ColombiaOne.comCultureExploring the Biggest Carnivals in Colombia

Exploring the Biggest Carnivals in Colombia


Colombia Carnivals
The Barranquilla Carnival is a once-in-a-lifetime journey into the heart and soul of Colombia. Credit: Alex22 Ortega/CC BY-SA 4.0

Colombia, celebrated for its multiculturalism, showcases a myriad of carnivals, each representing the unique identity of its region. These events serve as a reflection of the nation’s diverse ethnicities, ancestral heritage, and a profound connection with rhythm in various festive expressions.

Throughout the year, Colombia hosts hundreds of carnivals and celebrations. Tailored to specific regions, these events aim to highlight local potential, products, music, dances, and traditions.

Basis of Colombian carnivals

Colombian carnivals span diverse themes, including religious, historical, cultural, musical, agricultural, and expressions of gratitude to the land. The motivation behind each festival can vary significantly based on its location and cultural context.

“The Carnival of Barranquilla, associated with the beginning of Lent and the religious period, is not the same as the Carnival of Blacks and Whites in Pasto… which is a celebration of fertility. Or the Carnival of Riosucio, which is inspired by literature. The motives triggering the festival are very varied,” explains Jaimes, a master choreographer, and researcher of Colombian popular tradition.

How are carnivals celebrated?

Activities during each carnival differ according to their theme and origin. However, common elements include parades featuring dance troupes, theatrical performances, artistically crafted floats, and displays of music and gastronomy.

The key, according to researchers, is the involvement of a group of people who come together to produce floats, pictorial displays, dance troupes, or literary collectives.

Colombia Carnivals
Black and White Carnival in Pasto. Credit: Tapiz de Retazos/CC BY 2.0

Colombia’s grand carnivals

Here are three of the most significant Colombian carnivals, which invite you to immerse yourself in the rhythm and revelry of these 100% Colombian events that promise an unforgettable experience.

Barranquilla Carnival

Barranquilla, located on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, transforms into a festival hub every year. In 2024, from February 10 to 13, this city becomes the stage for one of the world’s most significant carnivals, declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. For four days, the streets of Colombia’s Golden Gate (as Barranquilla is known) witness culturally rich expressions like La Guacherna or the Battle of Flowers.

The carnival is an epitome of joy in Colombia; attendees can expect to dance to cumbia until dawn, fully immersing themselves in the experience; as the popular saying goes: “those who live it are the ones who enjoy it.”

Blacks and Whites Carnival

Extending the rhythm from the north to the south, the Blacks and Whites Carnival takes place in the city of Pasto, offering one of the most significant expressions of Colombia’s cultural and ethnic diversity. Recognized by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2002, this carnival is a perfect start to the year, being celebrated from January 2nd to 7th annually.

Visitors can witness enormous and colorful papier mâché floats, reaching up to 8 meters in height, crafted by talented artisans. The carnival includes a Day of Blacks, paying homage to African slaves, and a Day of Whites, where the city is filled with talcum powder and flour for playful festivities enjoyed by all.

Flower Festival of Medellin

The Flower Festival is the most emblematic celebration in the city of Medellin. It is one of the world’s largest horticultural events, with its main highlight being the Silleteros Parade, where farmers from the Santa Elena region present over 80 varieties of flowers, creating portraits, messages, and landscapes that reflect the Antioquian culture. This year, the Flower Festival will take place from July 26 to August 5, 2024, though the dates are yet to be confirmed.

The 10-day festivities, rooted in Colombia’s cultural heritage, originated in the early 20th century during colonial times when “silleteras” were used to transport people through the region’s mountains. Simultaneously, these structures were used by farmers from Antioquian towns to sell their flowers in Medellin.

Cali Fair

Known as the salsa capital, Cali hosts a fair that has become a favorite among salsa music enthusiasts. During the last week of the year (December 25th to 30th), the “Branch of Heaven,” as Cali is affectionately known, comes alive with music and color. The Salsódromo, the inaugural event, features over a thousand professional dancers from the city’s top salsa schools, parading to the rhythm of salsa with vibrant costumes and captivating choreography.

The Cali Fair includes events such as the Meeting of Salsómanos, Melomaniacs, and collectors, where salsa enthusiasts gather to buy, exchange, and admire musical treasures. The fair’s Super Concert, featuring national and international stars, sets the stage for a lively celebration in Cali.

Bambuco Festival & National Reign of Bambuco

Lastly, in Neiva, the capital of the Huila department, the Festival del Bambuco in San Juan and San Pedro is celebrated from June 14 to June 30, 2024. The event showcases the main musical and dance traditions of the Opita culture. Comparsas, gastronomy, San Pedrinas rounds, and cultural encounters are the most representative elements of this festival, which also crowns the National Queen of Bambuco.

The Bambuco Festival honors Saint John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciple, Saint Peter, commemorations that are public holidays in the country. The festival progresses amid musical encounters featuring rhythms like “pasillo,” “rajaleña,” and, of course, “bambuco.”

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