With the end of this year and the beginning of the next comes a whole host of Colombian festivals across the country. We take a look at the big three, so get booking now!
Feria de Cali – December 25-30
In the final week of December, after the relative calm of Christmas, the capital of Cauca impatiently raises the curtain on a week of electrifying festivity. Cali is hot and humid, yet a continual breeze blows from the Pacific coast, refreshing the sticky city and infusing it with a beach party atmosphere.
Caleños wait all year to unleash themselves upon the feria, unreservedly surrendering their rhythmic hips, conditioned by years of devoted rehearsal, to the incessant blare of salsa, with every last radio, speaker, car CD player and bar sound system turned up to max volume.
As a foreigner, one may feel justifiably intimidated by the prospect of sharing the dance floor with these mythically gifted Caleños. “Won’t they just laugh at me? Won’t I make a tit out of myself?” While the answer to the latter question was a resounding yes for me, I was encouraged to get involved anyway because nobody cares if you’re good or bad at dancing. Funnily enough, as a foreigner you will stand out more if you are in fact a good dancer because the expectation is, quite simply, that your hips don’t lie (sorry).
The feria began back in the 50s. It represents Cali’s pride in being the salsa capital of the world. Indeed, if you want to pick up some tips or just revel in the dazzling spectacle of hallucinatory dance floor poise then check out the opening and closing ceremonies. Throughout the week, there are concerts and parades aplenty, with seemingly endless opportunities to practise your moves with a bottle of rum in hand.
Practical info: Definitely try to book accommodation as far in advance as possible, as most hotels and hostels fill up fast. There are numerous daily flights to Cali from Bogotá with Avianca, Vivacolombia and LAN, so be sure to shop around.
By Dan Haddow
Feria de Manizales – January 2-10, 2016
In the heart of coffee-proud Caldas, the Feria de Manizales has been kicking off each year with a flourish since 1951, with one of Colombia’s biggest and most diverse festivals.
Inspired by Seville’s Feria de Abril, it is no surprise to see that one of the festival’s main draws is the Temporada Taurina, although the prospect of several days of bullfights might not appeal to everyone.
There’s also the Reinado Internacional del Café, a drawn-out beauty pageant that involves women from numerous coffee-producing countries touring the city, competing in parades. Colombia’s capital of coffee sees its population increase by around 50% for the feria, with the city’s notoriously friendly citizens being joined by revellers from across the country and further afield.
And there really is a little something for everyone – horse parades stand alongside open-air tango shows and of course a plethora of concerts, the highlight being the arrival of Marc Anthony on January 9.
On top of all that, there’s a spectacular air balloon show and the fun and frolics that come with the Neon Run – a five kilometre colourful night time run accompanied by blazing music to keep you going. There’s plenty for extreme sports fans too from monster trucks, BMX, motocross, paragliding and more.
Practical info: With such a huge influx of people, the city’s accommodation options quickly become saturated so book well in advance. While flights to Manizales might be overbooked or expensive, it’s worth looking at flying to Pereira or even Armenia and catching a bus. Otherwise it’s about an nine-hour journey by bus from Bogotá.
By Azzam Alkadhi
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos – January 2-7, 2016
While Pasto is the butt of Colombian jokes owing to the local accent and Andean culture, the city’s annual festival wipes the floor with the rest of the country, rivalling even the Carnaval de Barranquilla as the most colourful, messy, and party-heavy of Colombia’s festivals.
The festival has its roots in indigenous celebrations honouring the moon. Although Spanish colonisers tried to suppress the festivities, the tradition refused to die and gradually began incorporating new cultural elements from Spanish, African, and nearby Amazonian traditions. It began to take on its modern incarnation in the 1800s, when the neighbouring city of Popayan declared January 5 a day of rest for African slaves. Today, the festival is celebrated from January 2-7, with the 5th and 6th serving as the party’s true climax.
Bring clothes that you don’t mind getting ruined – things get very messy with paint, flour and foam being impossible to avoid. The epicentre of the celebration is in the city’s main plaza, where concerts and parades take place.
The enormous, brilliantly colourful floats paraded through the city centre on January 6 are a must-see, and participation in the plaza’s paint/flour-throwing wars (while sharing aguardiente with everyone around you) is almost obligatory.
Practical info: Although most of the hostels and more luxurious hotel options are likely to be booked well in advance, the city has many cheap hotels, and you should find something even if you show up with nothing booked. I’d recommend flying, Pasto is a long bus ride away from Bogotá.
By Greg Haugan
The festivals don’t stop there – here’s a look ahead at what else is in store over the coming months:
Festival del Cangrejo – San Andrés, January 1-2, 2016
What better way to start the new year than with two days enjoying some of the most delicious preparations of crab meat alongside plenty of dancing and tropical music on a Caribbean island?
Summerland and Storyland go head to head – Cartagena, January 2016
A bizarre and childish squabble seems to have arisen between Cartagena’s established Summerland Festival (January 3-5) and the city’s new Storyland Festival (January 2-4). Besides the two electronic music festivals having overlapping dates, the latter’s logo looks suspiciously like Summerland’s logo from previous years, although this has now strangely been redesigned for 2016. Despite media earlier in the year reporting that Storyland was Summerland’s reincarnation, it appears they are entirely separate and are now going up against each other like a pair of pissy kids. Summerland will host the likes of Paul van Dyk, Emma Hewitt and Alex Armes, while Storyland will welcome Jamie Jones, Dubfire, Nicky Romero and Hardwell.
Cartagena Festival Internacional de Musica – Cartagena, January 8-16, 2016
This massive classical music festival celebrates a decade of bringing the genre to the Walled City. To honour the occasion, there will be a special focus on European and Latin American music and their influence on each other, taking visitors on a musical journey from Spain, past Western Africa to South America.
Carnaval de Barranquilla – Barranquilla, February 6-9, 2016
Colombia’s biggest carnival always promises to be a foam-filled, sun-soaked, hip-swinging haze of fun, as the port city gets taken over by colour, dancing, parades and parties aplenty.