The New Year starts with a bang in Colombia, and three of Colombia’s most popular and fun festivals all happen during this month. The Feria de Cali, Feria de Manizales, and the Black and White Festival in Pasto all take place in January, and any one of them is a great festival to visit for brilliant music, street parties and parades. For those of a more literary persuasion, the Hay Festival in Cartagena also takes place in January.
There’s really only one festival worth speaking of in February 2018 – the Barranquilla Carnival, the second-largest carnival celebration in the world, and Colombia’s most important and iconic festival. The slogan of the festival is “those who live, enjoy it” and there’s perhaps no truer slogan in the world!
With the arrival of March comes Holy Week, and some of the most important religious festivals in Colombia. Holy Week celebrations happen in every city, but the most famous and unique take place in the city of Popayan and the small, Caribbean town of Mompox. If you’re looking for a less intensely religious Easter festival then check out the Donkey Festival in San Antero, where there’s a parade of donkeys in costume, and a King and Queen donkey are even crowned! March is also the month of the Iberoamerican Theatre Festival in Bogota.
April’s best festival is a music event dedicated to perhaps the most popular traditional genre in Colombia: vallenato. The Vallenato Legend Festival takes place this month in the coastal city of Valledupar: popular musicians and local accordionists battle it out to be crowned ‘King of Vallenato’ for the year, and the entire city turns into one great big live concert as musicians ply their trade on every square and street corner.
Bogota hosts its annual Book Fair every May in the Corferias Exhibition Center, so if you find yourself in the Colombian capital it’s well worth popping along to discover the best new authors in the country. However, one of the most fun and unique festivals in the country takes place in the small village of Luruaco near Barranquilla in May: the Festival of the Egg Arepa! This event is entirely dedicated to a traditional dish of fried maize dough and eggs and there are contests to see who can make the best one.
June sees several excellent traditional festivals take place in the Andean region: the National Bambuco Festival in the city of Neiva celebrates one of Colombia’s most traditional musical genres, while the unique and surreal Yipao Festival is held in Calarca, a small city in the Coffee Region. At this festival, traditional Jeep Willys take part in daredevil acrobatic displays in the street and parade around stacked high with traditional ornaments of the Coffee Region.
The Colombian capital hosts Opera in the Park in July, and Medellin holds its annual Poetry Festival too. If you’re looking for more traditional Colombian festivals this month, then look no further than the Cumbia Festival in El Banco, a small town on the banks of the Magdalena River. This festival celebrates one of Colombia’s most important musical genres, and features live music, colorful parades and even a beauty pageant, all in a satisfyingly off-the-beaten-track setting.
There are two important festivals worth making time for in August. The biggest of them is the Flower Festival in Medellin: the city comes alive during August with huge parades of flower growers and vast flower arrangements in important public spaces throughout the city. Villa de Leyva also holds its Kite Festival in August, when thousands of locals and tourists descend upon the little town to fly their kites, display them, and even battle them!
September’s most worthwhile festival is also one of the most undiscovered and undervisited in the country: the San Pacho Festival in Quibdo, the isolated capital of the Pacific department of the Choco. The main festival takes place towards the end of the month, but locals celebrate San Pacho for two full weeks of partying, dancing, drinking and dressing up, making San Pacho perhaps the best party festival in the country.
October is the month of Bogota’s Cinema Festival, when you can get tickets to see some of the most exciting new films from not only Colombia but around the world. In terms of music festivals, there are two excellent traditional music festivals taking place in the coastal Caribbean region in October: the National Gaita Festival (a traditional music played on Indigenous flutes) in Ovejas, and the Drum Festival in San Basilio de Palenque.
November is something of a fallow month for festivals: with the Christmas and New Year period approaching, it’s as if the country takes a 30-day breather in anticipation! However, if you’re really itching for a November festival then this is the month to head to the Caribbean island of San Andres for the annual Reinado Internacional de Coco when the Miss Coconut Beauty Queen is crowned. Cartagena also hosts its own Beauty Pageant in November if you don’t feel like taking a flight.
With the Christmas period comes a wealth of Colombian festivals to close out the year. The best of the lot is the Festival of Lights in Villa de Leyva, as well as the similar Candles and Lanterns Festival in Quimbaya. The excellent Feria de Cali (which runs into January) also begins in December.