Thinking of living in Ecuador? Get ready to immerse yourself in an entirely new culture, a different language, and a different way of…partying? Yes! Ecuadorians certainly know how to celebrate and there are several festivals throughout the year. Depending on the holiday, there might be parades, street parties, folkloric dancing, and a variety of special foods. Expats who live in Ecuador can keep celebrating Christmas and Thanksgiving while learning a rich variety of new traditions. Out of the many Ecuador festivals, these are my three favorites.
November Festivals of Cuenca
Each major city has its own festival that celebrates its independence. In Cuenca, Ecuador, these festivities last an entire week and there are activities every day. Along the river, there are hundreds of arts and crafts stalls from all over Ecuador and Latin America. The city government helps bring in the best and most unique selection of vendors, so you can find necklaces made of seeds from remote Amazon tribes, or hand-knit alpaca scarves from Chile. Meanwhile, the downtown area hosts different smaller cultural events, all for free. There are guitar playing workshops, art receptions, documentary screenings, and live music events. Toward the end of the festival, the streets explode with life as folkloric dancers, schools, and other local organizations parade down the streets, and at night, the town stays awake all night partying in the street to the boisterous sounds of local bands.
This is a religious celebration that celebrates the body and blood of Christ. In Ecuador it also happens to be a feast where people gorge themselves on hundreds of kinds of sweets. In Cuenca, stalls cover the main plaza and sprawl out into side streets. There are honey-rolled coconut balls, sweet cheese-filled “quesadillas”, alfajores filled with dulce de leche, chocolate bonbons, and more. It is perhaps the most delicious Ecuador festival. As a religious festival, there aren’t wild parties at night but you will see amazing parades during the day. They also light a wooden castle which creates a whirlwind of spinning wheels, exploding colors, and fireworks. It’s all too easy to gain 10 pounds during Corpus Christi, but there’s always a brisk walk by the river and freshly-squeezed carrot juice to help you burn it off.
Carnaval is celebrated completely differently in Ecuador. Rather than ongoing wild parties, Ecuadorians engage in ongoing public water fights. You may be walking down the street and be hit with water guns, water balloons, or even a bucket! Carnaval is a love-it-or-hate-it affair in Ecuador. Some cities have even banned the public throwing of water balloons, pushing the water-soaking parties into the backyards of families. Other cities, however, embrace it. My favorite place to celebrate is Gualaceo, a small town 30 minutes from Cuenca where people gather for an enormous all-day water fight. Families gather along the riverside alternating between grilling food, especially “cuy” or roasted guinea pig, and going completely wild. The town’s river supplies an endless supply of ammunition for water guns and buckets, and the sunny weather makes getting soaked part of the fun. The “get-the-gringo!” attitude is very common among the local kids, so don’t expect to sit on the sidelines! Have you been pegged by a water balloon in Ecuador yet?