14 Unique Colombian Traditions & Festive Colombia Holidays

Colombia has the second most national holidays in the world and many more regional festivals. There is almost always a reason to get together with friends and family to celebrate the past, the future, family, religion, culture and life.

Each part of the country has its own traditions and celebrations while there are important dates which unites everyone.

I am originally from the UK but have lived in Colombia for 15 years. I have had the pleasure of experiencing the weird and wonderful Colombian traditions and celebrations from around the country. This is my guide to some of the most important annual events.

The Most Important Colombia Holidays & Best Colombian Traditions

Carnaval de Barranquilla (Barranquilla, 10-13 February 2024)

The Barranquilla Carnival is the most popular in Colombia and the second biggest in South America, after the world-famous Rio Carnival. The carnival starts on the Saturday 4 days before Ash Wednesday, so dates vary each year from mid-February up to early March.

The history of the carnival dates back centuries but it was from 1888 that the key modern features were established. It was in 1888 that King Momo emerged as a symbolic figure of the event with the board established in 1889. The Battle of Flowers (Batalla de las Flores) was introduced in 1903, the first Carnival Queen was named in 1918 and Sunday’s Great Parade began annually from 1967.

Today the event takes over the entire city and brings visitors from all over the country.

Batalla de las Flores is the biggest street parade with palcos (covered stands) held on Vía 40 between 85 street and Murillo street. The parade lasts around 6 hours with hundreds of dancers in bright clothing. If you want to get a good comfortable view then paying for a spot on the palco is advised.

You can also book tickets to join the Baila La Calle street parties which cost around 20,000 COP (US$5). Up to 40,000 enthusiastic dancers enjoy performances from 4pm until the early morning. Noche de Orquestas features 20 acts competing to be champions in the Folklore, Tropical, Vallenato, Salsa, Merengue and Urban Music categories.

Beyond the formal events, there are also many other street parties in the surrounding areas and neighborhoods of the city. People will put speakers out in the street, set up a food stand and spend the night dancing.

There are also big concerts featuring some of Latin Music’s biggest stars held around the city. In 2023 Wisin y Yandel, Ryan Castro, Peter Manjarres, Don Omar, Grupo Niche, Zion Y Lennox, Gente de Zona, Carlos Vives, Mr. Black and El Gran Combo all performed at events the week of the carnival in Barranquilla.

You do really need to take care of yourself during the events as pickpockets and robberies are widely reported during the carnival. Don’t take anything with you that you can’t afford to lose, keep things safely stored away when walking on the street and be careful of your surroundings. There is a lot of playful spraying of foam at the event and sometimes thieves will use this to distract their victims and grab from their pockets.

While you do have to take care, it is a huge amount of fun and an amazing experience.

Feria de Cali (Cali, 25-30 December 2023)

Cali’s annual carnival is held between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in one of the world’s salsa capitals. Events bring together around 700,000 attendees with 100,000 tourists from Colombia and over 50,000 visiting from abroad.

In 1956 seven army trucks filled with 1053 boxes of dynamite exploded destroying 41 blocks, leaving a 50-meter-wide crater and taking the lives of 1,300 people while 4,000 more were injured. The explosion devastated the city, impacting on the economy and leaving a deep emotional impact on the people.

Authorities wanted to bring the people together, boost the economy and restore optimism so in 1958 the first Feria de Cali was held. Initially an artisanal market and exhibition, the annual event has grown and been transformed alongside its host city.

In the 1980s salsa became synonymous with Cali and the dominant sound of the city. Jairo Varela and his band Grupo Niche helped establish Cali as the global city of salsa and this continues to be a big part of local culture.

Cali is hot, fun, lively and expressive which are all qualities on show in the Feria and the salsa music in the city.

The Salsódromo is the inaugural event of the Feria, with 4,300 dances parading and dancing to salsa music along the Suroriental highway. In 2023 there will be 82 events across 47 locations around the city including concerts, artistic performances, parades, food, markets and recreational activities.

While the Feria is most famous for salsa, there is a wide range of Latin music performed during the week. Artists performing in 2022 included Maluma, Silvestre Dangond, Ryan Castro, Víctor Manuelle, Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, Guayacán, Jessi Uribe, Pipe Bueno and Vicente Fernández Jr.

Other important parts of the Ferica include Carnival of Old Cali, celebrating the history of the city, and the classic card parade.

As with Barranquilla, be careful with your possessions when you are out and about plus book your accommodation early as hotel capacity can reach 80% during the Feria.

Feria de las Flores (Medellín, 26 July – 5 August 2024)

The Feria de las Flores (Fair of the Flowers) is held in Medellin as a celebration of the flowers, birds, transport and the local Paisa culture of Antioquia.

One of the symbols of the Feria de las Flores is the silletero which is a circular wooden board which can be carried on the back and covered with bright flowers. The silleteros include beautiful designs representative of local culture and ahead of the feria you can visit some of the 500 examples included in the parade.

The silletero parade is the main event, with over 800,000 people in attendance in 2023 across the city on palcos or alongside the street. The Feria attracts over 20,000 international visitors and there are over 3,200 performers around the city.

The Feria includes free concerts organized by the city as well as private events held at large venues including the Maracana and the Atanasio Giradot stadium with artists including Daddy Yankee, Marc Anthony and Silvestre Dangond.

You will find lots of places to acquire a classic white Aguadeño hat with a black detailing to wear as you enjoy the festivities with the locals.

Hotel occupancy can reach close to 100% during the Feria, so try to book well in advance. The palcos are the best places to enjoy the parades but if you don’t want to pay for that then get your place early.

While security is a little better and the crowds are more carefully managed, you still need to be careful of pickpockets during the event.

Carnaval de Negros y Blancos (Pasto, 2-7 January 2024)

The Blacks and Whites Carnival is the largest and most important celebration in the south of Colombia. The event initially focused on the city of Pasto but it has spread across the Nariño region and beyond.

The Festival of Blacks and Whites celebrates history, tradition, music, equality and, despite the name, bright, bold colors. There is a pre-carnival celebration from 28 to 31 December and then the main carnival from 2 to 6 January. The festival tells the history of Colombia, indigenous traditions, slavery and then independence.

The celebration dates back to the 16th century with indigenous groups in the region giving thanks for the harvests. It retains strong links to this early history but grew to combine this with African and Spanish celebrations.

During the pre-carnival, there are concerts and celebrations as well as Fools’ Day on 28 December. Fools Day turned into the Water Carnival, where people would throw water on unsuspecting passers-by. Authorities have tried to play down this given the chilly weather.

On New Year’s Eve people make large dolls from clothes, paper and sawdust which are burned at midnight to represent the end of the last year. These are often satirical and the best creations win awards.

The opening day of the carnival includes a parade celebrating different regions around the country and then Pastorock, a concert with blues, Spanish rock, pop, funk, ska and metal influences.

On 3 January is the Children’s Carnival (Carnavalito) where children are the stars of the show and on 4 January is the Arrival of the Castañeda Family parade. People dress up as caricatures of a family of colorful characters.

On the 5 January, they celebrate Black Day which commemorates the time each year when people living under slavery were given the freedom to celebrate, dance and be free. The celebration dates back to 1854 and during the festival, people paint their faces black, dance and sing in the streets.

On 6 January they have White Day with the Great Parade. The parade runs from Plaza del Carnival with musicians and giant floats which include beautiful, brightly colored floats which can take 4 months to construct. On the final day, locals and visitors enjoy the typical local dish which is made of guinea pig.

The carnival is probably the most culturally fascinating of Colombia’s regional celebrations. It is an amazing spectacle with the history, the unique story behind each day and the participation of the whole community.

While white people painting themselves black may understandably sit uneasy given the history this has in the English-speaking world, the intent is to celebrate the end of slavery and the diversity of the region.

Pasto is generally very safe and while you need to take care amidst the wild celebrations, you should be fine if you use common sense.

Fiestas de San Pacho (Quibdó, 20 September – 5 October, 2024)


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The Festival of Saint Francis of Assisi or Festival San Pacho, as it is colloquially known, is held in Quibdó, the capital of the Chocó, with a population that is 84% African descendent. The celebration combines African cultural traditions with the strong religious faith in the region.

It is a celebration which combines peaceful religious reflection with joyous music and drums. The inaugural mass followed by dances, costumes and songs by the carnival groups. Each of the twelve districts of the city has a morning mass followed by an afternoon parade.

On 3 October the patron saint travels the Atrato River in boats and on the 4 October they have devotional hymns followed by the Grand Procession of the Saint in the Afternoon.

Fiestas de San Pancho play a very important religious and cultural role in the region. They bring communities together, strengthen Chocó identity and celebrate expression and creativity.

This celebration is hugely important to the region but it doesn’t attract many tourists or international visitors. Chocó is amazing in terms of nature and culture but the instability and poverty have made it less accessible to visitors, although this is beginning to change.

San Pacho celebrations are also held by Afro-Colombian communities around the country in early October.

Festival del Bambuco en San Juan y San Pedro (Neiva, 29 June – 1 July, 2024)

The Festival of San Pedro, as it is often known, is the annual carnival held in Neiva, the capital of the Huila state of Colombia.

The festival dates back to the 18th century and was established by the Spanish to celebrate the monarchy as well as Saint Peter and Saint John. Initially, Saint John’s feast was held in rural areas and Saint Peter’s feast in the city but both have been incorporated into the annual festival.

The festival includes parades and concerts with Bambuco music at the heart of the event. El Sanjuanero Huilense is the official dance of San Pedro, which involved a man attempting to impress his female dance partner with his poise and artistic flourishes. It is like a male bird trying to impress a female bird with confident strutting while he has to overcome her playful retorts.

The typical dress of San Pedro is a white flowing dress with flowers for women and a suaceño hat with a white shirt for men.

There are carnival floats, dances, concerts and horse parades during the event. There is also the Renado Nacional del Bambuc, which is a beauty pageant that attracts participants from around the country with the contestants central to many aspects of the festival.

San Pedro is generally safe but you just need to keep an eye on your things. For the parades, they have palcos offering the best views plus added comfort of covered seating. The weather gets really hot in Neiva.

The amazing nearby Tatacoa desert is a great place to visit once the festivities have come to an end.

La Alborada (Medellin, 30 November)

La Alborada
La Alborada

Around the stroke of midnight in Medellin the sky across the whole of the city is filled with thousands of fireworks let off from neighborhoods up and down the valley. It is an incredible display which can last for hours.

The incredible display has become a celebration of the long-awaited arrival of December. Olimpico radio station has an annual jingle that goes “from September you feel that December is coming” which has become a symbolic meme of Colombians’ obsession with the month of Christmas.

The history of La Alborada is actually more sinister and was initiated in 2003 when Don Berna, a former associate of Pablo Escobar, sought to send a message that he was now the dominant force in control of Medellin.

It is an amazing spectacle which you can enjoy from miradores (bars or restaurants with great elevated views) around the city. Colombia is complicated.

Christmas (24 December)


The whole of December is a party in Colombia. From Noche de Velitas (Night of the Little Candles) where families lay out dozens of candles outside their homes on 7 December up until the main event on the midnight of 24 December.

Gifts are exchanged at midnight and families enjoy festive food such as buñuelos and natilla.

Family parties in Colombia involve a lot more dancing, drinking and singing than I am used to back in England. One notable thing is that Colombians often feel very comfortable going out to dance in bars and clubs with their parents.

Christmas can begin with the family celebrating and end in street parties up until the sun comes up. I have heard that Jesus is responsible for the presents but Santa is also somewhat involved and gifts are handed over by parents at midnight so I am not sure how any of that is true.

There is not the usual Santa, chimney, stocking, mince pie narrative in terms of present giving we see in the UK and the US.

New Year’s Eve (31 December)

New Year's Eve

While in Europe the 31 December is often associated more with friends and nightclubs, in Colombia the evening is first and foremost family. Christmas is often a mix of friends and family while New Year’s Eve is family and then meeting up with friends at 2am once the older members of the family are starting to wane.

Colombia can also be quite a superstitious place and this is never more evident than on 31 December. Yellow underwear, preferably new, is supposed to be lucky or maybe help your love life in the following year. Seems to be some uncertainty as to which, but that is good apparently.

Lentils in the pocket at midnight will set you up for wealth and prosperity. If you ask others they may say you need to fill your pockets with money to bring further money. If it is travel that you’re after then take your suitcase for a trip around the block to ensure plenty of that in the coming year.

If you want to start the year on the right foot then make sure you take your first step on your right foot.

Also, Colombians can partake in the Spanish tradition of eating twelve grapes for each stroke of the clock.

El Día del Amor y la Amistad (16 September 2023)

St Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated in February in Colombia but instead, they celebrate Day of Love and Friendship in September.

Rather than naming the day of love after a first-century alleged illegal marrier who was reportedly executed by Roman emperor Claudius II, Colombia opted to help out merchants who were looking to boost sales during a quiet month back in the 1960s.

Day of Love and Friendship can involve romantic meals, gifts, flowers and chocolates or it can be about sharing a moment with friends.

Many workplaces and friend groups will play “Amigo Secreto” (secret friend) which is similar to Secret Santa. Each person is given a member of the group at random and they have to buy a gift with a maximum value agreed.

Semana Santa (24-30 March 2024)

Holy Week or Semana Santa is probably the most religiously important celebration in Colombia, closely followed by Christmas. School children will have the full week off while Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are national holidays.

There are important cathedrals around the country such as in Popayán, Buga, Chiquinquirá and Zipaquirá which bring together large gatherings of people looking to commemorate and reflect upon the crucifixion.

In Colombia, as with other parts of the world, some people will look to eat fish rather than meat often accompanied by rice, avocado salad and potato.

Día de la Independencia (20 July 2024)

Día de la Independencia

Colombian Independence Day is celebrated each year on 20th July. It is a public holiday and commemorates events that took place in 1810 which led to the end of Spanish rule in the country.

On this day you will find Colombian flags raised and hanging from homes and buildings around the country. At school, children will have special activities and may wear yellow to celebrate the country.

Día de la Madre (12 May 2024)

Mother’s Day is celebrated in Colombia on the second Sunday or May. This date was chosen and put into law in 1925 by President Pedro Nel Ospina.

People will often buy gifts for their mother and share a meal together.

Día del Padre (16 June 2024)

Father’s Day is celebrated on 19 June, which is also a national holiday known as Day of the Sacred Heart.

While Mother’s Day is officially recognized in Colombian law, Father’s Day is not formally recognized. Despite this many still use the day as an opportunity to buy a gift and celebrate their father.

Colombian Traditions & Colombian Holidays: FAQ

What is the biggest Colombian holiday?

December is the most celebrated month across Colombia with the 25th and 31st competing for the top spot. The entire month of December includes more dancing, more vacations, more family time, more food and more drinking.

Do Colombians celebrate Day of the Dead?

As with much of Latin America, Colombia does commemorate those who have died on 2 December. This will usually involve taking flowers to the graves of friends and family who have passed away. While in Mexico they look to energetically celebrate those who have died, it is more quiet and reflective in Colombia.

The day is typically known as Día de los Difuntos.

Do Colombians celebrate Quinceaneras?

Quinceaneras are also celebrated by many in Colombia. These celebrations include a dance between the girl and her father, the delivery of fifteen roses, the extinguishing of fifteen candles, a toast and short speeches. Following the formalities, there will then be music, dancing and food.

Do Colombians celebrate Halloween?

Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in Colombia and is something many people now plan weeks or even months in advance. Young children will go trick or treating and supermarkets will strongly advertise bags of sweet treats. There are many Halloween-themed parties and Colombians often make a big effort on their costumes.

Do Colombians celebrate Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving isn’t a tradition in Colombia and it is only really celebrated by expats or Colombians who have lived in the US.

What is Christmas called in Colombia?

Christmas is called Navidad and for many, it is actually a whole month’s celebration which can be smelt as far back as September.

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