25 Best Colombia Festivals to Learn, Dance, and Meet Locals

Since 2015, I have been exploring Colombia for the best experiences. Here is a list of the 25 best festivals in Colombia. I listed them monthly so that you won’t miss them when you are in the country.

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Best festivals in Colombia: January

1# Carnaval de blancos y negros, Pasto

This is one of the first and most important festivals of the year. It’s also one of the oldest street celebrations in Colombia. Don’t miss enjoying this huge party, for it’s been declared World Heritage by Unesco for its vibrant colors, the number of people involved, and the messages it conveys.

The black and white carnival occurs in Pasto (south) streets, the capital of the Nariño department. During the 6 days it lasts, you will see famous-character-inspired parades, listen to music, see dances, and get tons of water splashes and flour that everyone throws at each other, like in no other festival.

The last two days are the most important. All the participants, whatever their ethnicity, wear black makeup on the first day and white powder on the second to symbolize equality and unite all citizens in a joint celebration of ethnic and cultural differences.

  • Where: San Juan de Pasto, Nariño
  • When: First week of January. Typically, between 2 and 7
  • Number of days: 6
  • Type: Cultural
  • More informationhttps://carnavaldepasto.org/

2# Carnaval de Riosucio – Carnaval del Diablo

Carnaval-de-Riosucio
Credit: Carnaval de Riosucio

This Colombia festival, one of the oldest festivals, has taken place every odd year in the town of Riosucio, Caldas department (Coffee region), since 1911. It commemorates the return of peace to the city after years of war between the foe municipalities of Quiebralomo and La Montaña.

For five non-stop days — and for free — you will be immersed in shawms, dances, crews, costumes, and plenty of chicha drinking (an ancient fermented drink made of corn).

The devil in the Riosucio carnival is the figure around which the festival revolves. Rather than being a Satanic ritual or the devil depicted by the Catholic Church, it represents concepts associated with life, joy, friendship, satire, and ridicule.

The devil’s reign is the excuse to break everyday life and create music, poetry, and dance. Las Cuadrillas is one of the main events. It consists of groups of people wearing costumes that go to different houses while dancing, singing, and drinking “guarapo,” a refreshing fermented drink made of pineapple skin and brown sugar.

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3# Feria de Manizales

Feria de Manizales
Credit: FeriadeManialesOficial

This annual festival is a beautiful, inclusive, and democratic celebration in which most of its events are free of charge.

This festival, which began in 1955, was inspired by the Spanish fair of Seville, and for this reason, you can still see a mini bullfighting season.

A traditional event of the carnival is the international coffee contest in which women representing most of the departments of Colombia and countries of the world participate.

But the events that attract the most attention among locals and tourists are the fireworks that are launched in the middle of the week at the City Stadium; and the parade of Yipaos – jeeps loaded with bundles of coffee and other items typical of the countryside culture, which make stunts while parading down Santander Avenue. An event that you will surely enjoy!

Best festivals in Colombia: February

4# Hay Festival, Cartagena

Hay festival
Credit: Hay Festival

This international festival is one of Latin America’s most important cultural events.

This festival is for art lovers: renowned plastic artists, musicians, and intellectuals are always present. The topics during the event are related to literature, movies, visual arts, environment, music, politics, and journalism.

Some events are held in theaters, outdoors, and on the streets (free).

The Hay Festival showcases some of the best Latin American and world literature. You can visit exhibits and participate in workshops, conferences, and plays.

Best festivals in Colombia: March

5# Carnaval de Barranquilla

Carnaval-de-Barranquilla

The Barranquilla carnival is the second largest street carnival in the world, only second to the Rio de Janeiro Carnival.

This is a mix of cultures, exhibits, parades, costumes, partying, drinking, and getting to know the culture of the Colombians from the Caribbean coast.

The carnival has been named Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. It’s more than a century old and originates from pagan rituals in Spain, always with a spirit of renewal and change.

Events such as Batalla de Flores (Flowers Battle) are one of the most colorful and important events of the Barranquilla carnival, and for sure, it will be an unforgettable experience for you. This is a grand parade with hundreds of dancers wearing attractive costumes. You can see this in the streets, free of charge.

If you plan to go, I recommend booking hotels months in advance.

6# Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena

Credit: Festival Internacional de Cine de Cartagena

This is the oldest film festival in South America. This great festival gathers 58 guests and 58 juries. It started in 1960 to disseminate cultural, communications, and technical services in the cinematographic field and the audiovisual arts.

Thus far, the festival has screened over 5,000 movie pictures from Colombia, Spain, and Latin America. This is a means of launching new directors, actors, and producers.

During the festivals, you will have the chance to watch movies in outdoor spaces free of charge.

7# Festival Nacional de Música Colombiana, Ibague

This major cultural event, held in Colombia’s music capital, Ibague, Tolima, gathers more than 700 artists from all over the national territory.

If you go to Ibague during those days of March, you’ll experience live music in every corner of the city. This festival, full of contests, concerts, and live presentations, has been held for 36 years.

Types of music during the festival range from the rich rhythms of the Andes mountains, which use guitars, and “tiples” (12-string guitars), to percussion.

There are concerts and presentations during the festival, many free of charge.

8# Semana Santa in Popayán

Semana Santa en Popayán
Credit: Alcaldía de Popayán

Colombia is still mainly a Catholic country. These religious traditions are very much alive in Popayan, Cauca (southwest). One of the examples is Holy Week, a celebration since 1566.

Its processions were declared Cultural and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009, and they gather thousands of people, not only those with Catholic beliefs.

You will see many volunteers in this important event carrying figures that represent the passion of Christ on a litter. And you can visit the city’s many colonial churches and cathedrals, which is like going back 500 years in time.

Apart from the processions, you will hear choirs and religious music in the churches, where you don’t have to pay to enter. There is a religious music festival, too.

Five processions are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, the Holy Cross, the Holy Burial, and the Resurrection from Tuesday to Saturday before Easter. These Catholic belief events take place between 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.

Best festivals in Colombia: April

9# Estereo Picnic, Bogota

The Estereo Picnic Festival is a Colombian version of America’s Lollapalooza. This is a series of live concerts with national and international bands.

Even though the entrance is not free, the prices are very affordable. Access to the whole three days of the festival, to see tens of music bands play, is about 30 USD.

The new venue for the show is located about one hour north of Bogota, near the towns of Briceño and Sopo.

Over the years, some of the bands that have played are Guns N’ Roses, The Strokes, Martin Garrix, The XX, The Weeknd, Wiz Khalifa, Arctic Monkeys, Sam Smith, Depeche Mode, Kendrick Lamar, Twenty One Pilots, Interpol, Gorillaz, The Killers, and Lana del Rey.

The atmosphere is very relaxed, and you can enjoy being in the open while listening to your favorite bands.

10# Festival de la Leyenda Vallenata, Valledupar

Credit: Bob Tomlinson

This vallenato legend festival is the most important for vallenato music—Colombian rhythm played with accordion, drums, “guacharaca” and sometimes a guitar. Singers used the original vallenato lyrics to depict real-life stories, poetry, and myths. Later, it became a more romantic type.

Since the first festival, in 1968, it has been held in Valledupar, department of Cesar, a very green and hot Colombian city in the north of the country.

If you visit during the vallenato festival, you can enjoy live concerts in the main square or see the “parrandas vallenatas,” a sort of private parties in residences where musicians play day and night, and where you get to drink a lot of room-temperature Scotch whisky, which has also turned into a tradition.

The festival also includes a formal contest to elect the king of vallenato. You will be amazed at the accordion players’ dexterity and the singers’ magnificent voices.

  • Where: Valledupar, Cesar
  • When: End of April
  • Number of days: 5 days
  • Type: Musical – Cultural

More informationhttps://festivalvallenato.com

Best festivals in Colombia: May

11# Expoartesano, Medellín

Expoartesano Medellín
Credit: Expoartesano

This handicraft fair gathers artisans from all over the country at the Plaza Mayor Convention and Exhibition Center in Medellin. The event is sponsored by Artesanías de Colombia, a government entity. It’s considered one of the most important legacies of Colombian traditions.

For 10 days, more than 450 exhibitors showcase their work: hats, handbags, kitchen utensils, baskets, garments, and other articles are some of the things you can see and buy.

Additionally to the sale of handicrafts, the organizers offer workshops, classes, and conferences on different cultures that are part of the Colombian heritage.

As a visitor, you can experience body painting, indigenous-people-inspired fashion, hairdos, knitting, and other forms of cultural expression.

  • Where: Medellin, Plaza Mayor
  • When: Second and third week of May
  • Number of days: 10 days
  • Type: Musical – Cultural
  • More informationhttps://www.expoartesano.com.co

12# Baum Festival, Bogota

Baum Festival, Bogotá
Credit: Baum Festival

This is by far the most relevant electronic music festival in the country. It gathers more than 40,000 attendees in Corferias, a special venue in the heart of Bogota.

The festival started in 2015 and has since been held every year. There you can see international representatives of this genre such as Boris Brejcha, Miss Kittin, Dj Hell, Ellen Allien, Dubfire, Anja Schneider, Claptone, Juan Atkins, The Blessed Madonna, and Loco Dice.

Like any music festival, the Baum offers five stages at the same time, being the most important one the Heineken Stage. The festival lasts two days of heart-beating sensations. It usually takes place on a given Friday and Saturday in May.

Best festivals in Colombia: June

13# Festival Folclórico y Reinado Nacional del Bambuco, Neiva

Reinado Nacional del Bambuco Neiva
Credit: Corposanpredro

The religious holiday of Saint Peter in Colombia, at the end of June, turns into a real carnival in the city of Neiva, where the music festival and the beauty pageant take place.

The event hosts colorful parades, shows, musical expressions, dance groups, and music bands on every corner and bar, so you shouldn’t miss the chance to enjoy the festival and the warm weather of this beautiful green city.

As a visitor, you’ll learn more about Colombian folk through the dances to the rhythms of fandanguillo, sanjuanero, bambuco, and other oral traditions.

The contest crowns the beauty queen of Bambuco, who does not only have to look magnificent but also must show her dance skills.

During the festivities, don’t hesitate to try the typical Huila cuisine, with “asado huilense” (a kind of pork barbecue served on banana tree leaves) watered down with “chicha” and “guarapo,” two typical Colombian fermented beverages.

  • Where: Neiva, Huila
  • When: Mid-June to the beginning of July
  • Number of days: About 13 days
  • Type: Musical – Cultural

More informationhttps://corposanpedro.org/

14# Torneo Internacional del Joropo, Villavicencio

Joropo is the rhythm and dance typical of the eastern Colombian plains (the Llanos). This music is danced in couples, consisting of stumping your feet in a gracious, brisk fashion, which imitates horses galloping.

To honor this music and preserve its heritage, the International Joropo Tournament is held in Villavicencio, the capital of the Meta department.

The festival convenes more than 5,000 dedicated and skillful dancers in a place known as Joropódromo.

Joropo is played with three primary instruments: harp, cuatro (a small, four-string guitar), and “capachos” (oblong maracas). Male and female voices are especially high-pitched compared to other Colombian music singers.

The festival also features “coleo.” This is a “llanero” version of the rodeos in the U.S., in which a cowboy riding a horse along an alley tries to tumble a young cow by grabbing it from its tail: the sooner he can accomplish that, the more points he gets.

Best festivals in Colombia: July

15# Festival Rock al Parque, Bogota

Credit: Rock al Parque

The biggest park in Bogota turns into an outdoor concert hall to host one of the largest free-entry music events in the country and South America throughout the year. It’s the third largest of its kind in the world and gathers more than 300,000 people.

This initiative dedicated to rock music is complemented by other, smaller music festivals such as Jazz, Salsa, and Hip-Hop al Parque—at different times of the year.

This music festival was the pioneer popular music festival in the city and has been on since 1994. It features new and famous, national and international, music bands. You should be at the venue early to grab a good spot.

Some of the artists that have palyed at the event are: Black Label Society (USA), Cactopus (Colombia), Aterciopelados (Colombia), Toreros Muertos (Spain), Asian Dub Foundation (UK) Haggard (Germany), Ina Ich (France) and Mexicans Ely Guerra, Café Tacuba, and Molotov.

  • Where: Bogota, Parque Simon Bolivar
  • When: Usually mid-year, except for 2022: Nov. 26 and 27, and Dec. 3 and 4
  • Number of days: 3-4 days
  • Type: Musical
  • More informationhttps://rockalparque.gov.co

Best festivals in Colombia: August

16# Feria de las Flores (Medellin Flower Fair)

Feria de las Flores Medellín

The Flower festival is one of the most traditional events in Antioquia and the most relevant of the year in Medellin.

Being in the middle of this festival is like entering a fabulous fairytale, where the main attraction is the parade of silleteros.

For this parade, the ideal is to rent a box in advance. Although you can also watch it from the street for free — but there are always too many people.

The silletero parade consists of wooden structures covered with flowers that the farmers carry on their backs. It symbolizes the times when the farmers of Santa Elena used to go down the mountain to Medellín to sell flowers, charcoal, and other merchandise in the city.

The event also features one of Colombia’s most beautiful antique car parades, many concerts, and several interesting workshops, many of which are free.

  • Where: Medellin. Some events are held in the nearby town of Santa Elena.
  • When: The flower festival starts in the first week of August
  • Number of days: 10 days
  • Type: Cultural
  • More informationhttps://www.feriadelasfloresmedellin.gov.co

17# Festival de Música del Pacífico Petronio Álvarez, Cali

Festival Petronio Alvarez - Cali
Credit: Petronioco

This music festival (1997) quickly became one of the main events in the southwest part of the country and the Pacific coast, to which the whole event is dedicated.

Its primary purpose is to acknowledge the legacy of composers and music groups of Colombian folklore among music lovers and visitors. The contest features different categories, such as best unpublished song, best singer, and best interpretation with marimba, chirimía (shawm), clarinet, and violins.

The Petronio festival is also an excuse for you to try the best dishes and beverages in the region.

  • Where: Cali, Valle del Cauca. The venue is the Unidad Deportiva Alberto Galindo
  • When: Usually, during a national holiday in mid-A or early August
  • Number of days: 5-6 days
  • Type: Musical
  • More informationhttps://petronio.cali.gov.co

18# Festival del Viento y las Cometas, Villa de Leyva

Villa de Leyva

This kite contest is the most important in the country. It’s held in Villa de Leyva’s main square, a lovely colonial town in the department of Boyaca, three hours north of Bogota.

This colorful, exciting festival has been on since 1975. And the reason why it’s in August is that this is the windiest month of the year.

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The competition features different categories for both professional and amateur contestants. Prizes are given depending on ingenuity, creativity, and skill. There are winners of the best-handcrafted kite, giant kite, trains, acrobatic trains, synchronized flight of kites, night lights, and others.

You can also enjoy this beautiful colonial town where refreshing chocolate beer is very popular.

  • Where: Villa de Leyva, Plaza Mayor (main square)
  • When: Mid-August
  • Number of days: 2-3 days
  • Type: Artistic
  • More informationColombia Travel

 Best festivals in Colombia: September

19# Festival mundial de la Salsa, Cali

Although salsa music and dance are not original to Colombia, Cali has been left as probably the last place in the world where you can hear and enjoy salsa music in its purest form, like the World Salsa Festival.

During this incredible festival, you shouldn’t miss seeing these experts move their bodies and feet at light speed. This and the Cali Fair are events where salsa is king.

Cali’s salsa schools participate in the Salsa World Festival, apart from academies from other regions, which account for about 5,000 salsa dancers.

If you’re a salsa lover, you may attend workshops and conferences related to the topic. You can register at any of the salsa schools any time of the year if you wish to learn and practice salsa dance. For these reasons, Cali is known as the “Salsa capital of the world,” where the best salsa dancers gather.

20# Fiestas de San Pacho, Quibdo

Between Sept. 19 and Oct. 5 every year, the streets of Quibdo, the capital of the Choco Department (on Colombia’s Pacific Coast), dress up to celebrate the festivities of San Pacho. Pacho is short for Francisco, and the celebration honors Saint Francis of Assisi, the city’s patron saint.

During this unique festival, the boardwalk gets full of religious processions and the lowering of flags, while colorful rafts navigate and adorn the mighty Atrato River.

This religious event is 373 years old (it started in 1648) and was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2012.

For the festival, people wear costumes in the streets and adorned carriages with colorful designs and religious figures for the grand parade.

This incredible festival is full of music and dance, where you will see “currulao” dancers, who do movements inherited from enslaved Africans.

Best festivals in Colombia: October

21# Festival de Tambores en Palenque

This music festival takes place in San Basilio de Palenque, a town located 55 km southwest of Cartagena (a 1.5-hour drive), founded by emancipated African-descent slaves in colonial times.

This small festival (which originated in 1985) focuses on drumming music and includes conferences on culture and dance.

Here, you will be able to experience the culture of the people of this town firsthand. If you want to stay, you must rent a room in a family home because there are no hotels. This is an excellent opportunity to try their food and get to know the traditions of these peoples from the Caribbean Coast.

 Best festivals in Colombia: November

22# Concurso de Belleza e Independencia de Cartagena de Indias

Reinado Nacional de Belleza Colombia
Credit: Concurso Nacional de Belleza

This national beauty pageant has been on for almost 90 years (since 1934) and matches the celebration of the Independence of Cartagena (November 11, 1811).

The beauty contest is one the most important popular festivals in the country, and it crowns the new Miss Colombia among representatives of every department in Colombia. The winner will represent the country in Miss Universe.

The national beauty contest is held in the walled city, so you might see the candidates in some public appearances. However, the competition is mainly private and for a fee.

Be sure to enjoy the commemoration of the independence of Cartagena, considered by us the main celebration of the day. It is a historical and cultural event that is celebrated with many parades, costumes, dances, music, drums, and concerts in the city.

 Best festivals in Colombia: December

23# Feria de Cali (Cali Fair)

Feria de Cali
Credit: Feria de Cali

During the Cali Fair, the world capital of salsa, you will see the best salsa experts dance along with the most famous orchestras of the moment.

This is the most important festival of the year for people in Cali. It also showcases bullfights and parades, horse rides, and one of the main events: the salsa contest among all the salsa academies of the city. Everything happens in a place called salsódromo.

At the salsódromo, hundreds of couples will be exhibiting their best skills at dancing to this fast, catchy rhythm. Generally, every woman or man from Cali is a good salsa dancer, so you can go to bars, discos, or concerts to enjoy the music and watch people dance during the Cali Fair. And if you’re a dancer, you will even have more fun.

24# Expoartesanías, Bogotá

Expoartesanias-Bogota
Credit: Corferias

This is one of the country’s most important festivals for Colombian handicrafts, with about 800 stands. It gathers thousands of visitors in one place: Corferias, in Bogota.

You can find many works, from jewelry to ethnic handicrafts, clothes, hats, and souvenirs.

When you visit Colombia, this is the perfect place if you’re thinking about buying presents for your family and friends back home. Entrance for one day costs about 4 USD.

25# Festival de Luces, Villa de Leyva

Dia de Velitas Colombia
Credit: Reg Natarajan

This free-entry festival in Villa de Leyva, Boyaca, is held to celebrate Día de las Velitas (Candle Day), a traditional date enjoyed by almost all Colombian families. This is a religious day to commemorate the Immaculate Conception.

On this day, families get together and light candles illuminating streets, homes, and condos while drinking and eating.

On Dec. 7, the town festival offers fireworks, art exhibits, parties, food, beverages, and other activities for visiting families and tourists. Also, you can walk around town to see the decorated balconies, sidewalks, and terraces with lanterns and candles.

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Bottom Line: Best Colombia Festivals

Colombians love to celebrate everything from religious to cultural and musical festivals. These festivals usually last several days; some can be completely free and be accompanied by many events—mostly concerts and parades. Therefore, feel free to enjoy any of them while in the country. It will be a fantastic opportunity to enjoy life like a Colombian, meet the locals and discover their culture.

If you are already thinking of going to a festival, I recommend that you at least attend the main event— keep an eye on the official website since tickets often sell out quickly.

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Best festivals in Colombia

I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

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