Colombia, with its vibrant culture and warm climate, may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of traditional Christmas festivities. However, expats and digital nomads will find that Colombians celebrate the holiday season with a unique and infectious spirit. From dazzling light displays to festive markets, there’s a wealth of places to visit in December to get into the holiday mood. Here are some of the best places to experience the magic of Christmas in Colombia.
Medellín is renowned for its spectacular Christmas lights, known as “El Alumbrado.” The city transforms into a wonderland of lights, with the Medellín River and many parks and public spaces decked out in elaborate displays. The lights typically turn on in early December and last until the end of the holiday season. The city also hosts various events, including concerts and cultural performances, adding to the festive atmosphere.
We Recommend: Don’t miss the chance to try buñuelos and natilla, traditional Colombian Christmas treats, which you’ll find at many street vendors near the light displays.
Bogotá’s Usaquén Neighborhood
In Bogotá, the Usaquén neighborhood is a must-visit for holiday enthusiasts. The area’s colonial architecture provides a picturesque backdrop for the Christmas market, “Mercado de Navidad de Usaquén,” where artisans sell handmade gifts, decorations, and local cuisine. The market usually runs throughout December, offering a cozy, festive experience reminiscent of European Christmas markets.
We Recommend: Sample the artisanal hot chocolate, often served with cheese – a Colombian twist on a classic winter warmer.
Cali is famous for its “Feria de Cali,” which starts on December 25th and continues until the end of the month. While it’s more of a cultural festival than a Christmas event, it’s imbued with holiday cheer. The fair includes salsa dancing, music, parades, and a variety of performances. The “Salsódromo” parade is the fair’s opening event and is a spectacle of rhythm and color not to be missed.
We Recommend: Enjoy the local delicacy of pandebono, a cheesy bread perfect for snacking while enjoying the festivities.
Boyacá’s Villa de Leyva
Villa de Leyva, in the Boyacá department, is a colonial town that hosts a magical Christmas festival known as the “Festival de Luces.” Held in early December, the festival features fireworks, music, and thousands of candles lighting up the town’s streets and the main square, creating a serene and beautiful atmosphere.
We Recommend: Try the local version of mulled wine, known as “canelazo,” which is sure to keep you warm on a cool December night.
The coastal city of Cartagena offers a tropical Christmas with its historic walled city adorned with festive lights and decorations. The warm weather allows for outdoor Christmas concerts and events, including live music and dance performances. The city’s plazas and churches often host choirs singing traditional villancicos (Christmas carols).
We Recommend: Indulge in the coastal treat of cocadas, a sweet coconut candy, available from street vendors in the Old Town.
Bucaramanga, known as “La Ciudad de los Parques” (The City of Parks), lights up its numerous parks with Christmas decorations. The most famous is the “Navidad en el Parque,” where each park features different themes and light structures. The event starts in early December and includes cultural activities and food stalls serving regional holiday specialties.
We Recommend: Don’t leave without trying arequipe, a sweet caramel spread often found at holiday markets.
In Manizales, the Christmas season is celebrated with the “Noche de Velitas” (Night of the Little Candles) on December 7th. Locals place candles and paper lanterns on windowsills, balconies, and sidewalks. The city also features holiday markets and live Nativity scenes, creating a traditional and community-focused holiday experience.
We Recommend: Enjoy a cup of the region’s famous coffee, often served alongside Christmas treats.
Barranquilla may be best known for its Carnival, but the city also embraces the Christmas spirit. The “Desfile de Navidad” (Christmas Parade) is a highlight, featuring floats, dancers, and musicians. Taking place in mid-December, it’s a lively event that brings together the community and visitors in celebration.
We Recommend: Taste the savory pastel de pollo, a chicken-filled pastry that’s a popular snack during the holiday festivities.
Rionegro, near Medellín, is another town that goes all out for Christmas. The “Alumbrados de Rionegro” (Rionegro Light Displays) are a local tradition, with thematic light installations throughout the town. The displays are usually accompanied by a schedule of cultural events, including music and dance performances.
We Recommend: Try the sweet and chewy natilla, a custard-like dessert that’s a staple during Colombian Christmas celebrations.
Whether you’re looking for traditional festivities, tropical celebrations, or cultural fairs, Colombia offers a diverse array of destinations to get into the holiday spirit. Each of these places provides a unique way to experience the joy and warmth of a Colombian Christmas, making for an unforgettable holiday season.