Latin America is THE place for festivals from more sombre but very dramatic and elaborate religious processions to lively and energetic fiestas which are a riot of colour, music, noise, and general festivities. Latinos rarely need too much excuse to hold a party or to dress up and get together, that is for sure.
There are eclectic local festivals to celebrate perhaps the bounty of the sea and land from lobster to cacao and the grape harvest or to re-enact ancient ceremonies of the once mighty civilizations of the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas such as Inti Raymi in Peru. From the Day of the Dead celebrated most fervently in Mexico on All Saint’s Day to National Independence Days and Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week), festivals are very much a part of life here and everyone is always welcome to join the fiesta. In many regions, ancient rituals merge with more modern Catholic traditions to create some truly unique spectacles. Wherever you are thinking of heading to in this colourful continent, most countries have numerous festivals throughout the year that are easy to incorporate into your holiday if you would like to see some fascinating local celebrations.
We love the small local celebrations in little villages that celebrate traditional customs and culture. Here you can discover more about not just these unique traditions but meet local people as they let their hair down – enjoy the music, colours, local food, and almost certainly some form of dancing. Latinos love to dance and festivals will often incorporate beautiful dances from the tango, samba, and rumba to less well-known dances typical of the region you find yourself in. And well of course, if you are asked in join in, then it would be rude not to have a go…
But there is one event in the festival calendar that is the best known of all the celebrations, most particularly in Brazil but in fact celebrated in many different ways all over the continent. Carnival is the ultimate four day celebration before Ash Wednesday when Lent commences which, for the essentially Catholic population, means a period of abstinence and more dedicated religious observance. So for the few days prior to this, Carnival has become the time to have a huge party all over South and Central America, although no-one does it in quite such exuberant style as the Brazilians.
Rio de Janeiro is of course the ultimate place to be during this phenomenal party as the Samba schools vie to compete with each other. Watch the Parade at the Sambadrome in Rio either from the stands or from a private box and be astounded by the incredible costumes and the phenomenal dances, music, and parades. If you want though to feel more a part of the party, then head instead to a ‘bloco’ or street party to join in the fun. Just don’t expect to get too much sleep for those few days, although there are some stunning beaches and quiet places to escape to afterwards to relax and unwind after the festivities.
In Paraty, a pretty little colonial town halfway between Rio and Sao Paulo, they celebrate Carnival in their own inimitable fashion with not just street parties (pretty laidback in style here) but also the eclectic ‘Bloco de Lama’ or mud party where locals cover themselves in the medicinal mud of the Praia do Jabaquara and then head into town – an interesting spa treatment! Head further north to Olinda, another delightful colonial small town and the best place to design your own costume and just join in.
If the thought of the crowds in Rio or the main Brazilian cities (Salvador is also a great venue for Carnival) don’t appeal, then why not delve into the traditions of some other parts of the continent instead for a whole host of really different events. Just about everywhere you go; you will encounter dancing, costumes and disguises, music and parades. If you are in Ecuador, for example, you may have to be ready to get wet as ‘diablillos’ (little devils) take to the streets with water balloons to cause all sorts of mischief. It is just a game for fun but best to be prepared! If you want to see traditional folkloric dances, then you really should head to Oruro in Bolivia which hosts the very best Carnival in the country, famous for the ‘Diablada’, or devil dance, particularly with fantastic costumes and masks. Swap Brazilian samba for exuberance salsa in Colombia and most especially in Baranquilla, where the exuberance of the dance combines with an Afro-Caribbean beat and an incredible inaugural parade – ‘The Battle of the Flowers’. Burn away all bad moods by being at the opening ceremony bonfire at the Veracruz Carnival in Mexico or discover the dances and traditions of the Garifuna on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala at Livingston.