It is no secret in Latin America that Colombians like to party. The Carnival in the city of Barranquilla is one of the most famous in the world, rivaling Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the festivities in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Nearly every city and town in Colombia has at least one large annual celebration a year.
One of the most fun celebrations to attend is without a doubt Cartagena’s Independence Festival, held every November. The city is probably most well-known for its colonial charm and the lovely Cartagena beaches. However, those looking for a unique experience should consider visiting during the Cartagena November festivities.
What Do the Cartagena November Festivities Celebrate?
The Cartagena November festivities celebrate the city’s declaration of independence. On November 11, 1811, the city council voted to declare the city and the area around it a free state, fully independent of Spain.
This was a step further than the declaration in Bogotá on July 20, 1810, which is celebrated as Colombian Independence Day. The declaration in Bogotá had declared autonomy but still pledged loyalty to Spanish King Fernando VII, who had been removed from power by Napoleon.
Cartagena’s declaration established the first free state that espoused complete independence from Spain and helped inspire the rest of modern-day Colombia to move toward full independence.
During the wars for independence, Cartagena earned its nickname of La Heroica after withstanding a siege of over 100 days before finally surrendering to the reconquest armies of Pablo Morillo in 1815. The city was liberated for the final time in 1821. Cartagena’s Independence festivities celebrate this history.
When are the Cartagena Independence Festivities?
The Cartagena Independence Festivities are always held the week around November 11. If the date falls on a weekend or Monday, it is held the week before, otherwise, it is held during the week that the day falls.
The most important days of the festival are Thursday when there is always a large parade, and November 11 when there is usually another parade.
What to Expect During the Independence Festivities in Cartagena
As mentioned above, the annual festivities center around the parades. Usually, there is one held on Thursday and one on November 11 itself, although some years they are combined if the 11th falls on Thursday or Friday.
The parades take place along the road named the Avenida Santander which runs along the waterfront from near the airport to the neighborhood of Bocagrande. It is possible to buy tickets to sit in bleachers set up around the Walled City or you can find a place in the street in the neighborhoods of El Cabrero and Marbella along the waterfront on the way to the airport, where most locals gather.
During the parade, you will see floats go by with the candidates for Miss Colombia and Miss Independence. Both the national beautify pageant, with candidates from each department or province in Colombia, and a local pageant, with candidates from the different barrios of Cartagena, are held as part of the Cartagena Independence Festival.
You can also see lots of neat and elaborate costumes and dance and musical performance groups participating in the parade.
Some of the floats usually also have festive live music, and it is not uncommon to see famous Colombian Reggaeton or Champeta artists participating in the celebrations.
The parades usually start in the early afternoon and last until just before sunset. It is a good idea to try to get a spot to watch by midday. Transportation in the city can also be very difficult on the days of the parade since roads are closed.
After the parades end, it’s time to head into the Walled City to enjoy some of the best Cartagena nightlife. There is usually a festival-style beer garden set up around the Convention Center just across from the city’s iconic Clocktower. Here, you will find live music throughout the week. All the bars and clubs will also be hopping after the parades.
During the day celebration, there are usually a variety of other live concerts and events held in the plazas around the Walled City as part of the Cartagena November Festivities. These can vary from year to year, but there is usually a kickoff celebration on the Friday or Saturday preceding the festivities.
On the Friday of the week of the festivities, there is usually another event that accompanies the swimsuit show of the local Cartagena beauty pageant. There is also a talent show held during the week for the local pageant. These events are almost always free but sometimes do have limited space. Events like this for the national pageant are usually private and require expensive tickets.
Some Tips and Things to Watch Out for During the Festivities in Cartagena
- The Cartagena Independence Festivities are a blast. However, they are not for everyone if you’re just trying to be one of the spectators or keep it family-friendly. They are pretty wild and rambunctious.
- People commonly spray foam, throw corn starch, and spread paint on other people as part of the day celebration. They also throw small firecrackers known as buscapies, literally translated as feet seekers. This is generally all in good sports, but foreigners are sometimes targeted.
- So, expect to get dirty. Wear clothes you do not mind having ruined. A pair of sunglasses helps prevent any foam or cornstarch from getting you in the eyes. And well, bring your sense of humor and buy a can of foam yourself to celebrate with everyone else.
- If you are not comfortable being sprayed and getting dirty, it is best to avoid being out in the streets. The bleachers by the wall can be a bit more time, but you should still expect to get a bit dirty there.
- It is also worth keeping in mind that, unfortunately, some are not doing this in good sport. Pickpockets sometimes use the foam to spray people in the eyes or distract them to snatch their wallets or phone.
- Therefore, it is best to leave valuables at your hotel and carry only the cash you think you’ll need for the day. If you feel like you are being picked on or targeted excessively by someone with foam or buscapies, just move away to a different area.
Cartagena’s Independence Festival Conclusion
Now you know all about this unique celebration and national holiday. It is one of the most fun festivals in Colombia, and if you happen to be planning a trip to Cartagena in November and do not mind getting a bit dirty and rubbing shoulders with the locals in the street, it is good fun to participate.
It’s also one of the most popular weeks to visit Cartagena, so you will want to try to get your hotel reservations early. Be sure to look ahead to the schedule, usually released a few weeks before, to have an idea of the events for your travel plans.
This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash