South America has plenty to offer visitors at just about any time — but the continent is also home to some interesting events throughout the year. From food to music to religious celebrations, the unique experiences make these festivals worth the trip to the southern hemisphere.
Let’s explore some of the South American events that you might want to add to your travel list.
Pasto’s Carnival, Colombia
Also known as the Carnival of Black and White (Carnaval de Negros y Blancos), this celebration takes place in south Colombia from January 2-7. Recognized by UNESCO, the carnival is the largest celebration in the region and draws about 10,000 visitors to this otherwise-quiet city for six days of parties, parades, costumes, and foam and talcum powder wars. There are two particularly unique days during the week. Blacks’ Day, on January 5, represents the day when, traditionally, African slaves were free to enjoy themselves and have fun. Many people paint their faces (or even their bodies) black — the idea being that for one day, there would be no distinction between ethnic groups and classes. The following day is Whites’ Day, during which people paint their faces white and attend the Great Parade, a huge parade that winds it way 9 miles through the city and boasts incredible floats, musicians, dancers, and costumes.
Festival of Song, Chile
This 5-day festival takes place in Viña del Mar, Chile, where thousands of attendees gather in the outdoor amphitheater to enjoy an array of both Latin American and international musicians. It’s one of the most popular festivals and most important events in Latin America, and the crowd is so big (and loud) that it’s been dubbed ‘the monster.’ Apart from being a great time, the festival is an important platform to recognize composers, writers, and performers alike.
Oruro Carnival, Bolivia
Also held in February, Bolivia’s carnival dates back two centuries and attracts nearly half a million visitors each year. It was named a UNESCO Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity and is a spectacular display of folk dance, costumes, music, parades, and parties, encompassing both Catholic and Indigenous rituals. The carnival plays dual roles, telling the story of the Spanish conquest of Indigenous Bolivians and the battle between good and evil — all while celebrating Oruro’s rich cultural identity.
Wine Harvest Festival, Argentina
The first week of March is a busy time in Mendoza, as tens of thousands of visitors come together to celebrate the grape harvests in the region. Events take place all week, including the blessing of the fruits, the grand parade of las reinas (the candidates for Queen of the National Grape Harvest Festival), and the Carrusel de Vendimia, in which both the queens and gauchos (Argentine cowboys) parade through the streets. The festival concludes with the Acto Central at the Greek Theater, which is a spectacular show with lights, sound, and about a thousand actors and dancers.
Early September is the time for foodies to drop in to Lima, as the biggest and most important food festival takes over. Attracting a mix of about 400,000 Peruvians and international visitors, the 10-day event brings together culinary experts eager to showcase their skills and represent the best that Peruvian cuisine has to offer. Dishes include cuy, lomo saltado, and papa a la huancaína, as well as desserts like alfajores, picarones, and tres leches. There’s also a fantastic market where farmers and vendors sell fresh produce and food.