7 colourful festivals of Latin America

Nothing sums up Latin America's spirit and colour quite like its festivals: from religious fiestas to the 'Dance of the Devils', there's always a reason to celebrate

4 mins

1. Mistura, Peru

In September, Peru's myriad population gathers to enjoy the country's amazing culinary tradition at Mistura, with dishes like the famous ceviche (marinated raw fish), cuy (deep fried guinea pig), sanguche de chicharron (the local version of a bacon sandwich).

Other stands are devoted to local fusion cuisines, such as Chifa and Nikkei (Chinese and Japanese), which make Peruvian food so unique.

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2. Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles), Peru

Peru’s capital city, Lima, holds one of the largest Catholic processions in Latin America every October. It dates back to 17th-century colonial times, when an Angolan slave painted the image of Christ's crucifixion on a wall. Despite violent earthquakes hitting Lima in those days and numerous attempts to erase the artwork, it remained intact.

Thousands of devoted Catholics from various parts of Peru gather at the Church of Las Nazarenas to follow the procession. 2,500 members of the Lord of the Miracles brotherhood carry the two-stone artwork through the various districts of Lima. Women wear purple dresses with a white robe, and men wear purple ties.

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3. Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Mexico

Mexico's most characteristic fiesta is the wonderfully macabre Dia de los Muertos. This November event encompasses two days: All Saint's Day, and All Souls day. The former honours all saints and people who died as children, and the latter is for souls who died in adulthood.

If you are in Mexico around this time, expect to see sugar-candy skulls, skeletons and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) readily available at shops and supermarkets.

People gather at cemeteries throughout Mexico, bringing candles, pictures and music, along with bread, fruit, tequila, beer and the favourite dishes of the people they are remembering. The mood is far from morbid: it is lively and upbeat!

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4. Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

This is the largest carnival celebration in Bolivia, with lavish dances, costumes and music every February. Oruro Carnival is also known as the Diablada (Dance of the Devils), and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Bolivia.

The Diablada is an extraordinary parade that showcases 'demonic' dancers in extravagant costumes, and takes place on a Saturday before Ash Wednesday. Roughly 20,000 dancers and 10,000 musicians join the parade, which draws crowds of up to 400,000 people.

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5. Semana Santa, Guatemala

This week-long Easter event in Antigua Guatemala is a spectacular display of religious ritual and floral design, rivalled only by a similar event that takes place in Seville, Spain.

Through billowing clouds of incense, and accompanied by musical parades, purple-robed men carry decorative floats through the city. The floats are laden with cobbled stones covered in carpets of flowers, known as alfombras de flores, and crowned with colonial sculptures of the cross and Christ. This is the biggest Easter celebration in Latin America.

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6. Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun), Peru

The sun was the principal object of Inca worship, and at their winter solstice the Incas honoured the deity with a great celebration known as Inti Raymi, the sun festival. To honour the Sun God, animals were sacrificed.

Every June, a lucky actor is chosen to portray Sapa Inca (the emperor), who is carried in a golden chariot to the hilltop of Sacsayhuaman on the outskirts of Cusco.

Peruvian children in Sacsayhuaman (Shutterstock)
Peruvian children in Sacsayhuaman (Shutterstock)

The procession starts in Qorikancha temple and passes through streets filled with music, dancing, prayers, flowers and ladies with brooms sweeping away evil spirits. Various priests and participants will join the procession too. Once at the hilltop square, speeches are delivered in Quechua, and finally there is a simulation of a llama sacrifice.

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7. Flower Fair, Colombia

The city of Medellin is adorned with garlands of blooms to mark the annual Flower Fair – an exuberant 10-day event in August with competitions, folk concerts, and the silleteros parade. Silleteros are the farmers who make beautiful flower arrangements on a silleta, a chair-like contraption on which huge flower displays are carried through the city.

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This list was compiled by Sunvil, who've been running trips to Latin America since 1995. Better yet, they're a member of the Wanderlust £50 voucher scheme. To browse a selection of their trips to Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos, Argentina, Chile, Brazil - and beyond - see Wanderlust's Trip Finder.

Unless otherwise credited, all images courtesy of Sunvil
Main image: Dancers at Oruro Carnival in Bolivia (Shutterstock)

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