Bolivians enjoy a plethora of religious and cultural festivals throughout the year, so no matter what month you plan on visiting the country, you are sure to find some exciting activities. For those of you who are traveling in September, here is our roundup of the country’s festivals:
Sunday, September 4th: Fiesta de San Roque in the town of Tarija
On the first Sunday of each September, the town of Tarija kicks off their biggest party of the year. The celebration lasts for 8 days and is the perfect opportunity to enjoy the unique musical style for which the Tarija region is known.
This is one of the better known festivals in Bolivia and marks the appearance of the saint who locals believe ended plague and leprosy in the area. This is why the indigenous Chuncho wear traditional lepers’ robes during their colorful folkloric music and dance procession.
Thursday, September 8th: Virgen of Guadalupe in Sucre (Chuquisaca), Valle Grande (Santa Cruz) & Viacha (La Paz)
To honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, the cities mentioned host bull fights and food fairs and present folkloric music and dance parades. It’s the perfect time to visit Sucre, because during the first half of the month of September the city parties frenetically with delicious traditional food, elaborate costumes, fireworks and joyful, non-stop dancing. Communities from around Sucre practice for months in order to prepare for the main parade, a massive event because the parade lasts for two days! It always takes place on the weekend closest to September 8th, which means that this year it will fall on Saturday, September 10th and Sunday the 11th. One these days, thousands of locals will parade over a 7-km distance from Mercado Campesino to Plaza 25 de Mayo. Tiered seating will be set up in the plaza, but it overflows quickly due to the large crowds.
When they approach the virgin’s shrine, the women separate from the men and form a tunnel for the males to dance through. Then, all of the dancers crawl the last 30 or so meters to show their devotion. By this point, they are so exhausted that most are happy for the chance to crawl!
If you plan on enjoying Sucre’s festival this year, bring a hat and some comfortable walking shoes, because the sun is very strong and the traffic jams are incessant because most of the main streets will be closed. Also, if you want to watch the parade along some of the main streets, talk to your hotel the day before about tickets, because often the best sidewalks will be blocked off so that people can place chairs there and rent the space!
If you do visit Sucre, you will be 9 hours away by car from the Uyuni Salt Flats– don’t get that close without visiting the flats, which are an unforgettable destination that no one in Bolivia should miss!
Wednesday, September 14th: Exaltation of the Santa Cruz in Sorata (La Paz), Potosi, Oruro & Cochabamba
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is Sorata’s most important festival of the year, and is also one of the biggest festivals in Cochabamba, because it coincides with the department’s anniversary. Each of the cities in which it is celebrated enjoys folkloric music and dance parades, processions and masses, and fairs showcasing traditional food.
In the case of Potosi, there is a large pilgrimage in honor of the Lord of Manquiri; Cochabamba offers a culture and tourism festival with help from the region’s artisans and tour operators, and Oruro dedicates itself to 15 days of celebrations in order to show off the dances that make the town so famous.
Wednesday, September 21st: The Spring Equinox in Tihuanaco (La Paz)
While the Aymara ruins of Tihuanaco are popular with visitors year-round, they are a particularly popular destination on pre-Columbian feast days (especially on the Aymara New Year). The equinox was and continues to be a very important indigenous and local festival. It marks the first day of spring, and at the ruins the first rays of the sun god Inti will pass through the portal of the main entrance of Kalasasaya Temple. The temple was precisely designed according to astronomical occurrences, and it allowed the Aymara to verify the change in seasons and the duration of the solar year. On each equinox, on March 21st and September 21st, the sun rises in the center of the temple’s main entrance. (Meanwhile, during the winter solstice on June 21st is rises in the northeast murarian corner and during the summer solstice on December 21st it rises in the southeast murarian corner.)
Even if you can’t make it there for the equinox, the ruins of Tihuanaco are worth a visit, and can be done in just a day trip from La Paz. In fact, we included Tihuanaco in our post on The Best Day Trips from La Paz. If you’d like to arrange a visit, you can consult in reception at our hostel in La Paz, or just write our agency at email@example.com for assistance.
September is the best month of the year to visit Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which you might be surprised to learn is Bolivia’s largest city. (50 years ago, it was just a small, overlooked frontier town.) The month is full of dozens of events, including concerts, fairs, and civil processions, all in honor of the town’s anniversary. The biggest events include an International Jazz Festival, the FEXPO (Feria Exposicion), which attracts over a thousand exhibitors from around the world and includes free concerts and delicious food, and restaurant events with live music and special offers for traditional Eastern Bolivian dishes. And it’s not just the festivities that make Santa Cruz so colorful in September: during this time the Tajibo trees are in full bloom with bright yellow, red, pink, purple and white flowers.
While not a national holiday, Santa Cruz’s anniversary is a local holiday throughout the region of the same name, so remember that on the main day of the festival you can expect many banks, stores and public services to be closed.
Thursday, September 29th: Fiesta de San Miguel in Uncia (Potosi)
Like Paucartambo in Peru, the remote town of Uncia is quiet for most of the year, but is wonderful to visit during its festival, which can last up to two weeks.
Although the word used to refer to the warriors of the Potosi region, today, the word Tinku refers to a folkloric Andean musical genre. You can enjoy Tinku music and dance all throughout this celebration, which is characterized by dance parades, concerts, the occasional bullfight or horse race, religious processions, and a lot of beer and ice cream. Don’t let the festival’s Catholic veneer fool you: it’s not just in honor of the town’s patron saint (who local legend says would breathe fire at any devil seeking to attack the town)- many who dance the Tinku on this day consider it a sacrificial commemoration primarily for the Pachamama earth deity.
While Tinku is known throughout the modern Andean region as a dance, for locals in Potosi it is also a fighting style. The two interpretations come together in the key dance of the festival’s main day, which reenacts a battle between the archangel, representing good, and the devil, representing evil. It is done while wearing Spanish Conquistador-style hats. However, things often get out of control during this part of the festivities, which can be good for locals who think this guarantees a good harvest but can be upsetting for travelers- this is not a family event.
Remember that the town of Potosi is often a launch point for people who with to visit Uyuni Salar, so it makes sense to schedule a visit to Potosi before or after the salt flats. (The town of Potosi is 4 hours from the salt flats by car.) Also, don’t miss a visit to the famous silver mines!