Colombia never ceases to amaze – this long unexplored enchanting country is the home to an array of wonderful places, welcoming locals, and an unrivalled Carnival schedule. Here we take you around the country, offering you a rundown of the country’s biggest and most spectacular summer festivities. Grab you costume, get in the party mood, and join the fun.
Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Black and White Carnival)
Parade of the Black and White Carvanal in Pasto, southern Colombia / Source
In Colombia’s south, the most anticipated event on the cultural calendar is undoubtedly the Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Black and White Carnival). Born from native Andean and Hispanic traditions, this great celebration in San Juan de Pasto runs from 2nd – 7th January every year and it became recognised by UNESCO as an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2009.
The party itself is utter madness – an explosion of colour and sound. Its initial opening is on 7th December, the traditional Noite das Velas (Night of the Candles), whereupon several pre-Carnival activities light up the city. The main Carnival begins on 2nd January with the Desfile das Colônias (Parade of Colonies), an event that features the residents of Pasto and the surrounding areas parading through the streets in a show of their traditions, legends, myths, and music.
The following day is the Día del Carnavalito (Children’s Carnival). Having originated as a game of children imitating their elders by recreating the costumes and fantasies from Blancos Day, this part of the festival now has a very strong identity of its own and it has grown into a much loved part of the Carnival. Thereafter, the partying and drinking continues into the final days of the festival which are the most significant: Día de los Negros (Day of the Blacks) and Día de los Blancos (Day of the Whites), on the 5th and 6th of January respectively.
The first celebration commemorates the date when African slaves were free to wander the city and exert their flamboyant nature, with revelers doning black cosmetics, painting themselves in black, and wearing elaborate masks. On the next day, people of all ethnicities cover themselves in white talcum as a symbol of equality and integration, and together everybody dances and gyrates to the sounds of traditional Colombian music. A must visit festival for anybody traveling through Colombia.
Carnaval de Cali Viejo (Old Cali Carnival)
Joining Carnaval de Cali Viejo is a great way to better understand the charm of the city / Source
Santiago de Cali – or simply Cali as it is known – displays spectacular carnival parades year after year. Elaborate floats, salsa dancers, children in costume, and beautiful queens together make these celebrations a truly unique event of colour and music.
This event always begins on 28th December with a parade that revives classic characters, highlights symbols of Cali, and honours other regions and cultures that have left their mark on the city. Joining Carnaval de Cali Viejo is a great way to better understand the grandeur and charm of the city. Our tip: the event starts at 2pm, but be sure to arrive early and grab a good spot to get close to the action.
Carnaval del Perdón y la Reconciliación (Carnival of Forgiveness and Reconciliation)
Carnaval del Perdón y Reconciliación was declared a Cultural Patrimony of the Nation / Source
On 11th and 12th February, Carnaval del Perdón y la Reconciliación in Valle del Sibundoy (Putumayo) swings into action. Declared a National Cultural Heritage in 2012, the carnival is a sacred event, where the indigenous groups Inga and Kamentsá celebrate the end of the year, and harmony between mankind and agriculture. Both tribes have their own individual parties, but during Carnival they together embrace forgiveness and reconciliation with their loved ones through ‘Clestrinye,’ meaning feast, dance, and joy.
On 11th February, the Kamentsá host a beautiful show wearing their traditional clothing in the presence of Matachín, a masked man who invites all to celebrate with him. The Ingas take centre stage on the following day as everyone makes their way to the church and the main square in costume to dance and sing. Throughout the festival, varying groups from different backgrounds and regions perform for spectators. You can purchase various souvenirs such as native wind instruments, beads, fabrics, masks, necklaces, and other artisanal items. This event is a fusion of the sacred and the profane; a must-do for any local culture enthusiasts.
Carnaval de Riosucio Caldas ou del Diablo (Riosucio Carnival of the Devil)
Carnaval de Riosucio Caldas attracts tourists from around the world / Source
Like many of the others, Carnaval de Riosucio Caldas ou del Diablo is an Intangible Heritage of Colombia and it most certainly lives up to its title, attracting tourists and party animals from around the world.
In the past, Riosucio was comprised of two rival communities (Nuestra Señora de la Montaña and Quiebralom Mining Real) located on either side of the city. Tired of incessant competition, the priests (José Ramón Bueno and Jose Bonifacio Bonafont) told the people that they must make peace, and if they did not fulfill this order, the devil would punish them personally. In celebration of this union, these joyous and jubilant festivities were created, and in 1915, the devil figure was adopted as the image of the festival and it remains central to the celebrations today.
The main events include: Alegre despertar del Carnaval (Joyful Awakening of Carnival), an opening procession that signals the start of the carnival; Gran Entrada de Colonias (Grand Entry of the Colonies); Grandioso Desfile de Cuadrillas de Mayores (Great Parade of Old Crews), and the festivities come to a close with Entierro del Calabazo, Quema de su Majestad el Diablo, Fin de la Fiesta (Calabazo Burial, Burning Her Majesty the Devil, the End of the Celebration), where a paper-mâché devil purpose built for the carnival is burnt, signifying the official end of the festival.
Carnaval de Barranquilla (Barranquilla Carnival)
Carnaval de Barranquilla is a colourful affair / Source
Barranquilla Carnival – simply the most important folkloric and cultural festival in Colombia. Each year, more than one million people including tourists from around the world descend upon Barranquilla for this wondrous occasion. The event has Spanish origins and it has today retained the spirit of renewal and change that was prevalent in the European celebration of the time. In Barranquilla, the festival began as a holiday for African slaves during the colonial era, and they would mark the occasion by taking to the streets with their handmade instruments and decorative costumes, and perform dances and songs from their homelands.
This carnival displays an array of cultural and folkloric elements from the Colombian Caribbean coast, alongside traditional music and local dance. Over the years, Barranquilla Carnival has become renowned for its elaborate floats, ostentatious costumes, and fancy masks, the most popular of which are the bull, the tiger, and the bear. At once satirical and contemporary – always referencing current events – the costumes are an emblem of the collective joy and jubilation.
From 15th January through 9th February, Barranquilla will be a party city in carnival mode, with a range of events and activities. Highlights include the Lectura del Bando (Reading) on 16th January, Fiestas de Comparsas ( Festival of Carnival Troupes) on 23rd January, and Fiesta de Danzas y Cumbias (Festival of Dances and Cumbia) on 24th January. The major celebrations start on 6th February with the Batalla de Flores (Battle of Flowers) and the streets will be packed for four days of vibrant, extravagant, and seemingly endless partying.
mAre you going to a Colombia Carnival? We can enrich your South American experiences.
By Thalles Santos | Translated by Simon Hall