21 South American Festivals You Must Experience!

South American festival

As you plan your next trip to South America, you’ll likely be hard at work compiling a list of your top city destinations, bucket-list hikes, and must-visit restaurants. As you prepare, be sure to keep in mind that there are plenty of cool and unique festivals in South America year-round too. 

Attending festivals gives you a deeper understanding of the culture and presents a wonderful opportunity to make new friends and unforgettable memories. On the flip side, not knowing when the important festivals are can lead to booked-up accommodations, crowds, and higher costs. 

Either way, it’s good to be aware – and this article will introduce you to loads of amazing festivals in South America to bookmark for your next visit. 

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21 Amazing Festivals in South America

1. Inti Raymi, Peru 

  • When: Winter Solstice (usually around 24th June)
  • Where: Cusco
  • Duration: 9 days
Inti Raymi, Peru
Inti Raymi is one of the most important celebrations in Peru.

Inti Raymi is an ancient Inca festival that takes place during the winter solstice in Cusco and honors the Sun God, Inti. Featuring performances, dances, parades, and colorful traditional costumes, the festival symbolizes the beginning of a new agricultural year and the renewal of life and hope. 

While banned by Spanish colonizers, it was later revived in the 1900s as a cultural celebration. The main ceremony takes place at the Sacsayhuaman archaeological ruins, where a reenactment of an ancient Inca ritual is performed.

Visiting Cusco during Inti Raymi is a fabulous opportunity for visitors, but it is recommended to book accommodation and tours well in advance, as it is a popular time to visit. Note that it is best to dress fairly conservatively if you wish to attend the sacred ceremony.

2. Rio de Janeiro Carnaval, Brazil

  • When: Immediately prior to Lent (varies each year)
  • Where: Rio de Janeiro 
  • Duration: 5 days
Rio carnival
Rio de Janeiro is home to the largest carnival celebrations in the entire world!

No list of South American festivals would be complete without Carnaval. One of the world’s most famous festivals, Carnaval takes place in the five days leading up to Lent in Brazil. Historically, it was a time for people to dance, sing, and have fun before the 40 long days of Lent began. Today, it is a huge party!

Carnaval is famous for vibrant and colorful performances, samba dancing, and street parties. Participants dress in extravagant costumes, festooned with feathers and rhinestones, and parades and celebrations fill the streets. The festival also has many traditions, such as the crowning of that year’s king and queen.

Travelers are welcome to join in on the festivities, and indeed it is a very popular time to visit – advance planning is critical. While there, be extra mindful of safety, particularly pickpocket risk in crowded areas.

Also read: Carnival in South America.

3. World Tango Championships, Argentina

Tango argentina
The World Tango Championships is visited by people all over the world.

The World Tango Championships in Buenos Aires is a yearly celebration of the traditional Argentine dance, dating back to 2003. Professionals from all around the world compete in categories like salon tango, stage tango, and milonga, and thousands of visitors from around the world come to witness the sensual and romantic dance through performances, workshops, and public displays. 

If you’re not a dancer yourself, never fear! Tango fans have ample activities to choose from during this time. For those seeking to learn, there are many dance schools in Buenos Aires offering classes at all levels, or you can just sit back and enjoy the performances. 

Be mindful that this is an increasingly popular time to visit Buenos Aires, so tickets and lodging should be secured in advance. 

Also read: Amazing festivals in Argentina.

4. Tapati Festival, Chile 

  • When: February
  • Where: Easter Island
  • Duration: 1 week

The Tapati Festival is an ancient Chilean festival celebrating the deep Polynesian roots present on Rapa Nui (a.k.a. Easter Island), revived in modern times in the 1970s. Featuring a range of activities like dance performances, music, parades, and traditional games, the festival highlights and preserves the unique heritage of Rapa Nui. 

YouTube video

One of the coolest activities is witnessing the sports competitions. These include Haka Pei, where competitors slide down a hill on a banana tree trunk, and the Tau’a Rapa Nui, a triathlon comprising swimming, canoeing, and running. 

The centerpiece of the festival is the crowning of that year’s queen. It is a huge honor to be festival queen, and selection criteria center around knowledge and love for the island’s culture, language, and traditions. It can be a bit challenging to get to Easter Island, so it’s a good idea to make travel plans well in advance.

5. Mistura Food Festival, Peru

  • When: September
  • Where: Lima
  • Duration: 10 days
Peruvian cuisine
Lima is the food capital of Peru!

Affectionately called ‘The Meat Festival’, the Mistura Food Festival is held annually in Lima, Peru to showcase the country’s mouthwatering culinary scene. Held for the first time in 2008, Mistura is now considered one of the premier culinary events worldwide. Participants can enjoy food tastings, cooking classes, and demonstrations by top chefs.

Alongside all the food, there are ample opportunities to enjoy live Peruvian music and dance performances. While the festival centers around meat, traditional Peruvian dishes like ceviche are also featured. The festival is open to anyone who wants to attend, but it’s best to buy tickets in advance, as the festival gains popularity each year. Recently, over 600,000 people attended! 

6. Mendoza Wine Harvest Festival, Argentina

  • When: February-March
  • Where: Mendoza
  • Duration: 1 month
Mendoza wine
Did somebody say wine o’clock?

The Mendoza Wine Festival celebrates the amazing wine culture of Mendoza, Argentina; one of the world’s premier wine producers. Dating back to the 1930s, the festival is packed with activities for oenophiles: wine tastings, vineyard open houses, tours, and live music.

The showpiece of the festival is the Carrusel, a parade celebrating the beginning of the vendimia season (the yearly grape harvest) with a procession of colorful floats. 

Booking in advance is recommended, as prices can increase quite a bit as the event draws closer, but the festival is definitely recommended for wine lovers. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about your favorite vineyards and get a more personalized look into the wine-production process.  

7. Festival de la Candelaria, Bolivia and Peru

  • When: Beginning of February
  • Where: Copacabana (Bolivia), Puno (Peru)
  • Duration: 2 weeks
Young Peruvian woman next to reed boat.
The Festival de la Candelaria takes place around Lake Titicaca.

Primarily held in the towns around marvelous Lake Titicaca, the Festival de la Candelaria is a religious festival celebrating the Virgin of Candelaria, the patron saint of the area. One of South America’s largest festivals, thousands flock to Puno and Copacabana from all over the world to enjoy the event.

Interestingly, the festival dates back to the pre-colonial era, and even today offers a really special blend of indigenous and Catholic traditions. Local indigenous tribes like the Aymara and Quechua always celebrated the gods and goddesses with elaborate handmade costumes and dancing to live music, but after the Spanish conquest, the Catholic Church incorporated these elements into the festival celebrating the Virgin. 

Along with parades and processions, there is a large dance-group competition, considered the highlight of the festival.   

8. Feria de las Flores, Colombia

  • When: August
  • Where: Medellín
  • Duration: 10 days
Flower festival Medellin
The Feria de las Flores sees the city in bloom!

The Feria de las Flores, Medellín’s Flower Fair, is an annual celebration dating back to 1957, focused on the city’s history and natural beauty. Originally conceptualized as a way to showcase Medellín’s burgeoning flower industry, it’s been expanded to include parades, concerts, and loads of local cuisine. 

In particular, one of the most beautiful yearly traditions is the Desfile de Silleteros, where farmers journey to Medellín from the surrounding countryside, carrying stunning home-made flower arrangements called silletas on their backs through the streets. 

It’s important to keep in mind that, despite being the ‘City of Eternal Spring’, August can be warm – it’s important to stay hydrated and avoid over-exhaustion as you enjoy the festivities, with comfortable shoes also a must.  

9. Festival of the Gaucho, Argentina

  • When: November
  • Where: San Antonio de Areco
  • Duration: 8 days
Gaucho in Patagonia, Argentina
Gauchos are integral to Argentinian culture.

Every year, gauchos in resplendent costumes, seated proudly atop their sleek and beautiful horses, descend upon San Antonio de Areco, a town in the vast Pampas grassland of Argentina, about an hour and a half from Buenos Aires. 

Gauchos are sadly a rapidly-disappearing phenomenon. Historically, they were the stuff of legends: handsome and hardy horsemen toughing out a living on unforgiving terrain, the subjects of much folklore and traditional stories. 

The festival showcases their talents through a variety of competitions: horseback riding and horsemanship, rodeos, cattle herding, and traditional weapons handling. On top of all that, there are also loads of music and dance performances, and demonstrations of gaucho crafts like leatherworking, silver working, and woodworking.

10. Fiesta de las Ñatitas, Bolivia

  • When: November 9th
  • Where: Entire country
  • Duration: 1 day
Sucre cemetary
Many of the Fiesta de las Ñatitas celebrations take place in Bolivia’s cemetaries.

While Día de los Muertos is more often associated with Mexico, Bolivia has its own twist on the event. Known as the ‘Day of the Skulls’, the festival blends indigenous Andean and Catholic traditions, celebrating the afterlife and venerating those gone before us. 

Believed to have the power to act as spiritual intermediaries, human skulls are decorated with flowers, hats, etc., and are given offerings of food, cigarettes, drinks, and coca leaves. Families dress in beautiful costumes with masks or face paint, and more than anything else, it’s a day to be with family and friends, remembering those that have been lost. 

While visitor participation is welcome, it’s really important to be respectful. While other cultures may see this as macabre or morbid, it is a very meaningful day for Bolivians – both to honor their ancestors and to connect with their spiritual beliefs.

11. Oruro Carnival, Bolivia

  • When: Varies, usually in February or March
  • Where: Oruro
  • Duration: 6 days
Oruro Carnival
Oruro Carnival spans six days.

While Brazil steals a lot of the thunder at carnival time, there’s an equally fun option awaiting you in Bolivia. The Oruro Carnival is a vibrant and colorful mix of pre-Columbian and colonial traditions, packed with ceremonial dances, parades, and parties, jointly celebrating the Andean goddess Pachamama and the Virgin of the Tunnel, thought to have saved local miners from an explosion many years ago. 

Many of the dances come from ancient stories or legends, like the Diablada and its elaborate demon masks, as well as other dances like the Morenada and Caporales. There’s a large procession with offerings and prayers for the Virgin of the Tunnel, and fans of embroidery and handicrafts won’t know where to look first!

As with other Carnival celebrations, be prepared for huge crowds and many hours spent on your feet. Staying hydrated and wearing good shoes is critical.

12. Fiesta de la Vendimia, Chile

  • When: March/April
  • Where: Entire country
  • Duration: Several weeks
Grape stomping
Grape stomping: Bucket-list activity or just gross?

While the various harvest festivals in Argentina get a lot of press, it’s important to give Chile its due as a world-class wine producer as well. Vendimia festivals celebrate a special time in wine culture – the grape harvest. In Chile, these take place in the wine-making regions, particularly the Colchagua and Maipo Valley areas. 

Visitors have ample opportunities for hands-on experiences during this festival, not just limited to wine-tasting or pairings. You can help harvest grapes yourself, as well as participate in the grape-stomping, the traditional way of extracting juice from grapes barefoot (a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many!) 

If you’d rather witness than participate, there are ample art and cultural installations at this time of year as well, including art exhibits, dance, and music.

13. Fiestas de Quito, Ecuador

  • When: End of November
  • Where: Quito
  • Duration: 7 days
Views of Quito from Basilica del Voto Nacional.
There is loads to see during the Fiestas de Quito!

A week-long celebration of the auspicious founding of Quito, Fiestas de Quito takes place between November 29th and December 6th each year. 

Quito is a world-class city packed with activities year-round, but this time of year is extra special for its rotating cultural exhibitions (art shows, photography exhibits, etc.) in temporary installations around town. There are also fireworks, marathons, sports matches, and of course, parades! 

The showstopper of the week-long festival is the Gran Desfile de la Confraternidad, which takes place on December 6th, showcasing dancing, music, and special costumes from the different regions of the country.

14. Santiago National Book Fair, Chile

  • When: October-December
  • Where: Santiago
  • Duration: 8 days
Santiago landmark
If you’re someone who likes books, don’t miss the Santiago National Book Fair!

La Feria del Libro de Santiago is one of the largest book festivals in South America, bringing together writers, publishers, and readers from all over the world in Santiago, Chile. Chile is well-known for talented authors like Pablo Neruda and Isabel Allende, and the fair aims to foster an international love of reading and learning. 

There are ample book-related panels, discussions, and presentations, as well as writing workshops and author signings. While of course you can buy books to your heart’s content, tastefully displayed in all sorts of exhibits, there are also lots of associated theater, music, and dance performances, as well as poetry readings and storytelling sessions for kids.

15. Trans-Chaco Rally, Paraguay 

  • When: Usually September or October
  • Where: Chaco Region
  • Duration: A few days
Chaco region Paraguay
Paraguay’s Trans-Chaco Rally is a must-see event!

For those seeking something a bit more adrenaline-inducing, Paraguay’s Trans-Chaco Rally is something to add to your bucket list. Considered one of the toughest events of its kind in South America, the race covers about 1000 kilometers in the arid Chaco region.

Held annually since 1971, the rally starts in the capital Asunción and takes place over the course of several days, with different categories for professional and amateur contestants and preappointed checkpoints for refueling and repairs. Drivers must navigate over really tough terrain, from sand to rocks to dirt and beyond, and the geography in the Chaco region is really varied – quite a test for participants.

The rally draws thousands of spectators and is a really fun showcase both of Paraguay’s unique landscape and of dare devilish antics.  

16. Internacional de la Primavera, Peru

  • When: Late September
  • Where: Trujillo
  • Duration: 10 days
Peruvian Marinera dance with man on horse and woman - Full Day Ica Tour
Look out for the ‘Caballo de Paso’ competition!

Held annually in Trujillo, Peru, the Internacional de la Primavera festival ushers in the arrival of spring with intricate costumes, local and international music performances, and colorful parades. 

The main draw of the festival is the ‘Caballo de Paso’ competition. Featuring a special Peruvian horse breed called the Paso, the competition judges the horses on their performance, particularly in terms of elegance and poise, hallmarks the breed is known for. 

There are also ample other cultural events going on during this time, including displays of artisan handicrafts, art exhibitions, and more.

17. Mashramani, Guyana

  • When: February 23rd
  • Where: Georgetown
  • Duration: 1 day
YouTube video

Affectionately known as ‘The Mash’, Mashramani takes place every year on February 23rd in Guyana. The word Mashramani is derived from an indigenous word signifying a celebration held after a period of really hard work. In this case, it refers to an annual commemoration of Guyana’s independence from Great Britain in 1966.

Colorful parades stream down the streets as marching bands and steel drums play Guyanese music and other popular Caribbean songs. Parade performers march along to the beat as different floats compete to see who can win the grand prize. 

Attendees can enjoy street vendors serving traditional food and drink and a general atmosphere of joy and celebration, it’s definitely a fun time to visit Guyana.

18. Virgen del Carmen, Peru

  • When: Mid-July
  • Where: Near Cusco
  • Duration: Several days
This South American festival happens annually.

The town of Paucartambo, near Cusco, bursts with visitors once a year for the festival of its patron saint, the Virgin of Mount Carmel. In addition to traditional music and religious processions, this festival is particularly cool for those interested in traditional dance. 

One of the highlights of the festival is a large dance competition, featuring groups that each represent one of the communities in the region. The beautiful costumes and dances performed have been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about Peru’s many diverse communities.  

Speaking of religious processions, the primary one features a statue of the Virgin of Mount Carmel being carried through the streets, where onlookers can shower it with offerings and prayers as it goes by. 

19. Corpus Christi Festival, Ecuador

  • When: Usually June
  • Where: Cuenca
  • Duration: 1 day
Corpus Christi
Corpus Christi is celebrated over the world.

While Corpus Christi is celebrated in many countries around the world, Cuenca is a particularly fun place to experience the various traditions around the holiday. 

Observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the festival kicks off with a special Mass at the city cathedral, attended by thousands of people dressed in traditional clothes. Immediately following, a procession leaves the church, with a high-ranking priest holding an ostensory (a display case) with the Eucharist high above the crowds. 

As the procession makes its way through town, it passes by many altars and shrines. Erected by the locals and decorated with riotous colors of flowers and fruit, they’re designed to symbolize the presence of God among humanity. Corpus Christi is very popular with visitors to Cuenca, so it’s important to ensure you book your lodging in advance.

20. Fiesta de la Tirana, Chile

  • When: Mid-July
  • Where: La Tirana
  • Duration: Several days
La Tirana
A procession heading through La Tirana.

Located in the small town of La Tirana in northern Chile, Fiesta de la Tirana is another traditional celebration of the Virgin del Carmen, the patron saint of Chile. Similarly to other festivals, it also comprises parades, delicious local food, and live music, with a procession making its way around town so those who choose to, can make offerings and say a few prayers. 

The dance performances are also a particularly special aspect of this festival, fusing indigenous, Hispanic, and African influences, accompanied by traditional music featuring drums and pan flutes common to the area.

21. Señor de Los Milagros, Peru

  • When: October
  • Where: Lima
  • Duration: Several days
Historic building in Lima, Peru
Señor de Los Milagros takes place in Lima.

One of Peru’s most popular and highly-attended festivals is Señor de los Milagros, which occurs every October in honor of a sacred image of Christ. Said to have been painted by a slave in the 17th century and to have resisted many attempts to destroy it, the image is housed in the Basilica of San Francisco in Lima and credited with many miracles through the centuries. 

Kicking off with a large procession, a replica of the image is carried through town, surrounded by thousands of participants dressed in deep purple robes. Unlike many other festivals, this one is quite somber, with many lighting candles and taking time for contemplation during this time. The festival as a whole is highlighted by numerous religious ceremonies, particularly families and friends getting together to cook special meals and pray ‘novenas’, special prayers repeated for nine days in a row.

If you’re interested in Peruvian spirituality and expressions of religiosity, this is a wonderful time to visit. However, it’s definitely a more serious event than other religious festivals in South America, and it’s important to be respectful if you do choose to attend. 

From Carnaval in Rio to the Trans-Chaco Rally or ‘The Mash’, a visit to South America when any of the above celebrations are going on is sure to enrich your travel experience. 

Highlighting the beautiful and unique cultural, gastronomic, and religious traditions of a region, attending events such as these is sure to enhance your understanding of the places you visit.

While they might necessitate a little more advance planning, experiencing some of the festivals that South America has to offer may just be the highlight of your trip! 

What’s your favorite festival in South America? Let us know in the comments below!

Tegan & Alex Bio Pic
Tegan George & Alex McKenzie | Why Not Walk

Tegan and Alex are travel, hiking, and biking enthusiasts currently based in Boston, USA. There is nothing they love more than exploring new places by walking, and they have visited over 30 countries together since they met in 2015. Their love for “walking the world” led them to found Why Not Walk, a travel guide site. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest to start planning your next adventure!

Find them on: Facebook | Instagram

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