Christmas Holidays in Cartagena; What to Expect When You’re Visiting the City

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Christmas Holidays in Cartagena; What to Expect When You’re Visiting the City

What to do for the Holidays in Cartagena?

Holidays in Cartagena begin in November when the whole city celebrates Día de Independencia. The festival parade winds along the coastal avenues into the city centre and dancing in the streets is mandatory! This gets everyone in the mood for holidays and the celebrations, festivals and of course, dancing continue well into January. Cartagena is a fantastic city to be in for the holidays.

Many tourists from Colombia and further afield spend their holidays in Cartagena, so you’ll find plenty of special events happening during this time of year. It’s a beautiful city any time of year, but during the holidays, Cartagena is even more magical, with all the Christmas lights, the celebrations and plenty of firework displays.

Also, in December, the wind changes direction bringing “Brisa Decembrina” to the city. This means it’s a few degrees cooler. It’s still hot enough to enjoy a tropical Christmas on the beach of course, and thankfully dancing is a little less hot and sweaty, particularly in the evenings!

So what traditions will you find in Cartagena if you’re here over Christmas and New Year? Well, many are very similar to the traditions you’ll find all over Colombia, but of course in Cartagena, at times, there’s an extra Caribbean twist!


1. Día de las velitas (Day of the Little Candles)

Día de las Velitas

Día de las Velitas (Day of the Little Candles)

From this day forwards, Cartagena really does begin to feel like Christmas. Día de las velitas is a celebration of the Immaculate Conception and you’ll find this celebrated across Colombia. But in Cartagena, like many things, they start a lot later!

Celebrations begin on the evening of 7th December and this is traditionally a time to get together with family. As a visitor, you’ll find opportunities to go social dancing, because this is the unofficial beginning of Christmas and people take any excuse to dance! After the dancing, make sure you don’t go to bed until after sunrise. Why? Because in Cartagena, if you want to be part of the magic, you have to stay up until 5am on the morning of 8th December, when people across the city light candles in every street. The candles light the way for the Virgin Mary, but people also light the candles and make wishes. It’s a truly beautiful moment that happens just once a year.


2. Dress to impress!

Cartagena is a city known for its intoxicating style. As soon as you arrive, you’ll find so many photo opportunities and you’ll notice how much the people here love to look good. During the holiday season, this is especially true, when family and friends get together to enjoy a very special time of year. In Spanish, “estrenar” means “to wear for the first time”. On special days, like Día de las Velitas, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, Cartageneros love to go out wearing new clothes for the first time. So why not join in the fun?

Take a morning over coffee to people watch and research Cartagena style on Instagram, then take the rest of the day out for fashion. The city has a wealth of enticing boutiques in el Centro, so spend the afternoon finding the perfect outfit (or outfits!) for the holiday season. Stroll around in your new threads before sunset to catch a great light for photographs, then strut your stuff over a cocktail on a roof terrace and get ready to dance late into the evening. Just make sure to wear an outfit you can dance in!


3. Festivals and parties

Holiday season in Cartagena

Holiday season in Cartagena

We’ve mentioned already that this time of year is packed full of events and parties. However, Cartagena being the laidback place it is, you’ll find that many events aren’t announced until a day or two before they happen. Live in the moment and don’t plan too much. Let spontaneity take the lead and you’ll be meeting (and dancing) with new friends every evening!

Although events aren’t often announced far in advance, here are a few tips for the holiday season in Cartagena.

  • Many events are announced on Facebook or Instagram, so be sure to search for Cartagena each day
  • Talk to people – your hotel or hostel, tour companies, our dance teachers and people you’ll meet day to day. Events are often promoted word-of-mouth in this city, so go with the flow, be open and you’ll find the best places to be.
  • From 15th – 25th December, it’s the Festival del Pastel Cartagenero in Parque de la Marina. Pasteles are very like tamales, and are traditionally eaten during the holiday season, particularly on Christmas Eve and for the New Year.
  • Throughout the city, in both el Centro and the barrios, there are competitions for the best street lights, often sponsored by radio stations. If you have the chance, go with a local to a winning street, where they’ll probably be throwing a party!
  • If you’re in el Centro for New Year’s Eve, go early (around 4pm). You’ll see families in and around the Clock Tower, Pegasus dock and nearby parks, setting up their spot with chairs, food and drinks, ready for the New Year’s Eve party. Of course, there are fireworks and sparklers, music and social dancing, and thankfully less firecrackers than on Independence Day in the city.
  • Last, but not least, people tend to go to the beach on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Of course, there’s dancing and relaxing, but take note of any swimming advice, as the tides can be dangerous around the city.


4. Colombian traditions you might see

  • Novenas in Cartagena

    Novenas in Cartagena

    Las novenas – nine days before Christmas, neighbourhoods begin las novenas. Neighbours gather together to pray and sing villansicos (like carols), and at some, you’ll find some dancing. In the poorer neighbourhoods, children go to as many novenas as possible. If they go every evening for nine nights, they receive a present on Christmas Eve.

  • Muñecos – from 25th December, people start to build muñecos – human-sized rag dolls made from old clothes. Traditionally, people put notes inside with things that happened that year that they don’t want to happen next year inside. At New Year, the dolls are burnt!
  • Agüeros – while you’re in Cartagena, you can’t fail to notice the clothes shops selling yellow underwear before New Year. It sounds strange, but this is just one of many things that people do for good luck! Other traditions include running around the block with an empty suitcase, eating twelve grapes and making twelve wishes, and hugging people!



However you decide to spend the holidays in Cartagena, we’re sure you’ll have a great time. If you’re in the city learning to dance, our teachers will definitely help with recommendations for the holiday season. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook for more ideas.

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