Colombia during the holidays. All around the country you will find a vibrant energy as the locals get ready for the holiday season with sparkling lights, and an array of seasonal food and festivals that begins in early December with the celebrations in full swing until after the new year.
Throughout the country, Christmas is celebrated with great joy, but Bogota especially takes on a festive air with the Christmas lights and celebration of the traditional “Dia de las Velitas.” Dia de las Velitas translates into Little Candles Day or Immaculate Conception Eve and is the beginning of the Christmas holiday. This year, the celebration begins throughout Colombia on the evening of December 7 to December 8, 2023.
In Bogota, the residents dress every corner of the city for the holidays, beginning on Dia de las Velitas eve, placing candles and paper lanterns on sidewalks, streets, parks and squares, and even on windowsills and balconies. The following day, December 8, you will see white flags with the image of the Virgin Mary being flown everywhere and plenty of fireworks and parties to begin the holiday festivities properly.
I ventured into several parks and squares for my “Little Candles Day” experience last year, with matches and a handful of small, multi-colored candles to light while making my wishes for the new year. The idea is the candle wax will melt down, and the candles will stick to the surface of the street or fixture, with the result being burning little candles everywhere, effectively lighting the entire city.
The neighborhood of La Candelaria in Bogota is another festive conversation starter for the holiday. This neighborhood is always festive and is full of local art and country pride, as seen on the exterior of many buildings. Candelaria is the height of Bogota’s historical essence. The roots of Bogota’s creation began here in 1538. The name originates from a Catholic chapel honoring the Virgen de la Candelaria. However, even before Bogota’s Catholic roots were engrained in the city, the area was considered a sacred site for the Muiscas, an indigenous group dating back to ancient times before the area’s Spanish conquest.
Today, the La Candelaria neighborhood is still home to a colonial-era cathedral and many narrow streets full of local shops and handicrafts. The Gold Museum is in the area with artifacts dating back to before the country was established. The visitor will also want to enjoy Museo Botero, with a look at one of Columbia’s famous painters/sculpture artists, Fernando Botero. The Botero Museum is in the Banco de la República Cultural Block, and admission is free.
Wear your walking shoes in this neighborhood because there is much to explore as you traverse the steep stone streets. Take notice of the many colonial and republican construction-style homes, which have been preserved and are now considered of great historical and cultural interest in Bogota. The diverse mix between the old and the new styles of architecture here is likely why this area of Bogota is a melting pot for artists, students, and visitors hungry for the authentic feel of this city.
And, as you discover the array of holiday festivities around the area, another must-experience celebration also begins in early December called the Expoartesanías. This artisan craft fair is held in Bogota each year at the Corferias Convention Center near Quinta Paredes and El Recuerdo neighborhoods. It is a must-see if you want to get a flavor of the cultural art throughout Latin America.
The Expoartesanías has been a staple in Colombia for 30 years, and as many as 800-plus vendors will descend on the convention center from December 7 to 20 this year to sell their wares. The government of Colombia is also part of the event taking the initiative to arrange both travel and accommodation aid to allow artisans living in the more isolated indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in the country the ability to attend the show and showcase their unique handicrafts.
Finally, take a Sunday in Bogota to visit Paloquemao Market for a real feel of the foods that the locals revere. Paloquemao is a large flower and food market showcasing tastes from around Colombia. I took the Savoring Paloquemao tour with a foodie luxury tour operator https://www.foodies.com.co/en/. I was delighted as I spent several hours getting to know the taste of the many Colombian flavors on display there. My favorites were the many fruits that were new to my tastebuds: lulo, tomate de árbol (tamarillo), uchuva, curuba, gulupa, granadilla, anón, níspero, and tasting the flavor of a country keeps it in your memory for many years.
Bogotá is one of the most fascinating cities I have found in South America. Get ready for the assortment of historical old streets to wander, bohemian districts, modern areas, and street food or high-end restaurants that all seem to harmonize alongside one another easily. You will undoubtedly feel the unwavering rhythm in Bogota: the people, the food, the celebration, especially as the holiday season begins, and then you, too, will understand why this city is a standout in South America.