Vibrant Cartagena is the colonial jewel of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast. The cities magnificent architecture, coloured facades and vibrant people seemed so accustomed to fiestas, that after spending nearly a week in the city we decided to return for the annual Independence Day celebrations.
The 11th November marks the cities Independence Day and is celebrated exuberantly over a couple of weeks in a purely Colombian style. The celebrations include widespread dancing, drinking, and foam spraying. All this excitement eventually leads up to the crowning of the Miss Colombia competition.
The elaborate beauty contest began for us with a parade which we unexpectedly stumbled upon in the city’s main square one afternoon. We watched as one by one the beautiful pageant contestants made their way past us on their decorated floats. Each contestant was dressed in brightly coloured dresses covered in feathers, flowers and sequins. Locals followed on foot, dancing around them, dressed in traditional costumes, reminiscent of 1811 Cartagena.
Every year the Getsemani district of Cartagena throws its own Independence Day party. Getsemani, is one of Cartagena’s oldest barrios and is now made up of backpacker hostels, bars and one very delicious fried chicken restaurant. The barrio may be a little rough around the edges but it is where the cities heart and soul truly lies. Getsemani’s history is deeply intertwined with Cartagena’s independence from the Spanish and every year the residents celebrate jubilantly. The barrio is made up of descendants of African slaves brought to Cartagena during the Spanish rule. It is told that the people of Getsemani fought the fiercely to help Cartagena overcome Spanish rule, during the War of Independence
The locals are very proud of their barrio and its heritage and this is especially apparent on Independence Day. We watched the frenzy of Getsemani locals’ parade their way down the main streets of Getsemani before stopping the main plaza for a salsa concert. Afterwards there was a huge street party and almost all the neighborhood took part, running around spraying each other with foam. A human dressed as a horse directed traffic while taxis blasted music out into the street and everyone danced until the wee hours.
The following day we heard that the winner of the contest was to be announced and we made our way to the docks of the Cartagena Harbour for a parade of a different kind. This time the pageant contestants had switched their floats for boats and could just be made out waving from their specially decorated yachts. The harbour was full of other boats carrying a very unsafe number of revelling locals. We watched from the safety of the dock as the Miss Colombia Pageant winner was announced and the party boats erupted.
There were beauty queens, drag queens, dance routines, parades and thousands of amazingly colourful costumes. The whole celebration showcased the vibrant, colourful lifestyle of the Colombian people as well as the beautiful Caribbean Coastline the city sits on. We will cherish these memories for a lifetime and recommend anyone thinking of visiting Colombia to make sure they do not miss Colombia’s most celebrated cultural festival. Cartagena’s Independence Day Celebrations take place every year during the first two weeks of November.