Cultural Events & Festivals
As in most countries, many of the festivals and holidays celebrated in Ecuador are linked to seasons, religious observances, and cultural traditions. Here are ten of the most important events and festivals.
Easter Week – Quito/National
Easter Week is a significant celebration in all Latin American countries, and Ecuador‘s capital city, Quito, observes this tradition with a series of ceremonies and rituals that begin on Palm Sunday. At noon on Good Friday, the March of the Penitents proceeds from the Church of San Francisco, in memory of the hour that Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified. Hooded figures known as cucuruchos and “Veronicas” proceed through historic downtown, accompanied by shirtless men bearing heavy crosses, each one representing Jesus. The procession continues until 3pm, the purported hour of Jesus’ death.
Corpus Christi – Pujili (Second week of June)
This religious holiday incorporates many aspects of indigenous mythology, and whose name, which literally means “body of Christ,” is celebrated throughout Ecuador. Most notably in Pujili, the celebration features exotic, richly symbolic costumes, and Danzantes del Sol, or sun dancers. This choreography serves as a ceremonial function of expressing gratitude towards the Sun and the Moon for another good harvest. Music, food, and drink are ubiquitous, and the festivities are complimented by the many beautiful gardens that are on display throughout the country.
Inti Raymi – Otavalo, Cotacachi, Ingapirca and Ibarra (June 21)
The “party of the sun and harvest” is one of the most purely ancestral events in Ecuador. The locals seek out rivers, springs and cascades when the summer solstice arrives on June 21st for a physical and spiritual cleansing. This functions as a regenerative reunion with nature’s forces, and reinforces the hope of fertile harvests. Participants enjoy special grain-based foods and the performance of a ritual dance, which centers around the figure of the Aya Uma, a two-faced, twelve-horned mountain god.
San Pedro y San Pablo – Otavalo, Cayambe, and Cotacachi (June 24th)
This is religious themed holiday, particularly popular in rural areas of the country, combines Roman Catholicism with pre-Colombian tributes to ancient fertility rituals, both human and agricultural. Here, women eager to become mothers leap over bonfires for good luck, while at the same time, the locals burn old clothing so bad luck itself can go up in smoke. Another incendiary tradition, the “burning of the beard of Saint Peter,” involves old tires, paper, and eucalyptus branches. On the last day, fireworks and ringing bells herald the arrival of a local marching band. The plazas fill and people pray for the success of their bean and corn crops.
Paseo del Chagra – Machachi (July 20)
Tourists with horse riding skills may participate in Ecuador’s popular rodeo, a roundup and herding of Ganado Bravo, or “fighting cattle,” from the 4000-meter high plateaus of Cotopaxi National Park. Among the challenges is locating the bulls and, of course, wearing down their resistance to be herded down to the haciendas and ranches in the valleys below. The nights can be quite chilly, so bring along several layers of clothing and a warm jacket. Read more about the annual Paseo del Chagra festival here.
Virgen de El Cisne – El Cisne/Loja (August 16 to September 8)
Fiesta de la Virgen de El Cisne is perhaps Ecuador’s most remarkable display of religious devotion. Known for its arduous pilgrimage and solemn adoration, the most famous of these celebrations begins on August 16th in the small town of El Cisne in the southern province of Loja. El Cisne is home to the Lady of El Cisne (a statue of the Virgin Mary), to whom a miracle was attributed in 1594. This event is commemorated every year by carrying the statue from El Cisne on foot some 70 kilometers in a massive pilgrimage of more than 400,000 people. Several stops are made along the way where the Virgin’s outfit is changed and ceremonies and celebrations are done, until it reaches the Loja Cathedral where celebrations with fireworks, dance, and music take place. She is returned to El Cisne in November. Read more about the annual Fiesta de la Virgen de El Cisne here.
Fiesta del maíz – Sangolqui (August 29 to September 12)
There is much to enjoy at this “festival of corn.” The two-week harvest celebration features a parade with beauty queens, chagras (Andean cowboys), and volcano-themed floats. Musical acts abound, from folkloric singers to municipal marching band. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the painting and ceramic competitions sponsored by Sangolqui’s College of Architects as well the traditional fireworks, bullfights and cockfighting. You should not miss sampling the wonderful food and drink at this festival.
Fiesta de Yamor – Otavalo (first week of September)
Another harvest festival, Fiesta de Yamor in Otavalo combines native pre-colonial and Catholic religious traditions to celebrate the fertility of the corn crops during the year’s second equinox. Participants can enjoy a pre-Colombian tradition of the preparation of a special liquor, Chicha, made from seven varieties of corn. Tributes are made to the indigenous earth mother, Allpa Mama, and to the Virgin of Otavalo, Nina Maria. In addition to the election of the “Yamor Queen,” special events include folk dancing, parades, cockfights and bullfights (where the bull is not actually killed).
Dia de los Santos y los Almas – National (November 1 & 2)
Latin America celebrates All Saints Day, followed by the Day of the Dead, on the first and second day of November, somewhat like the North American observances of Halloween. In Ecuador the holiday is thought to be a day to “catch up” with the souls of the dearly departed who come to visit their kin during this time. Family members visit their deceased at local cemeteries, taking with them an appropriate holiday offering, thought to be needed to further the soul on its way in the afterlife. The staple food of the season is the famous colada morada, a thick purple fruit drink, and the guaguas de pan, a kind of sweet bread in the shape of dolls.
Mama Negra – Latacunga (Second Saturday in November)
One of Ecuador’s most colorful and popular holidays, the Mama Negra integrates the Spanish, Incan, Aymaran, Mayan and African cultures, and in recent years, the gay culture as well. The celebration, held on the second Saturday of November, is a fascinating event: a mixture of divergent traditions and a public celebration of civic pride. The Angel of the Stars, the Moorish King and Los Huaos are among the icons recognized. The arrival of the Mama Negra (the Black Mother) on horseback is the grand finale. Candy and wine containers are tossed to the crowds, and restaurants feature Latacunga’s most famous Ecuadorian dish, Chugchucaras, which is deep fried pork, pork rinds, popcorn, potatoes, maize and plantain. Read more about the annual Mama Negra festival here.