise. While the major display will be in el Parque Norte amusement park, there will be an additional display in Parques del Río, where the river itself will be lit with changing coloured-lights. As in years past, the Parque Norte display will be accompanied by a market selling food, drink, Christmas-themed items, and local crafts.
In addition to the two main attractions, every park in Medellin’s 16 comunas will be decorated with light. This is a feat that takes all year to plan and that had the participation of 220 city residents. Many Paisas will also participate in the tradition of hopping on a festive chiva and touring the city’s best light displays. The lights will glow from November 29 through January 6.
Rather than being concentrated in any one central point in the city, Barranquilla’s Christmas light display is spread out throughout the city in 19 significant points of interest, including the central Plaza de la Paz and Plaza de San Nicolás.
Cali, Valle del Cauca
Cali’s larger-than-life annual celebration, la feria de Cali, takes over the city from Christmas Day to December 30, when Colombia’s salsa capital celebrates its signature dance. Naturally, the city is also decorated with a festive light display to accompany the world-class salsa and local traditions of the feria. The main light display is concentrated along the Bulevard del Río, where thousands of caleños gather before the start of the feria, when they head to the Salsódromo for the main rumba.
The capital turns up the power at Christmas as well. The lights are already on and you’ll find big displays up north around the Zona T, Calle 85, Parque El Virrey, Parque de la 93, Parque El Tunal, Parque de los Novios and around the Biblioteca Virgilio Barco again. As part of la ruta del navidad several other Christmas activities will take place during December, including the ciclovía nocturna on December 12.