Colombia is one of the most popular winter destinations for Americans who want to celebrate the holidays with lots of festivities and escape the cold temperatures, and for Colombian expats who want to visit loved ones during the special holiday season. Christmas time brings lights, decorations and fireworks to the streets, while January brings some of the biggest music, book, and handicraft festivals in the country. These are some of the things to do and places to visit in Colombia during the holidays.

See the Holiday Lights

things to do and places to visit in colombia: A woman's hand is seen, holding a lit candle to begin with the traditional day celebrated on December 7 called “Noche de Velitas”

December 7 is celebrated as Día de las Velitas, or ‘Day of the little Candles’, all over Colombia. You can see houses and streets decorated with candles and lamps, and experience fireworks, music, and dancing at night. The 9 days leading up to Christmas are called ‘novenas.’ This is when families, friends, and neighbors pray together, sing carols and have house parties.

The city of Medellin is known to be one of the best cities in the world to see Christmas lights, and the locals, known as paisas, take their Christmas decorations very seriously. The 52nd anniversary of Medellin’s Christmas Lights known as Alumbrados EPM, tradiciones que iluminan la Navidad will boast 27 million LED lights and 32,000 hand-woven figures this year.

Shop Local

 things to do and places to visit in colombia: local crafts in colombia

Image by Sucheta Rawal

Fabrics, jewelry, woodwork, and leather are just a few of the things Colombia is famous for. Plan your shopping trip around the FAREX Fair in Cartagena. Twenty years running, this event promotes Colombian culture through the display of products made by indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and rural and urban communities, as well as traditional and contemporary artists and artisans.

Rock It at a Music Festival

 

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The week-long Cartagena Music Festival held in January attracts world-renowned musicians specializing in classical music. Highlights include Cuban director Leo Brower, Venezuelan violinist Alexis Cárdenas, Mexican ensemble Cuarteto Latinoamericano, Colombian cellist Santiago Cañón-Valencia, and many others.

Party with The Natives

things to do and places to visit in colombia: Dresses and costumes of the Barranquilla´s Carnival

In southwest Colombia, attendees throw buckets of water at each other and paint their faces during the three-day Blacks and Whites Carnival. Taking place between the end of December and the first week of January in San Juan de Pasto, this is a cultural event that shouldn’t be missed!

Planning ahead into February, look out for flight deals to Colombia to see the Carnival of Barranquilla, noted to have one of the biggest parties in the world. The family-friendly carnival held before Lent celebrates the fusion of European, Indian, and African cultures with music, costumes, parades, and food.

Eat the Street Food

things to do and places to visit in colombia: eating street food in colombia

Image by Sucheta Rawal

No matter where you go in Colombia, you’ll find good food that fits any budget. Don’t forget to try the street food, especially at markets where people sell their homemade recipes, including buñuelos (cheese fritters), arepas (corn cakes), and hojuelas (a fried pastry with sugar and jam). A very popular dessert during Christmas time is natilla — a custard similar to flan.

Chill at the Beach

things to do and places to visit in colombia: Couple looking at the Sea, Tayrona National Park, Tropical Colombia. South America

December to March is Colombia’s peak tourist season since the weather is great, even in the rainy capital of Bogota. With over 3,000 km of Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea coastline, you’re never too far off from a nice beach in Colombia. Locals often hang out at public beaches with their families and picnic baskets, from Santa Marta to Isla San Andres.

After soaking up some sun, you can stroll through UNESCO-recognized cities and stay at charming renovated monasteries. Colombians love to party and besides clubs and restaurants, there are free concerts, festivals, and events held everywhere. Many cities offer free access to museums and parks during the holiday season, so definitely take advantage of it!

Have you visited Colombia over the holiday season? Share your experiences with us in the comments!

Editor’s note: The author of this post may either have a relationship with or received other compensation from the product or service providers that are featured in this writing.

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Sucheta is an award winning food and travel writer who has traveled to 70+ countries and is on a mission to see the entire world. She is also the founder of the nonprofit organization, Go Eat Give, which promotes cultural awareness through food, travel and volunteering. Sucheta is the author of a series of children's books on travel, "Beato Goes To" that teach kids about different countries and cultures.