Summer in Colombia is full of encanto (enchantment) and delight. Whether you’re a flower enthusiast, a culture-seeker, or adventurer, we encourage you to plan your trip around the vibrant world of Colombia’s Feria de las Flores (flower festival). A breathtaking invitation to experience culture and tradition through a floral fiesta, this feast for the eyes brings the flourishing of the soul.
The city of Medellín is in full swing by late July, putting the richest colors of life on display for around 10 days. For months, caretakers painstakingly curate each bloom in order to cultivate not only the gorgeous flowers, but the joy of locals and visitors. There are over 140 public events in 35 locations, so you can take your pick (pun intended) of activities.
One of the biggest festivals in Colombia, the Feria de las Flores features over 3000 local, national, and international artists joining in to entertain with music, folkloric dance, parades, and pageantry. While the experience is ephemeral, like a flower, the impact will be forever. Come for the creativity, festivities, and food, and leave with a part of Colombia eternally in your heart!
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The origins of Feria de las Flores
This festival has roots going back to the colonial era, but it has since grown to rival such well-known fiestas as Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, or Festival de la Candelaria (Candlemas Festival) in Perú.
One of the main events of the festival emerged from an ancient practice of carrying goods (and the wealthy!) on wooden structures called silletas, related to the word silla (chair). Strong and hard-working laborers (including forced laborers according to some reports), would carry the silleta with loads of goods or people on their backs, up and down the steep paths through the Andes region. These heavy loads often included large quantities of flowers to be sold in town.
From the early 1900’s, flower cultivation was the key economic opportunity in the Medellín area. The city, located in the department of Antioquia, earned its moniker as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of the splendid climate conducive to year-round flower cultivation. By 1930, the city was the second-largest exporter of flowers, after the Netherlands.
The first official festival was held in 1957, promoted by the city’s Tourism office, led by Mr. Arturo Uribe Arango. It lasted five days, but has now doubled to 10!
When is Feria de las Flores?
The Feria (fair, festival) is held each summer, with pre-fair festivities beginning in mid-July, and official Feria events from late July into early August. It was originally conceived at this time to coincide with the day of Independence of Santa Fe de Antioquia from Spain on August 11, 1813.
Intrigued? It would be wise to book travel and accommodations well in advance, as this event draws tens of thousands of guests from around the globe. You can start to make your specific itineraries as soon as the city of Medellín publishes the program of events, an over 100-page document that is just as beautifully presented as the festival events themselves.
How is Feria de las Flores celebrated today?
The festival has grown from a modest celebration of a historic tradition to a full-blown cultural extravaganza with intricate floral masterpieces, soul-stirring rhythms, classic car parades, a motorcycle rally, a glamorous beauty pageant, and other contests and concerts.
You’ll join crowds from around the world to witness the connection between generations of locals to the pride and history of their campesino (rural peasant farmer) roots. This celebration of life itself also generates an important number of tourist dollars, breathing life into the local economy.
You will find activities related to the Feria de las Flores throughout Medellín and the surrounding areas, including in parks, museums, malls, zoos, aquariums, bars, and restaurants. No matter your entertainment preferences, every location will bloom with the spirit of celebration!
Desfile de Silleteros parade
No one visiting Medellín wants to miss the main event, which is why the Desfile de Silleteros (Silletero Parade) draws over 800,000 spectators each year. The parade has deep historical ties to the silletas and those who carried them, dating back to colonial times.
Artisans created silletas, wooden structures with handles, on which to carry goods and members of the higher social classes on their backs. The silleteros (those who carry the silletas), would most notably make the 22 kilometer journey from the town of Santa Elena to the center of the city of Medellín. Over the years, they would compete to adorn their silletas with the most appealing flowers.
The fruits, vegetables, and flowers that they carried were destined for sale at the fresh market, Placita de Flores, which opened in 1891 and still operates today! Pop in to experience fresh baked delights, cheese, meats, coffee, and other delicacies, as well as handmade baskets, candles, and other souvenirs.
The Desfile de Silleteros is the final event on the last day of the festival. Over 500 silleteros of all ages will walk a 2.4 kilometer route, cheered on by fans and visitors. They carry multiple forms of silletas:
- Traditional: Simple and closest to the earliest forms, these carry a minimum of 15 fresh flower varieties.
- Emblematic: Dried flowers display a message of civic, religious, or educational interest.
- Monumental: Like the traditional silletas but larger, heavier, and with at least 20 fresh flower varieties.
- Corporate or Institutional: Brands participate with sponsored silletas but may not compete in the judging. This is the only time dyed flowers are used. The rest are natural colors only!
- Artistic: These are sometimes 3D and have fewer limitations.
If you can’t make it to the parade, it will be televised, and many silletas will be on display to the public for a few days afterward.
Chivas are brightly-colored rustic buses that are adorned and elaborately painted for parades and parties. It’s a fierce competition to stand out and be the winning chiva! You can line up super early to get tickets to ride during the parade. Not only are you part of the magical (and loud!) atmosphere, you can spray and be sprayed with carnival foam, play noisemakers and horns, and dance to the music. This atmosphere isn’t for sensitive ears, as music, sirens, revving engines, marching bands, and merrymakers compete to fill any gap in the soundscape!
Things to know before you go
- Book early! In the past several years, as the breathtaking images of the festivities make connections and inspire travel dreams around the world, hotel accommodations in the area have been completely booked.
- Take public transportation. Crowds gather early and parking is limited. The metro might be crowded, but it’s easier to catch than a taxi or rideshare, as traffic patterns are affected and roads are closed for the festivals and parades.
- Observe local regulations on alcohol. Drinking is forbidden in some public areas, and drinking hours vary by location. These hours are extended during the festival, but be respectful of times.
- Download the program guide. The city of Medellín’s official page publishes a helpful document that details all of the possible activities, but all events and times are subject to change after publication.
- Take advantage of free events! Many of the events at the Feria de las Flores are free and non-ticketed.This also means large crowds and first-come first-serve seating, so be very early to anything important to you.
- ….or splurge! You can book fancy meals, helicopter tours, or even tourist packages in advance.
- Expect crowds. Tickets for the best seating is pre-sold and sells out locally within hours. These are not sold abroad unless you have a reputable travel agent as a part of a package. Buyer beware, even the premium seats are seemingly overbooked, so you still have to arrive very early or risk not having a seat at all, even if you paid for one.
- Don’t try to see everything! There are literally dozens of events each day, so use the official program guide to plan your highlights, and then let spontaneity guide you to brilliant experiences along the way!
- Be alert. Any time there are crowds, there are pickpockets (no matter where you travel). Keep only the valuables you must have on your person, keep everything very close to your body, and keep an eye on each other.
- It’s more than just parades! There’s so much to see, including:
- Artisan markets
- Floral and art exhibitions
- Concerts, both small and massive! Carlos Vives and Shakira have headlined in past years.
- Dance contests
- A pageant
- A bicycle parade
- You can buy yourself flowers! No, you probably can’t take them back home, but they are worth enjoying during your trip. There is no shortage of long-lasting recuerdos (souvenirs), but don’t neglect a nice fresh bouquet of the finest blooms in the world to enjoy while they last!
- Visit Santa Elena to see the silletas as they’re being built.
Flower festivals around the world
Follow the blooms to your favorite destination! Here are several popular flower-themed presentations and events around the globe.
Ambato, Ecuador: Festival of Fruit and Flowers
Held in February, the city of Ambato hosts parades, culinary events, cultural performances, and fruit and flower exhibitions! Regional plants lean tropical, so you’re sure to plenty of unique elements, including guanabana or soursop, the national fruit of Ecuador!
Brussels, Belgium: Brussels Flower Carpet
Held every two years in August, the Brussels festival features an intricate display exquisitely crafted to reflect a theme of Belgian culture. It is illuminated at night and only on display for a few days!
Chiang Mai, Thailand: Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Typically held in February, Chiang Mai features street vendors, parades, and cultural performances as well as garden competitions. Buak Hat Park is transformed into a stunning floral display.
Learn more about Colombian culture with Rosetta Stone
We’ve barely scratched the surface of the magic of Feria de las Flores and the wider Colombian heritage it puts on display. Festivals in Colombia are an invitation to experiences as diverse as the flora and fauna of this incredible country.
Whether you’re up for a stroll through peaceful parks, typical tourist activities like museums or shopping centers, or the festive joy of the parade scenes, summer in Medellín brings together a bouquet of colorful experiences at Feria de las Flores.
You’ll feel most prepared if you can comprehend schedules, signs, and programs in Spanish! The program guide has 100 pages of information and addresses, but no English translation. Building your confidence with basic Spanish words and phrases ahead of time can open the door to hundreds of activities and a smooth itinerary!
Rosetta Stone can help you master everyday phrases and important travel vocabulary. You’ll even have the opportunity to refine your pronunciation in every lesson with TruAccent, which is built into every lesson. You won’t get language learning like this anywhere else.
Written by Jamie Edwards
Jamie is a learner and teacher of Spanish and French. When she’s not learning new words, you’ll find her on the soccer sidelines, ski slopes, and track and field bleachers enjoying the four seasons of Western New York.