South America: The most spectacular festivals

The WorldTravelerIn South America there is also a lot going on at festivals outside the carnival season. Depending on the region, indigenous elements mix with African and Christian ones. Everywhere people celebrate life.

Brazil: Festa Junina

The solstice festival in honour of the June saints São Antônio, São João and São Pedro is celebrated in some places in Brazil to a greater extent than the carnival – for example in the north-east Brazilian city of Caruaru: this event even brought the city into the Guinness Book of Records!

About 1500 years ago, the festival was still called „Joanina“ in the Catholic countries of Europe. In colonial times the Portuguese brought it to Brazil. Its diverse cultural influences make „Junina“, as it is now called, particularly exciting. Thus the folk dance Quadrilha has its origin in the French quadrille. The traditional fireworks originally came from China and the traditional dance „Dança de fitas“ (ribbon dance) from Portugal and Spain. These European elements have been joined by Afro-Brazilian and indigenous influences over the last centuries.

Today, the quadrilha is only danced at the Festa Junina and in some rural areas: just like in the old days, the men appear in braces and plaid shirts, the women braid themselves in plaits and wear straw hats. The guests eat corn cake, cooked corn-on-the-cob, sweet corn paste and delicious corn pudding, as the corn is harvested in June.

Tip: Dress warmly in the south of the country, because in June – at the beginning of winter – it can be cool and rainy.

Cusco, Peru: Inti Raymi

More than 100,000 domestic and foreign guests celebrate the sun festival „Inti Raymi“ in Peru, which is organized in honor of the sun God and in thanks for the harvest. At this festival you can admire the whole spectrum of colorful Peruvian and Bolivian Andean folklore.

In earlier times, the most important celebration of the Incas in Cusco took place on June 21st at the winter solstice. However, the Spanish conquerors prohibited the festival in the middle of the 16th century and it was not until 1944, on the initiative of indigenous artists, that it once again became part of Peruvian cultural life. The party lasts almost a week. Events, street parties and cheerful people make sure that there is no boredom. And in the evening, the most popular Peruvian bands even give free concerts.

On June 22nd a fireworks display opens the Inti Raymi, on June 23rd a folklore parade through Cusco follows and on June 24th the real fiesta starts with the sun ceremony in Saqsaywamán near Cusco. The Inca ceremonies bring the past back to life. With so many priests, soldiers, nobles and sun maidens, visitors feel like they are transported back to ancient times. Many highlights await the visitors, for example when the highest priest sacrifices a lama to the sun God.

Brazil: Bumba Meu Boi

At the festival Bumba Meu Boi („Move, my ox“) Portuguese, African and indigenous elements merge together. With a lot of music, dance and drama, the ox is always the centre of attention. In southern Brazil, accordion sounds accompany the play, in the north and northeast drums. Bumba Meu Boi is celebrated on a grand scale between the end of June and mid-August in São Luís in the state of Maranhão in northeastern Brazil.

The preparations for the celebration are almost as elaborate as for the carnival: for one year many groups work on their costumes and learn new song texts. The play is about the pregnant Catrina who wants to eat ox tongue. Her husband sets out to kill the popular ox Boi Mimoso. But the landowner catches him and takes the man to court. He shall not be forgiven until the ox is resurrected. Catrina’s husband is lucky: magic dances and songs of the slaves bring the cattle back to life. The tongue thief is set free and returns to his wife.
By the way, the role of the ox is not played by real cattle, but by a person dressed as an ox …

For many years, the Catholic Church condemned the festival as „pagan“ and allowed it to be celebrated only on private farms. Today it is one of the most popular festivals in Brazil.

Cali, Colombia: Feria de Cali

Between Christmas and New Year the inhabitants of Cali celebrate the Feria de Cali – a famous folk and music festival and music festival. Parties, parades, theatrical performances, beauty contests and bullfights are a great way to entertain all visitors. Every year the festival has a new musical theme and the best music groups are awarded prizes.

Dance rhythms such as salsa, merengue, cumbia and reggae can be heard everywhere in Cali. The great artists, who are supported by colleagues from all over Colombia, but also from the USA, Cuba and South America, delight the audience with their public live concerts, some of which are free of charge.

The origins of the festival, however, go back to a terrible event: in 1956 a military truck loaded with explosives had an accident in which 110 people died; one year later the „Feria de la Caña“ was founded (also: „Feria de la Salsa“ or „Feria de la Rumba“). But the sad incident did not rob the Colombians of their zest for life, which is shown again and again at the Feria de Cali and many other festivals.

Otavalo, Ecuador: Inti Raymi, Fiesta de San Juan, Fiesta de San Pedro

Inti Raymi is also celebrated in Ecuador and at the same time it is associated with the feast of St. John. On June 21, the indigenous population of the small town of Otavalo celebrates the Winter Sun Festival, and three days later the San Juan Festival. During parades, masked parades and in the streets there is a lot of dancing, eating and drinking.

All over the city, street musicians play drums, flutes and guitars. The festival begins with a ritual bath in the Peguche-Waterfall – not open to the public. The bath is followed by bullfights, regattas and costume parades in which the festival visitors appear as Mexicans, Chinese, Zorro or Batman. Close to a chapel there is a fight with boulders in the old tradition of St. John. The Fiesta de San Pedro y San Pablo on 29 June rounds off the festivities. With all three fiestas the inhabitants also honor the new harvest and Mama Earth.

Easter Island, Chile: Tapati Rapa Nui

Tapati Rapa Nui delights both local guests and tourists. The festival, which takes place at the end of January and beginning of February, focuses on the election of the queen (Reina Rapa Nui).

The candidates are nominated by the most prestigious Rapa Nui families. The one who gets the highest score in the competitions wins. However, the beauty does not compete herself. She looks for an athlete who will represent her according to her status: he must be able to dance, sing and carve Moai statues, but also show talent in body painting, banana trunk descent (up to 80 kilometers per hour) and in diving, fishing, horse racing, etc.

Tapati Rapa Nui starts with the presentation of the contestants and folklore shows. On the small white sandy beach of Anakena, guests relive the arrival of the first settlers. Afterwards they can cheer the athletes in the crater during the triathlon. Loaded with bundles of bananas, the athletes run around the lake, swim to the other shore and paddle back again in a self-built rush boat. To win, all means are right, and the opponent’s rowing boat can be rammed sensitively.

The street parade with decorated floats is the highlight of the festival. In the last night the decision is also made which island beauty may wear the wood-carved crown and call herself „Reina Rapa Nui“.

Venezuela: Fiesta de los Diablos Danzantes

In many Atlantic places in Venezuela, one deals with the devil on Corpus Christi. At the Fiesta de los Diablos Danzantes, the devil dancers – all members of brotherhoods – parade through the city in red or different colored costumes decorated with bells. Their colorful animal masks instill a great deal of respect in the festival guests.

The dancing devils set the tone in the procession with rattling pumpkins. The dance of the „Diablos de Yare“ was brought from Spain to Venezuela in the 18th century. At the festival the dance groups of the different places wear their own costumes, the dance rites are largely identical. The Diablos Danzantes fulfill their vows in dance and thank God for healing diseases. The whole spectacle ends with the Corpus Christi mass.

Mendoza, Argentina: Wine Festival Fiesta de la Vendimia

At the Fiesta de la Vendimia, everything revolves around Argentinean wine, which has become world-famous today. However, as in the whole country, mainly red wine is produced, which thrives excellently on fertile soil in a mild climate.

In order to honor this great wine, the Argentineans organize a huge festival at the end of February for the grape harvest. Against the spectacular backdrop of the Andes, they show what the proverbial South American joie de vivre is all about.

The atmosphere at parades, in bars and street cafés is exuberant. Regional wines such as Malbec, Syrah and Cabernet-Sauvignon flow particularly abundantly. But if you have a hangover the next morning, it’s your own fault. Because even Confucius knew: Wine can’t be responsible for the intoxication, only the drinker…

Oruro, Bolivia: La Diablada

Although La Diablada is celebrated from Shrove Saturday to Shrove Tuesday, it does not have much to do with carnival. The great folklore festival, where good and evil powers wrestle with each other, embodies a pre-Christian ritual of thanks despite some Catholic influences.

The guests honor „Virgen de Socavón“, the patron saint of the miners. These „mineros“ work in the mines under the hardest conditions; the festival is a welcome distraction from their hard life. Superstition, religion and reverence for the forces of nature blend together to create a unique spectacle.

Hundreds of dancers in imaginative costumes pay homage to the Virgin. Symbols like toads, snakes, ants and lizards stand for fertility in the Andes and are integrated into the ceremonies. The dancing „supayas“ („devils“ in Aymara) represent social power.

Montevideo, Uruguay: Semana Criolla

When the „Creole Week“ begins at Easter, Uruguay’s capital Montevideo is at its best. Whether music, dance or performances, there is something in for everyone. At the largest gaucho festival in the country, the „South American cowboys“ as well as their fans are left with almost nothing to be desired.

The bravest gauchos of Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil compete against each other on wild horses (rodeos) during the gaucho competitions. The audience is fascinated by the breakneck rides. And at the end of the week the best rider gets a prize.

Apart from a lot of Wild West flair, the Creole Week, which was created in 1925, offers other highlights. Delicious Creole dishes are served and typical Uruguayan products and craftsmanship are on display. There will be music, music, music and lots to drink.