Once a year, in the heart of Colombia’s third largest city, Santiago de Cali, natives and tourists alike flock in their thousands to delight in the six-day-long salsa dancing and music extravaganza that is the Feria de Cali.
Beginning on 25th December with the mesmerizingly-energetic one-mile-long El Salsódromo parade and ending with an unforgettably-lively concert on 30th December, the festival prides itself on creating a true party atmosphere for its visitors from start to finish. For those visitors not particularly knowledgeable or experienced in the art of salsa dancing, there is arguably a no better way to educate yourself in the dance style than to witness first-hand the impressively-quick steps and skipping motions performed by the Feria de Cali’s talented dancers.
Keeping to the traditional partner dance format but adding their own Cali-style twist by increasing the tempo, what makes the multiple salsa festival performances so spectacular is not just the usual fast speed but the sheer number of dancers who participate in the annual festivities. A sea of perfectly-in-unison, highly-skillful and vibrantly-dressed dancers is enough to completely captivate even the most apathetic spectator. On the topic of flamboyant costumes, day four of the festival sees the city transformed into a mass of color as hundreds of caleños—the name was given to Cali’s inhabitants—enjoy their moment in the limelight during the Old Cali parade.
Serving to celebrate the uniqueness of both Cali’s historical past and culturally-rich present, each costume is not only a work of art in itself but also tries to capture the essence of caleño identity. From flower and tree-covered floats which commended the work of Mother Earth to floats which carried individuals attired in indigenous costumes to caleños dressed up as important figures from the city’s intriguing history, 2012’s Old Cali parade proved just how diverse and multifaceted this identity is. For the animal lovers among you, another festival highlight has to be La Cabalgata, a parade featuring 5000 local cowboys riding beautifully-elegant pasofino horses.
Originally bred by Spanish landowners for plantation work in Puerto Rico and Colombia but also descendants of the horses brought to the “New World” by Spanish Conquistadors more than 500 years ago, these graceful and regal-looking equine creatures are truly a wonder to behold as they trot along Cali’s crowd-lined streets. From one mode of transport to another, the Feria de Cali is equally renowned for its Antique Car Parade. From GMC trucks to safari jeeps to fire engines to late 1920’s Roosevelt models, the parade will leave car enthusiasts in automobile heaven.
Observing such an abundance of exhaustingly-energetic activity, tourists can feel tired just watching and often like to stagger their days with visits to the various tascas where vendors serve up both the best of Colombian cuisine and an array of international dishes.
Exclusively brought to the city during the six-day festival period, these wide-ranging outdoor food huts treat famished spectators looking for a more traditionally-Colombian experience to fritangas (succulent meat-based dishes), empanadas (highly-flavorsome stuffed pastries) and sancochos de gallina (warming chicken stews) among numerous other national delicacies. For tourists looking to spend a slightly less conventional, but certainly not regrettable, Christmas this year, why not take a trip to Colombia’s Feria de Cali and see how an entire city transforms into a colossal salsa-orientated outdoor party!