Festivals and Events
Bolivia might not be at the top of your travel agenda when it comes to festivals but they sure know how to throw a good party. With colourful festivals taking place throughout the year, this South American gem blends tradition and modernity seamlessly as it fills the streets with some of the brightest and most exciting events on the continent. Whether you're after music, food or spiritualism, Bolivia hosts something for everyone.
This month-long festival
sees hordes of people make their way to La Paz to buy everything from cars to university degrees, houses to electronics. Sound like an odd shopping list? That’s because everything they buy is miniature – gifts for Ekeko, the tiny figurine that keeps guard over their houses throughout the year. Originally miniature gifts were bought for this tiny man in order to secure a good harvest but, with time, this wish has morphed into hopes for wealth, good education and travel.
Fiesta de la Virgen Candelaria
The legend behind this festival is that in 1576 some Inca fishermen were caught in a terrible storm on Lake Titicaca but before they were devoured by the water, the Virgin Mary appeared and rescued them. Out of gratitude, the fishermen built a shrine in her honour, containing a four-foot statue of the Dark Virgin of the Lake, as she’s known. While the statue remains safely in the shrine, a replica is paraded through the streets once a year as people pray and party in equal measure before avoiding being gored during the running of the bulls on the final day of the festival.
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Carnaval de Oruro
This is the only party you need to know about on your trip to Bolivia. Hundreds of thousands of visitors head to the sleepy town of Oruro every year to dress up in extravagant costumes and participate in traditional folk dances in order to celebrate Carnaval. One of the main characters during this festival is the benevolent Pachamama (Mother Earth), a life-giving goddess who can be spotted during the festivities. In 2001, UNESCO
designated the carnival a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.
La Fiesta del Gran Poder
A celebration of ‘the great power’, this festival started as a small festival amongst local Aymara migrants but has expanded to become one of La Paz’s biggest social events of the year. Tens of thousands of people, in spectacular costumes, parade through the streets to mark the beginning of the festival. The festivities then continue with dancing and drinking, all the while expressing utter devotion to the Señor del Gran Poder.
Aymara New Year
One of the most important events on the Bolivian calendar, the Aymaran New Year coincides with the Winter Solstice and is a celebration filled with colour and joy. One of the most popular places to bring in the New Year is at the pre-Incan Tiwanaku ruins, where people gather to watch the sunrise filtering through the entrance to the temple. Expect to dance till you drop, chew coca leaves and make merry until the early hours.
San Juan Batista
Originally during this Catholic festival, fires were lit outside of the houses of local people, into which household items were thrown and left to burn. This symbolised Bolivians getting rid of their old possessions in order to make room for new ones. The flames were also supposed to keep evil spirits away on what is the coldest day in the Southern Hemisphere. However, as regards for the environment have increased, bonfires and their toxic fuel have been banned and replaced with BBQs, which allows people to still have a good time without destroying the o-zone.