Ecuadorian festivals are a colorful spectacle of costumes, music and dance. Well-known for its natural attractions like volcanoes, thermal hot-springs, waterfalls and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador is also a country with a diverse and vibrant culture.
Like every country in Latin America, Ecuador has indigenous roots and a colonial past. Today, there are more than 15 indigenous ethnic groups in the country, living in the Andean region and in the Amazonas. Besides, there’s a large population of Afroecuadorians, whose ancestors were brought from Africa as slaves by the Spanish colonizers.
Festivals in Ecuador depict the country’s mixture of cultures and include indigenous celebrations, Catholic holidays and historical events.
Festival of Fruits and Flowers in Ambato
This popular festival in Ecuador is held for two weeks during the days of Carnival, in late February or the beginning of March.
It takes place in the city of Ambato, which lies at the foot of the Tungurahua volcano, at the heart of Ecuador. The festival has a curious origin: it started in 1951 as a symbol of strength and optimism of the people of Ambato, after overcoming a devastating earthquake.
Due to the volcanic soil, this is a very fertile region. That’s why flowers (mostly roses) and fruits ―specially apples and pears, but also citrus, papaya, passion fruit, bananas, mangoes, plums and blackberries― are celebrated.
Some of the highlights of this festival include choosing the Queen of Ambato, a colorful parade in the main avenues and a blessing ceremony inside the Cathedral. Don’t miss the stunning designs made with flowers and fruits which are displayed on the streets! This is also a great place to taste some delicious dishes of Ecuadorian cuisine.
‘La Mama Negra’ festival in Latacunga
The Mama Negra ―which means ‘black mama’― is one of the most fascinating Ecuadorian festivals, which integrates elements of indigenous, Spanish and African culture in a political and economic satire. It takes place twice a year, by the end of September and around mid-November, in the small town of Latacunga close to Cotopaxi volcano. Around 1700s, this famous volcano erupted and Latacunga was in danger of disappearing, so the locals asked the Virgin of Mercy to protect them. After that, they set a celebration as a sign of gratitude and named the Virgin ‘patron against the fury of the volcano’.
This festival consists on a striking parade featuring a series of characters: the Moorish King (who represents the relationship between indigenous people and African slaves brought to work in the mines of Cotopaxi), the Captain, Los Huacos (shamans who cure diseases), the Angel of the Stars and finally, the Mama Negra, played by a man dressed as a black woman.
Inti Raymi means ‘festival of the sun’ and it’s an Incaic celebration present in many Andean indigenous cultures, not only in Ecuador but also in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. It takes place every June 24th, when the South Hemisphere goes through the Winter Solstice.
Inti Raymi celebrates gratitude towards Mother Earth (known as ‘Pachamama’) for the harvest and invokes abundance and fertility for the following agricultural cycle.
It takes place in many Ecuadorian towns involving different ritual traditions. Most of them include special food and drinks, Andean dances to the sound of Sanjuanitos (a popular and joyful rhythm) and purification baths in sacred rivers and waterfalls.
One of the most special places to witness this celebration is Otavalo, in the north of Ecuador. In this town, the traditions begin on June 22nd. Every night, there are groups playing music and dancing on the streets. The musicians can enter any houses by surprise and they will be received with honors.
Ecuadorian New Year
In Ecuador, New Year is a major celebration. Big puppets of politicians, cartoon characters and celebrities suddenly pop around the streets. Every single family has its own dolls, which are called ‘años viejos’ (old years) and represent all the bad things related to the departing year in a very humorous way. When the clock hits twelve, the puppets are set on fire and so the old year is burnt. According to the tradition, jumping over the flames ensures happiness for the year to come.
Quito and Guayaquil ―two of the largest cities in Ecuador― boast the biggest New Year celebrations with music and lots of fireworks. In the traditional Amazon Avenue in Quito there’s a popular contest of giant and stunning ‘años viejos’, which is visited by thousands of locals and tourists. (If you are around Ecuador’s capital, check these places for a pint of local craft beer!).
Other New Year traditions in the country include the presence of ‘widows of New Year’ (men dressed in drag asking for donations in the street) as well as wearing red or yellow underwear for good luck.
Day of the Dead
Regarded as the most iconic Mexican celebration, Day of the Dead also takes place in many other countries. In Ecuador, November 2nd is the date to honor the beloved ones that have passed away by having a lively picnic at the cemetery. Families share the deceased favorite food and wear their best clothes in an intimate celebration. Out on the streets, it’s common to see parades, music and dances.
The typical drink during Day of the Dead in Ecuador is ‘colada morada’, a sweet and dense purple-colored beverage made with blue corn flour and a mixture of fruits (blueberries and strawberries, among others). Sometimes it can be served hot, like a sort of soup. Coffee shops and street vendors sell colada morada only during November.
Regarding food, there’s a traditional bread called ‘guaguas de pan’. Guagua is a quechua word meaning baby or child. These breads are shaped like children and decorated with colored icing. Street vendors usually sell them at the entrance of the cemeteries, and the families place them on the grave, so the dead have something to eat.