While you won’t find any wild, eternal-summer music festivals here, Ecuador sure does make up for its off-the-radar location and small size with a calendar of festivals and events that deliver visitors simply the best Ecuadorian culture has to offer. Here are some to keep a watch on:
Fireworks, right? Hugs and kisses at midnight? In Ecuador they take it to a whole other level, each year preparing stuffed dummies with paper, sawdust and firecrackers to later burn at the turn of midnight. The practice is a way of reflecting on the year gone by and as a result many of the dummies are representative of people considered to have been negative figures in the year gone by. Suffice to say Osama bin Laden had his day on the streets of Ecuador.
The more time you spend in South America — and the more times you run into a large floats of crazily colorful characters dancing in the streets for no clear reason at all — the more you’ll realize that Carnaval is no Brazil-only affair. Ecuador’s version is one of the best in the region, held in February or March in the week prior to Lent. In the locality of Ambato, it takes form in the Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas (Fruit and Flower Festival), a calm, festive event, while in other parts of the country the thing to do is throw water balloons about.
Festival Durazno Gualaceo
In early March each year, the small village of Gualaceo near Cuenca becomes nothing short of a study in peaches. The Festival of the Peach, if not for a love of peaches, is your excuse to visit this rich, quaint town in Ecuador’s south.
Could there be any event more important in little Ecuador’s history than its independence? If the thumping street parties on March 24 each year are anything to go by, the answer is certainly no. Independence day is held to reflect on the Battle of Pichincha and the subsequent independence Ecuador achieved from Spanish rule. Expect concerts, loads of fireworks and way too much fun.
Mega-Catholic Ecuador punches well above its weight in the religious holiday arena. Holy Week, as it’s known in English, is a typical Catholic tradition that begins a week before Easter on Palm Sunday (Domingo de Ramos). Unlike in other Christian countries, Ecuadorians as Catholics partake in a sort of fasting, which sees them refraining from meat, which is why you can expect to be lured in with the smell of Bacalao (salty fish) soup. Events during Semana Santa are many and multiple, so the best — and most simple — advice is this: just be in Ecuador!
While not necessarily a national event, Corpus Cristi is a religious celebration that takes place mostly in the highlands during May or June on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The event involves bright costumes and a range of festivities, plus a curious tradition in the locality of Cotopaxi that sees people climbing a 12-meter-high greased pole, atop which prizes are waiting for the winner.
San Juan Bautista
The week-long San Juan Bautista event is held on June 24 each year in the Otavalo region (where we have a Spanish school) to honour “Pachamama “ (Mother Earth). It’s most fascinating aspect is when local men, dressed up in colourful symbolic costumes, move from house to house, rallying people through dance, to wonder to the nearby San Juan chapel. And rally they must, for this crowd’s not going anywhere any time soon! In fact, when the men get to the chapel they start throwing rocks at each other.
Fiestas de Guayaquil
July is all about Ecuador’s largest city, with this week-long cultural extravaganza, featuring fireworks, music events, food, food and more food… Oh, and some of the best street festivities of the year!
Primer Grito de Independencia
The first cry of independence? Independence again? Well, let’s just say Ecuadorians are proud of their history and in particular the tiny nation’s role in helping to liberate the rest of the region from Spanish rule. This national holiday marks an uprising on August 10 against the Spaniards in Quito.
Festival Cine Cero Latitud
This August film festival in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca is Ecuador’s take on celebrating the region’s thriving independent film industry, with screenings and sideline events that showcase Latin America’s brightest and best.
In Quito’s Parque Centenario in 2013, the first 1500 guests who bought their disused cell phones to recycle were given immediate access to the front row of the Quito Fest — International Independent Music Festival… To give you an idea of what this event, and Quito, is all about! Free for all, QuitoFest is one of the city’s most incredible cultural events of the calendar year.
La Mama Negra
If your Spanish is already a little tepid, then you’re right: this is the Black Mama festival. Held twice a year in Latacunga, in September the event honours the Virgin of Mercy, the region’s patron saint, while in November, townspeople come together to celebrate their independence. The latter event of the two draws in thousands of tourists each year. And why wouldn’t it? People love seeing men dress up as women — and that’s precisely what men at La Mama Negra do, painting their faces black in recognition of the region’s Creole heritage.
Festival Cero Latitud
No this ain’t a repeat! Food lovers of all palates rejoice, the best in international and local cuisine comes to you in October with Ecuador’s scrumptious Cero Latitud food festival, which features tourism-related events and a whole lot of eating.
Held towards the end of each year, this contemporarily creative festival features free live music, shows by international DJs, cinema, photography, dance, art exhibitions and more. Festivalfff began in 2003 in the context of the Fiesta de la Fruta y de las Flores (see Carnaval above), hence the name Festival fff (the Fs, silly).
Day of the Dead
What do November, bread, dolls and the afterlife have in common? Well, they come together in quite a fascinating way on el Día de los Difuntos/Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Ecuador, where the loved ones of people who have since passed away prepare a shrine and make offerings of food and drinks. The shrine is covered in a black cloth and includes dolls made out of bread, each of which has a special meaning according to the shape. This is followed by a communal celebration, which takes participants to the cemetery. Varying from region to region, the event is a combination of both indigenous and Catholic traditions.
Fiestas de Quito
For the rest of the world, Quito’s magnificence is recognized in its UNESCO World Heritage-listed status. But for locals, the city is best celebrated on December 6 each year with the Fiestas de Quito (Quito Parties), which recognize the date the Spanish founded the city way back when in 1534. For over two weeks, Quito comes alive with bull fighting, concerts, street parties and a forever-expanding schedule of great ways to celebrate this incredible city.