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Friday, September 30, 2016

Get Your Party On - Cuencano Festivals

There's really not a bad time to come visit Cuenca, or Ecuador in general, but if you want to party with the locals in a focused and purposeful manner you might want to visit during one of their major festivals.

El Año Viejo (New Years Eve/literally "the old year"):

Think fireworks, bonfires and effigies (called viejos or años viejos). Not everyone gets this idea, as effigy burning has a different connotation for many people. Here, it's just a way to get rid of the bad feelings from the old year and send out wishes and prayers for the coming year. The effigies are often familiar and beloved characters filled with fireworks and hand written notes that express the dreams for the new year. The pictures may look like we've just survived a civil war, but the only battle is between the communities for best effigy installation. This is a family friendly event, with even small children hopping over the bonfires to have good luck in the new year. Top this off with fireworks and the new year is a pretty great experience. (December 31)
Hoping to win the World Cup

Pick a mask

Pick a body and make a Viejo
Then set it on fire and jump over it 3 times for
good luck!
 Dia de los Santos Inocentes (Day of the Innocent Saints or sainted innocents):

Parades are a common occurrence here, but this is one of the larger ones. This parade is a light hearted (and sometimes not so light) mockery of all the little issues that bug Cuencanos through out the year. A particular favourite with the locals, especially the children, expect to see expat's being made fun of and other interesting floats and costumes. The satire is heavy and the parade, held on the last day of the celebrations, has been going on since colonization. (December 28 to January 6)


This isn't for everyone, but if you like water fights, this might be the time for you to visit. Cans of fun foam, bags of flour and water guns are de rigeur. For the most part the Ecuadorian youth have been educated to not wantonly attack foreigners, but it's been known to happen - an unexpected jet of water from a passing car, a water balloon from a roof top or a random drive by foaming. If you're prepared for it, it's a pretty good time. The foam doesn't stain your clothes, the water dries and the flour can be shaken out. Be prepared to have people ask you if it's okay to spray you. Of course, if you're packing (either cans of foam or water guns) that makes you a free target right away. The final weekend culminates in huge water/foam fights down in the local parks. Parque Calderon is awash in foam. (The two weeks prior to the Lenten season)

Corpus Cristi (Body of Christ):

The streets are packed with sweets vendors and the square around Parque Calderon is blocked off by the local barrios firework towers. Every night during the festival, the towers are lit up and an incredible display of close up (and I mean close up...mind your clothes) fireworks. Spinners and sparklers work their way up the tower until the top gets lit up and ends in an impressive show of more traditional fireworks. Usually two towers a night are set off. Don't worry about being able to stay awake, with all the sugar you've imbibed during the day (the vendors have something for everyone), you'll be ready to watch the spectacle.
(Held the 9th Thursday after Easter meaning usually in June)

Tres de noviembre (The Third of November):

This is the day of Cuenca's liberation from the invading Spanish. The celebration is held over a three day long weekend and features a huge artisanal market along the banks of the River Tomebamba (Toe-may-BOM-ba), feature artists throughout the cities galleries and museums and closed streets throughout the city. All manner of goods can be purchased and many artisans come from all over South America to participate. There are also free concerts and what would a celebration be without fireworks and food?
(Held the weekend closest to November 3rd.) 

Pase del Niño Viajero (Passage of the Traveling/Wandering Child):

If parades are your thing, then this is a must. The desfile (Spanish for parade) is an event a year long in planning and you'll need to eat your Wheaties if you're going to see the whole thing. It's not unusual for the parade to last for 9 or more hours and it features all sorts of music, floats and groups of Indigenous dancers. It mixes the sacred with the profane. (I've seen the Virgin Mary riding a bicycle decorated like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.) If you're lucky you can score a place in one of the surrounding buildings that offers a balcony over looking the festivities. We usually go down for a while in the morning, break for lunch and possibly a nap (depending on how warm the day is) and then head back for a second round in the afternoon. Be prepared for throngs of people who don't adhere to the regular rules of parade viewing. The parade is often stopped to push back eager viewers to the curb of the street. Children can score candy, thrown from the floats and if it's hot enough the fire department will be out offering to hose them down with water. (Held December 24th)

Of course, there's a lot more going on here. Parades spring up with no notice and there are also art, music, food and even orchid festivals throughout the year, but the festivals mentioned above are fairly big and don't tend to change dates or times of year. Come anytime and have a fantastic holiday, but plan to try and hit some of the big events if you can.


  1. I love that you share and explain the culture. I think the water and foam fights sound like a lot of fun! Have you taken part? -Jenn

    1. We usually get hit in drive-bys or per request. I think this year, we'll go down and have at it, in honour of a one of our friends that we lost this year. He loved that stuff! The worst part is if it gets sprayed right in your ear, but a good hat takes care of that.