The Feria de Cali: An Extravaganza for Everyone

Dancers in colorful dresses at the Feria de Cali.
Dancers in colorful dresses at the Feria de Cali. Photo © Ben Bowes, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The Feria de Cali (December 25-31) is an end of year homecoming festival for Caleños, or Cali natives, the world over, and it has everything a Colombian party should: parades, concerts, and plenty of dancing. While for Caleños the Feria might be about reuniting with family and old friends, for visitors, this is the best time to get to know Cali. The Feria takes over every barrio of this sizzling city of sugarcane and salsa, from the Bohemian San Antonio to chic Granada to the Parque la Loma de la Cruz, and ushers out the year in style.

The Feria has become a part of Caleño identity since its inception in the mid-20th century. 1956, Cali was devastated by an accidental explosion that claimed the lives of over 1,000 and flattened several blocks of the city. City leaders conceived of the Feria as a morale-booster to lift Cali out of the ashes. Over the next two decades, Cali prospered, culminating in its hosting of the 1971 Pan American Games, a major coup for the city as well as for Colombia.

The Feria de Cali features daily parades and concerts that draw thousands of spectators and participants. There are two main events: the Salsódromo and the Superconcierto. The festivities begin on Christmas day with the Salsódromo, when salsa troupes from the world over shimmy along a kilometer-long parade route inspired by Rio de Janeiro’s Sambódromo. It’s five hours of color, music, and contagious alegria, and tickets for this salsa extravaganza (available at colboletos.com for a little over $40) go fast.

Then there is the Superconcierto, a concert where international stars like Enrique Iglesias perform for the throngs at the Olympic Stadium — a venue built for the ’71 Pan Am Games. Being Cali, this is not a “sit back and politely listen” type of event: It’s a ten-hour party marathon, and everyone is invited. The Superconcierto starts just before sundown and usually lasts until 3 AM — so make sure you wear comfortable shoes, and don’t plan on making it down to breakfast in the hotel lobby the next morning (at least not without sunglasses).

Other iconic Colombian events include a horseback procession (or cabalgata) and a parade of classic cars. One of the lesser-known (and free!) events is the Encuentro de Melómanos y Coleccionistas, a fair for salsa enthusiasts and record collectors. Collecting vinyl records is serious business in Cali. Each day during the Feria, collectors sell and share memorabilia on the stadium grounds while spinning their favorite tunes.

In addition to the official nightly parties, there are cabaret-style performances by world-renowned dance troupes such as Delirio and Ensálsate. Every night at around 11 PM, you can follow the crowds to the dozens of salsatecas, each with their own personality and groove. Join them and head to one of the dozens of old school bars in the working class neighborhood of Parque Obrero area to nurse a rum drink and soak in the atmosphere, or take to the dancefloor at friendly TinTinDeo. (Well, when in Cali…)

View the entire Feria de Cali schedule at feriadecali.com.

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