Here are 5 unique Colombian festivals most tourists never see. Not because they are unpopular, they are. It is just they don’t get the publicity the bigger carnaval’s do.
Colombians know about them, and they are popular with Colombians because most fall during a holiday period.
So lets take a look at the Devil Carnival in Riosucio.
This is a new year event held during the first week of January. The difference with this one is it is a bi-annual event that takes place in odd numbered years. Always around January 6.
This is the most important popular festival in the Department of Caldas and is considered one of the most authentic among the indigenous people of Colombia.
Its roots go back in La Montaña to the Pre-Columbian Era with the indigenous cults of Father Sun and Mother Earth, and in Quiebralomo to the Era of the Colony with the Feast of the Holy Three Wise Men, brought by the Spanish, and in which African slaves remembered the dances of their secret cults.
The Spaniards living in Quiebralomo, after counting on the income their rich mines produced, established this festival as a diversion from the hostilities over territory and mining rights.
It was because of the hostility between the inhabitants of the two settlements, that the priests of the parish districts of Quiebralomo and La Montaña got together with the idea to form one parish district,
In 1819, the existing churches in the two towns were demolished. Then new ones erected on two plazas, a block apart.
Initially as a demarcation point between the two churches, a large devil was placed between the two churches, to scare each group into behaving and stop visiting the people on the other side.
It was officially recognized in 1846.
Originally the party was called “Matachines” and there were devil costumes.
In 1915 the Carnavil of the Devil emerged, embodied in an effigy that seeks to stir the conscience of the partygoers, inclining them to harmony on pain of taking them to hell , a new tradition began in 1847. The first regular carnival took place in 1912, and the Devil was adopted as the official “Mascot” of the Carnival in 1915.
It has managed to maintained much of its ethnic makeup and traditions, with its fusion of African, indigenous, Spanish myth and customs,
Carnival of the Devil
There are two types of programming:
The traditional ceremonial and recreational, and the additional, with shows, orchestras, and a massive diversity of events that exalt regional and national folklore and culture.
This is one of the more famous cultural spectacles in a country whose calendar is overflowing with carnivals.
The festivities begin when the devil takes his throne. Parades, fireworks, bullfights, crafts shows, and other amusements are ongoing, along with contemporary art and music performances by groups known as cuadrilas.
Ok lets be honest…
It is really 6 days of drinking, dancing and partying until you can’t party anymore.
The bullfights are different here too. There are no Matadors, and the bulls don’t die or suffer serious injury.
Dutch Courage. I think you need to drink something for this effect to kick in.
There is a makeshift arena set up on the outskirts of town where the revelers come down drinking booze, usually rum, or some other fermented high octane beverage (aguardiente).
The bulls are released into the ring one at a time, with anyone silly enough (drunk enough), or brave enough to jump in the ring with them.
This is a little like the running of the bulls in Spain, with the locals gathering along the perimeter shouting critiques at the runners heroism, as they climb the wall of the ring to avoid a goring, and throwing empty beers cans at the bulls.
Spectators and participants alike may dress in colorful devil costumes and masks, which are often painstakingly handcrafted.
The costumed revelers represent the main demon’s court of lesser devils.
At the close of the Carnival, the devil makes a coherent speech promising to return in two years, bringing his little demons back with him.
Getting to Riosucio.
This is relativity easy. From Medellin it is about 5 hrs. by road.
A shorter trip is from Manizales.
This can be a problem, as there is not a lot in Riocusico, and the majority of those who visit are Colombians.
But, if you are visiting Manizales for their carnival, where you have more options for accommodation, then why not schedule a day or so to visit the Carnival of the Devil. ?
If your not sick of all the partying, there is more for you to do around here. Check out the link in the sidebar.
Santa Cruz de Mompox claims that that the culture of carnivals began there. They say, “the Barranquilla carnival would not be what it is today without Mompox”.
And there is a lot of truth in this.
Mompox is credited with being the first place in Colonial Colombia to have a festival, way back in 1564.
Mompox’s fall from grace began once its importance as a safe port declined over the centuries.
These days many of the groups who perform at the Mompox festival, are part of the Barranquilla carnival.
They have also represented Colombia at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival held in Washington DC, United States of America.
What’s Special about Holy Week in Mompox.
Mompox has the only processions in Colombia with musical marches.
UNESCO declared the Mompox festival as a Historical and Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
There are other events in Mompox throughout the year, but lets talk about the one in Holy week.
They are full of pious acts and religious rites passed down from the time of Spanish colonization.
Some indigenous elements have been added over the years, but this celebration has 4 centuries of history behind it, and still retains much of its original format.
Its origins began with a contest arranged by wealthy city merchants as to who presented the best carved step.
The story goes like this.
The Franciscans won the first prize and as in almost all contests, there was disagreement, because the Augustinians said that the best step was theirs and in protest of the decision. They arrived at the stroke of midnight at the church of San Francisco and there, with stones, sticks, kicks and other solid objects they hit the doors of the temple, making them open, stealing the passage, which was taken at full speed to the corner of the Choperena alley with the Calle Real del Medio, where the church of San Agustín is located.
The Franciscans and their faithful, upon learning of the event, arrived at the site to retrieve it
The situation was very tense, when suddenly the Dominicans appeared, who entered to mediate in the conflict, to appease the spirits after long discussions, the three sides agreed to take the step in procession, at a slow pace, through the Callejón de los Cobos , then along the Calle de Atrás, to the temple of Santo Domingo, where the Franciscans and the Augustinians were reconciled, celebrating a mass of thanksgiving.
These parades normally begin in the early evening. Still, there is a lot to keep you occupied throughout the day and late into the wee hours of the night.
Getting to Mompox.
Really it is quite easy, You have options from Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla.
There is so much to discover in Mompox, so if your in these parts why not drop in and visit. Check the sidebar of this page for a link.
The San Antero Donkey Festival
You have to love this. Imagine you are in Colombia for a couple of weeks visiting various parades around the Easter period, and this one comes across your radar.
Donkeys wearing the best costumes being crowned as King and Queen of the festival.
This festival began in the early part of the 20th century, with one donkey carrying an effigy of Judas Iscariot.
The donkey was walked down to the end of the main street, where the effigy of Judas was hauled off the donkey and thrown into a huge bonfire!
These days it is a completely different affair. No one is worried about Judas any more. They just dress up Donkeys (and there are plenty of them in Colombia), and the donkeys selected as King and Queen of the festival get a week off work.
This is a 5 day festival, as well as the festival you are in an area with some very nice Caribbean beaches.
As with any Colombian festival there is lots of music, drinking and partying.
Getting to San Antero
From Cartagena it is about 3 hours. If you come down from Barranquilla it is about 4.5 hrs. and about the same if you come across from Mompox.
Accommodation should be booked well in advance
The Easter Celebration Popayán.
I don’t like using the word best, particularly in reference to travel and festivals. I think it is arbitrary. What one likes another may not.
But the Easter Celebration in Popayan is truly one of the most unique festivals in Colombia.
Like Mompox it began in the last half of the 1500’s and essentially (although it has increased in size), follows the same steps (performances) as it did when it began, with episodes recounted in the Gospels on the Passion, Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ.
Over the centuries, this week long series of processions has had a checkered history.
From Peruvian rebels planning an uprising during the procession. Periods of immense wealth (due to the mining activity in the area), where precious stones, gold and silver ornaments, altarpieces, carvings , jewels, crowns, ornaments and precious stones were donated to the churches in the area.
This wealth also helped in the construction of new churches. Popayan is known as the ‘Jerusalem of the Americas’.
There have also periods of civil war, economic crisis and weather that have affected the processions operation.
And since 2020 Covid. But each time it has come back bigger and stronger.
Now it is the second largest Easter procession in the world, and also includes religious images from many other countries on wooden platforms carried by ‘cargueros‘
It begins on Palm Sunday and continues until Easter Sunday.
While you are in Popayan take advantage of this time to visit the museums in the city. Only two days of this week are public holidays, and although many smaller business will be closed, museums are open during much of this week.
Some to visit include :-
- Archdiocesan Museum of Religious Art
- House-Museum Mosquera
- National Museum Guillermo Valencia
- Natural History Museum and the House-Museum Negret and Modern Art Ibero-American Museum.
In 2009 it was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
In 2020 Semana Santa was cancelled due to covid restrictions, and this year (2021), there were no large processions and churches were limited to around 35% capacity.
With Colombia now open for tourists booking accommodation now for 2022 makes good sense. This is one event well worth attending, even if you are not religious.
Getting to Popayan.
Popayan is a city of about 250,000. It is not far from Ecuador and is accessible by domestic airlines from major airports in Colombia. Buses are also an option and some tour operators offer their services as well. See link in the side bar.
Lets Go Kite Flying. The Villa de Leyva Kite Festival
Villa de leyva is a pretty town, not very big, but during August the winds in this area lend themselves to flying kites.
All types of kites, Inflatable kites, 3D kites, miniature kites, big kites, Stunt kites… and well any type of kite you care to think of.
There are day time competitions, night time competitions, distance competitions, vertical competitions, Adult competitions, children’s competitions and free workshops for children.
It is only about a two or three hour bus ride from Bogota. This festival goes for three days. It is quite popular with local and international participants. So, if you wanted to stay a night in Villa de leyva, book early.
‘Til next time,
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