Fiestas along the railway
One of the most interesting facts when visiting the country is to get to know its people and its deep traditions, a cultural experience that is perhaps most palpable during the many fiestas that take place in every region. Be sure to plan your train travels so that they coincide with some of these fascinating festivities that celebrate everything from virgins and Andean cowboys to flowers, fruit and independence.
NORTHERN ANDES (Otavalo – Ibarra – Salinas)
Yamor coincides with the Otavalo foundation festivities in early September, an indigenous harvest festival that pays tribute to Mother Earth and especially to corn. Apart from the usual concerts, parades and the election of the queen, food takes center stage, as the “Yamor” dish is offered everywhere, and includes many of the staple recipes such as carne colorada (fried pork) and chicha de jora, made of fermented corn.
San Juanes (around June 21)
During the summer solstice, most towns and cities of the province of Imbabura spend weeks preparing for the big solstice festivities, during which the locals walk up and down local roads dancing and stomping their feet to the sound of guitars and hand-held bass drums, disguised as all sorts of characters. San Juanes extend over a period of several days and end at the “taking of the square”, where large numbers of people concentrate at the main plaza in town with food, drink and lots of music. The fiesta also coincides with the religious San Pedro and San Pablo holidays.
Day of the Dead (November 2)
Cemeteries throughout the country are filled with people seeking to honor their deceased loved ones, but none is filled with such color and tradition as Otavalo’s indigenous cemetery, where hundreds arrive with food and drink (and especially the traditional “guaguas de pan”) to eat together, ¡with the living and the dead!
You can also combine your trips to the north with foundation festivities in Salinas (June 25) and Ibarra (mid-September), which include parades, beauty pageants, concerts and other local traditions.
CENTRAL ANDES (Quito – Riobamba)
Machachi honors their “cowboy” culture. Known as chagras, who celebrate their affinity to the mountain and cultural identity of the high paramo with rodeos, horseback riding with their characteristic hats, poncho and chaps, and parades and dances that come down from the high mountains to take over the city, its streets and main square.
Two great fiestas in Ambato are held during Carnival: the interesting indigenous festival of the town of Totoras (a short distance from Ambato) in which men dress as “doñas” and “negros” and go from house to house celebrating with the owners. Also interesting is the parade on horseback that takes place to inaugurate the festivities. At the same time, the massive Ambato Flower and Fruit Festival is also hel, in the heart of the city, where the people parading throw fruit from their floats (from plums to watermelons… so keep your head up!)
Another quite unique Carnival takes place in Cacha, near Riobamba, with ancestral games and much color.
Riobamba itself has several unique processions, such as the intimate Lord of Good Success procession, on Holy Tuesday (during Holy Week) or the colorful and very beautiful Jesus Child parades held every weekend between December and mid-January, during which the elegant, and quite unique, dance between Devils and Dogs take place! On January 6th, the Child of Child parade is held in the neighborhood of Santa Rosa, perhaps the most emblematic of all.
Finally, there is the Mama Negra in Latacunga (September 23) one of the most idiosyncratic fiestas in the country. A man dresses as a woman, wearing a colorful blouse, his face painted black, his lips red, riding a horse and holding a doll, parading across town in honor of the Virgin of Volcanoes, Our Lady of Mercy.
Guayaquil celebrate their foundation on July 25th and independence from Spain on October 9th, with civic parades and concerts; but perhaps the most spectacular time of year takes place on New Year’s Eve, when thousands of human-size effigies, known as “viejos” (old men), are burned to remind the populace of those the figures, fictitious or real, who have represented the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly during the year. In the southern neighborhoods, some of these “effigies” are enormous… as high as buildings! They are so large that they are burned down with the help of firefighters.
Hundreds of people pilgrimage to Our Lady of Yaguachi, the first station after Duran, to celebrate their Virgin icon, which coincides with the August 15th religious observation of The Assumption.