Bolivia is home to some of the most unusual and exciting festivals on the planet. Check out our guide to Bolivia’s tradition and holidays to learn more!
Fun-Filled Festivals in Bolivia
Bolivia is a breathtaking country in South America, and it is full of unique sites and tourist attractions. The country is mainly famous for its rich Incan and pre-Incan history. It’s a travelers’ favorite due to some stunning mountain ranges (Andes), cute guanaco llamas, colorful traditional clothing, the highest salt flats on the planet, and much more. Plus, the country is also a record-breaker in various other categories. It holds the number one spot for the highest city on the planet at over 11,000 feet (La Paz).
And because of its unique inhabitants and partygoers, Bolivia is home to a multitude of parades (Entradas) and lots of unique and wild festivals. Bolivian festivals attract thousands of travelers each year, and they are definitely worth exploring. From the traditional and spiritual to the westernized and outright crazy holidays, any traveler can enjoy a fun and otherworldly experience while visiting Bolivia!
Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria, Copacabana
This festival takes place on February 2 each year. The celebrations occur in the small and sleepy village of Copacabana, located on the shores of Lake Titicaca. For three days, the quiet fishing village comes alive. It gets a noteworthy amount of local and international visitors.
The Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria is held to celebrate and pay tribute to Virgen de Copacabana. She is Bolivia’s patron saint who is sometimes called the Lady of Copacabana or the Dark Virgin of the lake. According to legend, she appeared out of the sky to help some drowning fishermen on Lake Titicaca. After that, the fishermen sculpted a statue to honor her. During the three-day festival, villagers and visitors take to the streets to party and pray.
One of the most usual events at the festival is all about villagers blessing their priests’ new cars with beer. There’s also a traditional bull run which is similar to Spanish traditions. Other highlights of this festival include colorful costumes and unique Aymara dances that can give you a glimpse of the country’s rich tradition. What’s more, there are plenty of food carts and street vendors who will lift everyone’s spirit with traditional food and lots of beer.
Fiesta de San Juan
This festival happens in June, which marks the beginning of winter in the country. Every year on June 23, the entire country celebrates San Juan, a catholic saint. According to tradition, the Bolivian people lit large fires outside their homes on the day. They threw worn belongings and clothes into the fire as a ritual to discard old things and embrace the new season. Moreover, the fires were also meant to get rid of ancient evil spirits and keep people warm on the coldest night of the year.
The celebrations and beliefs concerning the Fiesta de San Juan changed a lot over the years. Now, it’s also common to see psychics who can “read” the ashes of the flames and see what your future holds in store. There are many other unique rituals that happen during the festival. That includes terrifying fire-walking, which gives a warning to spirits and lets them know that the brave fire-walker is not afraid of them. People are also encouraged to sleep in on the day of the festivities. If they wake up early, it’s said that they won’t get quality sleep for the whole of the next year.
Unfortunately, the law has prohibited bonfires during the festival due to toxic emissions. Nevertheless, you can still see legal bonfires in big and small towns, and you can also take part in copious drinking and watch some impressive firework displays.
Carnaval de Oruro
This carnival is one of the largest celebrations in Bolivia, and it occurs on a Saturday, approximately ten days before Ash Wednesday. The festivities take place in Oruro. This is a quiet town in the high Altiplano plateau. Yet, it comes alive during the Carnaval de Oruro when over 400,000 people arrive for the celebrations.
Originally, this was an indigenous festival, but it has also adapted some Christian traditions over the years. UNESCO considers it to be one of the most important cultural heritage events worldwide. During the carnival, you’ll see unique costumes, folk dances, arts and crafts, and more. And if you’re a party animal, you’ll be glad to know that most people enjoy the festivities for around 20 continuous hours! This is definitely one of the best festivals in Bolivia because it allows you to experience the rich cultural heritage of its people while also giving you the opportunity to relax and party all day!
Todos Santos is Bolivia’s All Saints’ Day, and it takes place on November 1. It blends indigenous traditions with Catholic beliefs. For families, this is one of the most important Bolivian holidays. During the day, they can welcome the returning spirits of the dead. Many Bolivian households fill their dining tables with a wide range of delights to welcome those spirits. In return, it’s said that the spirits bring them rain which provides healthy crops in the next year.
As for this religious festival, it is mainly celebrated in private. The highlight is the Almuerzo feast which pays tribute to the dead.
Dia de Los Muertos
Much like Todos Santos, the day after marks the Dia de Los Muertos or the famous Day of the Dead. On November 2, thousands of people in Bolivia as well as in other countries like Mexico and Brazil celebrate the deceased. In Bolivia, the locals bring food to the graves of their deceased family members. That mainly includes cake, candy, and even popcorn and beer. They are meant as offerings to provide nourishment for the deceased. The festivities during the day are incredibly unique and entertaining, as thousands of people take to the streets and celebrate the spirits of the departed.
The Aymara New Year
On June 21, the entire country celebrates the Aymara people, an indigenous nation that inhabits Peru and Bolivia. The date coincides with the winter solstice and marks the new year in the Aymaran calendar. The most common site of this festival is the Tiwanaku ruins which were built during pre-Incan times. This ancient location brings in thousands of travelers and locals each year.
The main event occurs in the early hours of the morning. Namely, people stay up all night and wait for dawn. Then, everyone watches as the sun shines through the entrance of the Tiwanaku temple. But before that, the celebrations include a variety of traditional and modern rituals.
During the night of the Aymara New Year, you’ll see a lot of unique ceremonial clothing along with copious amounts of Singani, a traditional Bolivian liquor. Also, visitors can dance until dawn, chew cocoa or drink hot chocolate, and purchase art or food. It’s also not unusual to see locals sacrificing llamas as an offering to the spirits. What’s more, this festival is famous among campers as tons of people set up tents and party until the morning.
There are many other festivals and celebrations in Bolivia, including the Gran Poder, Santa Semana (holy week), Good Friday, the Alasitas Festival, and more. Hopefully, you’ll get to visit some of them and enjoy the beauty of this wonderful country!