Let me give you all a tip: visit Cartagena in the second week of November. Just at the end of the rainy season, Cartagena has the biggest celebration probably anywhere in Colombia – parades, parties day and night, live music, world famous salsa dancers, traditional performances of dance and music, the national beauty pageant, and much, much more!
The whole event is in honor of Cartagena’s independence from Spain in 1811. This small but wealthy city was the first province to declare independence and led the movement for the eventual independence of the whole country.
If you are lucky enough to end up in Cartagena this week (be sure to book your hostel or hotel early because they all fill up) here are just some of the fun activities you should check out.
La Batalla de las Flores
The kick off to the week of festivals is a huge parade down Avenida Santander. Bright floats filled with flowers carry each of the beauty pageant contestants. There are also local dance groups and musician, and costumed locals in everything from traditional Spanish colonial costumes to costumes representing the Africa culture and influence in the region.
The best place to watch the parade is from the city walls. The good spots fill up quickly and if you do get stuck in the crowd at the foot of the wall, watch your camera and wallet. This is prime time for pickpockets.
Desfile de Balleneras
If your not a big fan of huge, dense crowds the Desfile de Balleneras might be better for you. This “parade” takes place on boats in the harbor of Cartagena. The beauty pageant contestants all ride along on beautifully decorated yachts, while other locals follow in yachts, speedboats, and sailboats. The whole event invokes the memory of Cartagena back when it won independence and large ships sailed away from this harbor filled with gold heading to Spain.
Miss Colombia Pageant
The final Miss Colombia selection takes place on November 12 in the Centro de Convenciones right in the center of Cartagena. Every year they get big name performers for the show, which means tickets are very hard to come by. Most locals just watch the event on tv before going out to celebrate.
If you really want to be part of the event live, you can also try and get tickets to the Desfile en Traje de Bano the day before. This event is the swimsuit competition part of the pageant and another very popular event.
And Watch Out!
It’s not all about the pageant contestants though. In fact, the contestants tend to avoid the street level events which can get incredible messy. Don’t wear anything you really like because you WILL get soaked with buckets of water, sprayed with foam, covered in flour, and smeared with paint. It’s a very fun time but it can get a little exhausting when you literally can’t walk to the market without risking a flour, foam, or paint attack.
Remember that it is all fun and games but if you do decide it’s a bit too much for you, book a trip out to the Rosario Islands or Playa Blanca for a relaxing break.
Couple Travel Tips
- Carry small change with you. Part of the festivals is that groups of young men roam the street covered head to foot in paint and greasy oil. You have to pay a small “toll” to escape the mess. If you don’t have any change, just try smiling and being polite and they will usually let you pass un-painted.
- Watch out for the balconies! People living above the main streets will often fill buckets with water to pour down on unsuspecting walkers.
- Join in on the fun! Wear something you’re ready to throw away, leave your camera in the hostel, buy your own can of foam, and enjoy.