So, what is the best time of year to visit Colombia? I say anytime of any year because of its diverse terrain and festivals.
Usually most sites will tell you that the best months to visit Colombia are January to March and July to August.
What they don’t tell you, is which year!
This year 2021, along much of the Caribbean around Santa Marta / Barranquilla, it has been a wet August and with only one week left in September, the rain is only just starting to subside to mostly afternoon showers.
A trip to Minca at the end of July was wet and cold. Still we managed to get one sunny day up there, and had still managed to have an enjoyable time.
I have never had any problems visiting here in April, September or October. There are less tourists and less littering on the beaches, and the weather is overall the same.
So trying to pick the weather is not really the way to do it. Lets look at the carnavals.
So, instead of just planning your trip around the weather, try planning one around one of Colombia’s many festivals. This is a far better option, and you are truly spoilt for choice. Trust me. Here I will take a look at the big Christmas and Easter festivals.
🌴🌴🥥 Colombia is the land of the holiday. See them here.
Timing your visit for a festival, gives you a couple of options.
- Join the 🍻festivities with the Colombians and other tourists
- Visit other parts of Colombia away from the large crowds. There are lots of🚗 day trips here
Festival time in Colombia also means there will be other smaller festivals going on in nearby towns. Some of the festivals in Colombia have a tradition that stretches back over a hundred years, which makes them popular tourist attractions.
Note: For 2022, The rules as I understand them are, only the Covid vaccinated are allowed to attend the Barranquilla Carnaval. I have included notes at the beginning of each description.
- 1 Lets Start with the Barranquilla Carnaval
- 2 Going to the Carnival
- 3 Christmas and New Year in Colombia.
- 4 Covid Turned the 2020 fair in Cali into a Virtual Event, Check the Dates for 2021 & 2022
- 5 The Cali Fair. High Octane Music, Dancing, Cars and Bullfights
- 6 Pasto’s Carnaval de Negros y Blancos
- 7 Accommodation
- 8 Getting to Pasto.
- 9 Manizales Fair. Beautiful Women, Music, Coffee and Bullfighting, Arts and Crafts
- 10 What is Happening for 2022
- 11 Conclusion
This is the biggest festival of folklore in Colombia.
The event is so important that it has been declared both a National Heritage and a Masterpiece of the Oral Heritage of Humanity.
It begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.
For 2022 it will be held from February 26th. to March 1st. 😎
The Barranquilla Carnival, is the second largest carnival in the world only surpassed by the carnivals in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.
You will need tickets for the Carnaval, check here. That site has some links to accommodation.
Occupancy is typically over 90 percent in Barranquilla for hotels, hostels and furnished apartment rentals during this time.
In a Normal year there are flights bringing in visitors from the USA and Europe.
So booking early has its advantages. AirBnB is a popular option. Even if your late making a booking.
Another option is to check the group pages on the book of faces. Many locals leave town or will rent rooms, for the carnival period.
The group pages are always good for finding someone in “in the know”
Barranquilla is hot, ( at any time of year), so ask for accommodation with air-conditioning.
Going to the Carnival
Go Early: With so many people along the parade routes it can be difficult to find a good place to watch unless, you have a ticket to one the box bleacher seats with the boxes known as palcos.
Sunscreen: Barranquilla is hot, 30deg. most days and the nights are warm. Clicking the link will give you some idea. Click here.
Clothing: Wear casual clothing and leave your best clothes in the hotel.
If you go on the Sunday (the day of the Grand Parade), you can participate, but there is every chance it can get messy and you will have flour to wash off when you get back to your accommodation. Don’t wear your Sunday best.😎
Personal Safety: Expect the usual suspects to working, pick pockets and other opportunists. For events like these I still use a camera with an arm strap.
These are more bulky than a phone, and not as attractive to thieves. Money? one old trick that is still relevant, is to carry a COP $50mils note in one of your socks.
Carry your wallet in your front pocket, leave the high quality jewelry at home, and only take a photocopy of your passport. Leave the original at your accommodation.
More travel safe tips can be found here.
Christmas and New Year in Colombia.
Covid Turned the 2020 fair in Cali into a Virtual Event, Check the Dates for 2021 & 2022
There are normally festivals in Cali throughout the year. In 2020 the Cali Fair was a virtual event. The timing of other events in the Pacific area such as the Festival Petronio Álvarez (Pacific Coast’s Folklife Festival), and the World Salsa Festival had there dates revised for 2021.
Hopefully they go back to normal in 2022!
Although you can enter Colombia without a covid PCR test or covid vaccine passport. These festivals will likely have a different set of rules.
You are more likely to find the information you need on the book of faces group pages than on official websites which are slow with up to date information. I will keep this page updated.
The Cali Fair. High Octane Music, Dancing, Cars and Bullfights
Although I started with the biggest festival in Colombia, there are Carnavals throughout Colombia during the Christmas new Year period.
This one was only a virtual event in 2020. However that is not likely to be the case in 2021.
The biggest of these is in Cali, the capital of Salsa.
And it is big, around 2 million people flock to this carnival in a normal year.
There are flights coming in from the USA, Europe and other South American countries. Covid restrictions may still have some effect on numbers, but still, Colombia is open for business.
The official name for this festival is the Cali Fair or (La feria de Cali), and runs from 25th to 30th of December. It is also known as the Sugar Cane Fair.
As well as 💃💃Salsa dancers from Colombia and other countries performing in a mile long parade of Salsa dancing.
There are bullfights, beauty contests, fashion shows, car shows and concerts with 🎵🎷Salsa musicians 🥁 from around the world.
Many of these shows are free. Overall the focus is on music and dance, often with some international🎙🎼 headline muso’s featuring in the concerts.
It is an important part of Cali’s heritage, celebrating its diversity and claim to fame as the worlds Salsa capital.
As well as Salsa, there are also classic car shows, horse riding parades, international food fairs and… as I said music…
For those seeking an authentic Colombian experience with traces of Inca, Spanish and African cultures mixed together this is for you.
This traditional carnival has been recognized as a World Immaterial Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The origin of the carnival dates back to the ancient times of the agrarian Indian cultures of the Pasto and Quillacinga Indians, who held celebrations in honor of their moon goddess as a way of pleading protection for their crops.
Over the course of time, elements from Spanish festivities were added; and later, elements from African feasts, thus consolidating what is now called the Carnival of Blacks and Whites.
Over time other elements were added:- Make-up, talcum powder and music. Then the floats with gigantic sculptures built by artisans:
The Black and White Carnival. This is held from the 2nd – 7th January (officially).
There are smaller celebrations that take place from the 28th December as well. This is a day of painting Rainbow on the asphalt.
This is also the day of water (Dia del Agua), if your in town today, expect to get wet wet… and love it.
This carnival is a little off the beaten track, but it certainly well worth a visit. As well, there are numerous sights well worth a visit in the surrounding area.
There are good hotels in Pasto, as well as backpacker style dormitories. You can check with the local tourist info center here.
Getting to Pasto.
The best (and only), way for most people is to fly. You can catch direct flights from Bogota. Flights from other cities tend to be a milk run to Pasto via Bogota. Flights from Bogota leave from the Terminal Puente Aéreo. Not El-Dorado International.
Other options include private flights out of Cali or Cartagena, or a bus which will take anything from 8- 30 hours. Think about this before deciding to take one.
For the super adventurous if time is no object, you can drive. There is a stretch of road between Pasto and Mocca called the Trampoline of death. Google it.
Manizales Fair. Beautiful Women, Music, Coffee and Bullfighting, Arts and Crafts
Covid:- The 2021 fair was cancelled, things are now being organized for the 2022 fair. It looks like they have bitten the bullet, and are now going full steam getting this event happening in 2022.
They have a face book page where you can ask questions and find further information. See it Here.
Probably a better option is to visit this site, and include a day tour or hike during your visit. You can get help finding good accommodation in Manizales as well.
While everyone is at the carnival you can slip away from the crowds and enjoy much more that is on offer in this area.
This is essentially an agricultural fair to promote coffee for which the region is known world wide for, done in Colombian style. There is also a strong cultural theme to this carnival as well.
What is Happening for 2022
One of the most traditional bullfighting fairs in the world has already started selling tickets for the 2022 event starting on January 3rd.
Usually the Manizales fair gets underway on the first weekend of the New Year and continues until the following Sunday. So this year, it will start on January 2nd and go through until January 9th.
As well as Bullfights, other flagship attractions include the International Coffee Queen pageant which also normally includes contestants from other countries. A girl from Japan won it once!
The main parade takes place on January 8th featuring, beauty queens and singers on colorful floats loaded with sacks of coffee and other agricultural produce.
There are probably a hundred of other attractions, such as a Tango festival, artisan exhibitions, folklore dancing, and recitals as well as traditional horseback riding.
There is also the ballerina cart races. This is serious stuff, I am not sure how to describe it. Something like a two man bobsled with out snow. It is very competitive.
Night times are a great time for families to watch couples dancing on outdoor stages.
Manizales is located in the middle of nature among spectacular landscapes, such as the Nevado del Ruiz. If you want to see the local area, Check this out.
These are the biggest of the Christmas New Year festivals in Colombia. There are others in many smaller towns and cities which I will add to this site.
I haven’t included Bogota in this list simply because Christmas and new Year in Bogota is generally a quiet affair.
Those who have not gone to the party cities of Cali or Manizales, are spending time with family and friends, celebrating Christmas and New Years in a more traditional style.
They do have an impressive New Years fireworks display, but it is not on the same level as in say, New York, London or even Sydney.
For a tourist this city is quite dull on New Years eve, although parts of it come to life after midnight.