Cali Fair: Colombia’s Most Important December Festival
La feria de Cali en Colombia (Cali fair in Colombia) is one of the most colorful and magical events that take place in South America.
El Distrito Especial, Deportivo, Cultural, Turístico, Empresarial y de Servicios de Santiago de Cali, known simply as Distrito de Cali (Cali District) is the third most important city in Colombia, because of its cultural and economical relevance, and because it’s the third most populated city in the country.
While there are plenty of fun experiences to be had in Cali, today we’re focusing on la feria de Cali—the Cali fair history, what makes it so iconic and popular, and what to do there if you visit during the holidays.
A Little Bit About Cali
The city of Santiago de Cali is located in the southern region of Colombia, in the department of Valle del Cauca (Cauca Valley), 187 miles (300 km) from Bogotá.
Sebastian Belálcazar named the city in honor of Santiago Apostle, the patron saint of Spain, but the origin of the name “Cali” is a big controversy among locals. Some people say that it comes from Nahuatl calli, meaning “house.”
But one of the most accepted theories suggests that the name originated from the quechua word “cari” or “cali”, which means caribs. The conquistador Sebastian Belálcazar took the word from the indigenous people in his troops and added it to the name of the city when he founded it. There is a really interesting entry on this topic in the blog Mi Cali es así if you are interested in reading more on it.
The demonym (a descriptive term for those who inhabit a specific place) for those who live in Cali is caleño and caleña.
Heartwarming Humanity of Cali Fair
There is so much to talk about Colombia that we can find ourselves a little bit overwhelmed when thinking where to start.
Colombia is a naturally rich country. Its natural resources, like the Liquid Rainbow River, are breathtaking and invite you to write your own adventure when visiting.
Colombian cuisine, so full of flavor and tradition, is recognized all around the world, and their coffee is one of the best you can taste in the American Continent.
But what I love about Colombia the most is its people. How heartwarming and welcoming they are, and how they can be so full of positivity and good vibes, even in the hardest of times.
And that’s what Cali fair traditions are all about.
History: the Origin of Cali Fair
A terrible accident took place in the city of Cali on August 7, 1956. There was a huge explosion that destroyed part of the city, killed more than 4,000 people, and hurt at least 12,000. This event caused the city a great deal of sadness as they fell into a recession.
More than a year later, the authorities planned the fair as a way to reactivate the city, and people loved it so much it became a yearly tradition that the citizens and tourists in Cali expect at the end of the year.
Cali fair is the perfect example of the resilience and strength of the Colombian people, especially of the caleños.
Something that began to take place after that terrible incident is now one of the most colorful and happiest of celebrations.
What To Do During the Cali Fair
As the organizers of la Feria de Cali in Colombia describe on the official site, dancing, music, and happiness is what defeats tragedy and celebrates the miracle of existence.
Cali Fair is a symbol of unity and hope, a place where people of so many different backgrounds converge to have a good time. More than a fair or a festival, la feria de Cali is a fiesta, a party for everyone to enjoy.
But what can you do at the Cali fair?
Well, after celebrating Christmas in the Colombian way, it is time to enjoy the rest of the holidays in this tropical city. The fair takes place from December 25 to December 30.
There are 58 events during the fair, and 57 of those are free, so you have a lot to choose from!
Live The Music
The event that inaugurates la feria de Cali is el Salsódromo, a parade in which more than 1,200 dancers of 30 different dance schools participate and fill the streets with rhythm and colors. The music danced during el Salsódromo is Salsa, and Cali is considered the capital of Salsa.
The beautiful and intricate choreographies invite you to dance. And don’t worry if you don’t know how, the middle of Cali fair is the perfect place to learn.
But where does the music come from?
While big speakers and megaphones can be a good idea, the music in la feria de Cali is live. Yes, live!
While the performers parade while dancing, the best Salsa orchestras play their delightful music while being transported in parade cars. It is like a moving concert! You can watch all your favorite artists and dance to their music without moving from your preferred spot!
El Salsódromo takes place in Roosevelt Avenue in Cali.
Now, maybe you enjoy music but your passion lies in the beautiful shapes, colors, and designs of classic cars.
Don’t worry, la feria de Cali provides the best of both worlds!
Just like el Salsódromo, the classic cars parade is one of the most awaited activities during Cali fair.
If you attend this parade, you can even see cars built during the first decades of the 20th century, more modern but classic cars, and learn about their history, and how they have also shaped the history of Cali.
The owners of the cars usually dress up in time-accurate vintage costumes to participate in the parade, which makes you feel like you have traveled through time and are watching those beautiful machines in their prime.
La feria de Cali is more than just culture and traditions.
It was first thought of as a way to relieve the economic pressure Cali was going through after the explosion in the city, and to this day, the economic activities during are of great help for the Caleños and even people of other parts of Colombia.
One of the most important economic events back in the day was the Taurine party—a part of the festivities that included bull runs or bullfights— but today, the economic activities and locally-owned ventures are some of the highlights of the Cali fair.
One of the most important is La Feria Artesanal del Emprendimiento (The Craft Fair of Entrepreneurship) where locals can present their handicrafts projects done with techniques from the Colombian Pacific area.
If you want to learn about Colombian and Cali culture, then the Cali fair is the perfect place to do so.
In the space of five days, you can attend parties, concerts, festivals, and a rural fair!
One of the most important activities is the Carnaval de Cali Viejo (old Cali Carnaval), which is a parade full of traditional traditions that are kept alive by the Afro-descendants and indigenous people that live in Cali.
The Carnaval de Cali Viejo takes place at 4 in the afternoon and ends really late at night.
What is a fair or a festival without good food?
La feria de Cali is the perfect place for you to try all the delicious food that Colombia offers, but most importantly, you can try Caleña gastronomy, something authentic to Cali.
Cali is popular for its empanadas, its ceviche, a deep-fried plantain snack stuffed with cheese called aborrajados, and luladas, a traditional refreshing drink made with lulos or naranjillas.
Is common to eat this delicious food in las Tascas, which are traditional places, like a cafeteria or a restaurant, where tourists can enjoy different kinds of food, at the same time they are entertained with music or dance shows.
You can find las Tascas in the Retreta park, near Paseo Bolivar.
If you want more information about the Cali fair, check their official site here.
Learn Spanish to Enjoy Cali Fair
Attending la feria de Cali can be one of the best decisions to end this year and enjoy the last days of December in a fun and active environment. I am sure that Colombia and Cali will welcome you with open arms.
Learning useful phrases in Spanish when traveling through Latin America is a great idea to manage to communicate with the locals, but being able to speak and understand Spanish will make your life so much easier and more fun during your visit! Being able to talk with the locals more naturally lets you have a more fulfilling and authentic experience without the language barrier.
When planning your next trip, it is important to make fast decisions and be attentive of your surroundings and options. Learning Spanish helps your cognition and decision-making abilities, so that way you can decide where to go, what to eat, and what to try on your adventure!
So what are you waiting for? Sign up today for a free 1-to-1 class with a certified native Spanish-speaking teacher at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Check out our programs and take a peek at our affordable prices and begin this new adventure with us!
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