Of all the continents in the world, it’s apparent South America’s people have the most innate penchant for parties of all kinds, from food fairs to music festivals and religious fetes, each is celebrated with passion, enthusiasm, and a rainbow of costumes. If you’re lucky enough to hit a festival, be sure to book well in advance–the secret has long been out and people literally flock to these fantastic fiestas. Some are complete chaos and others orderly and easygoing; be sure to do some research and know what you’re in for because some South American festivals can be off-the-charts-wild.
6. Semana Santa, Peru
Kicking off two days before Palm Sunday and celebrated for ten dynamic days until Easter Sunday arrives, Semana Santa is one of Peru’s most outstanding festivals. This religious fete is a hotel-filler and one of the best times to stay with a local family (Peru’s tourist office provides homestay options). The Friday kick-off starts with a parade honoring Our Lady of Sorrows (La Virgen de los Delores)–at this point consider standing out of the way: it’s customary to levy “sorrows” upon spectators by slingshot fitted with pebbles. Otherwise the mood is fairly somber yet Semana Santa still paints the streets colorful with religious traditions, vibrant processions, art and music shows, traditional competitions, and abundant, delicious Peruvian fare. Be sure to attend on the Saturday preceding Easter Sunday for an all-out Peruvian bash that plays out until morning, definitely showing the wilder side of locals.
5. Tomorrowland -Sao Paulo, Brazil
Tomorrowland is an extension of an electronic dance music (EDM) festival stemming from Boom, Belgium, also one of the world’s biggest and one that’s been happening annually since 2005. Tomorrowland has stepped into South American terrain–where it’s evident crowds can’t get enough–bringing in some of the best Djs to Sao Paulo in the first week of May over three days solid. Dreamville is the onsite camping accommodations available to festival-goers at Tomorrowland where you can pitch your own tent but there are three other (much easier) camping options including a pre-made tent fit with sleeping bags, small but arty cabanas, and the Dream Lodge reminiscent of a night safari tent complete with access to scores of amenities–the prices aren’t cheap though! This festival is so popular tickets sell out in a matter of minutes and then the only way in is to buy a package deal.
4. Mendoza Wine Harvest Festival
Since 1936, the Mendoza Wine Harvest Festival (Fiesta National de la Vendimia) has been uniting wine growers, vineyard hands, locals, and thousands of visitors in a spectacular show of love for the Cuyo region and the incredible wines it produces. The festival is a culmination of celebrations happening between December and February throughout Mendoza’s 18 districts. Starting off the first weekend of March, the region’s bumper harvest is celebrated famously with wine, food, music, and innumerable special events. Concerts, parades, fireworks, and general merrymaking create a definitive carnival-esque atmosphere under blue skies and starry nights. A mammoth finale performance at Mendoza’s Greek Theater features hundreds of dancers and actors, the National Grape Harvest Queen is crowned, and the entire celebration ends with a huge fireworks display. As one of the world’s most renowned harvest festivals, this Mendoza gala is definite must for any traveling oenophile.
3. Corpus Christi Festival, Ecuador
Ecuador has long been recognized for enduring indigenous traditions including numerous festivals throughout the year. Ecuadorians love just about any reason to celebrate and especially love their customary observances–they really do put on extravagant shows. In the small town of Pujili, the Corpus Christi Festival happens in the second week of June, welcoming thousands of Ecuadorians for a fete blending the commemoration of both harvest to Incan Sun God Inti and Holy Communion. Food, art, folk and regional dance, and music are intrinsic parts of the festival and culminate following a days-long fiesta in the El Danzante parade where traditional clothing and costumes come together in a kaleidoscopic exhibition. If you do make it to Pujili, head just 15 minutes further to Latacunga National Park for Andean forests alongside striking rivers and lakes and forest habitats within the Amazon, a dramatic area mostly unexplored by tourists.
2. Tango Festival -Buenos Aires, Argentina
Precision, tempo, elaborate clothing, and most of all passion rise to crescendo during the Tango Festival in Buenos Aires, one of the most famous dance festivals in the world and one for both pros and the keenly interested but inexperienced. The dramatic tango was born in Argentina’s brothels and over the decades, has become one of the most sensual, provocative, and emotional dances of all time favored by all social classes. The Tango Festival starts with a series of recitals and shows called La Festival; there are film screenings and lessons city-wide. Then comes the main event: the Tango Championships. During the celebrations, there’s a must-see event at the massive, alfresco milonga (tango hall) where more than 10,000 dancers (tangueros) careen across Buenos Aires’ cobblestone streets–it’s a beguiling show that can make anyone want to learn the tango if they don’t already know.
1. Carnival -Brazil, Columbia & Uruguay
Carnival is celebrated throughout South America in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia but the Brazilians undoubtedly celebrate with the most passion. Prior to the onset of Lent, numerous Argentinian towns celebrate Mardi Gras but no one seems to do it quite as well as it’s done in Rio de Janeiro where a phenomenal party takes place. In Salvador, flatbeds called blocos, fitted with pumping sound systems drive music bands around the city for a full-on, three-day party to end all parties. Second prize for the best Carnival celebration goes to the city of Barranquilla in Columbia where African-style dancing, parades of floats, and ultimately Miss Carnival receives her crown. Riding in at close third is Uruguay, where in the city of Montevideo, they carry Brazil’s zeal for Carnival and celebrate with unbridled enthusiasm–no neighborhood goes untouched by Carnival–with dance parties, countless parades, and extreme Latin revelry.