Colombia has a wide variety of fairs and festivals, which are held in different regions throughout the year. Each year kicks off with the Black and White Carnival, one of the most recognized festivals in the country. Over 6 days, the city of Pasto becomes the backdrop for this important event.

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What is the Black and White Carnival?

The Black and White Carnival is one of the most symbolic Colombian festivals, reflecting the cultural traditions of the region. It was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009, and every year it brings together tourists from abroad and locals from across Colombia.

This carnival takes place between the 2 and 7 of January in Pasto. However, a Pre-Carnival is held on December 28 and 30. On the first day, the Carnival of Water is celebrated, which consists of playful water fights with hoses, trash cans, and water balloons. On the second day, the famous Serenade to Pasto is performed, during which you can enjoy music from the best string trios of the Andean Region.

The official celebration begins with the Carnavalito and the Castañeda Family Parade. Witness provincial dances carried out by groups of performers of all ages adorned in traditional costumes. But the most memorable days of the carnival are the last ones. Participants paint their bodies black and white as they accompany the parade of floats. Finally, on January 7, the “Day of Guinea Pig” –one of the most important dishes of Nariño– is celebrated and the region’s gastronomy is put on full display.

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How did the Black and White Carnival start?

The origin of this celebration dates back to those held by the indigenous groups of this region to give their thanks for successful harvests. Little by little, they borrowed elements of Spanish and African fairs and festivals, due to the close contact they had with these cultures.

This event is regarded as the only carnival with purely indigenous roots, which grew from the mixing of cultural influences that occured after Colombia’s Independence. Nowadays there are a variety elements adopted in the Pasto carnival, such as music, paintings, gastronomy, and floats with huge sculptures.

The Black and White Carnival a celebration you cannot miss | Colombia Travel
Credit: Taco Witte

Discover Pasto during the Black and White Carnival

Get ready to enjoy the Black and White Carnival 2020

As with every year, the Black and White Carnival will be held from 2nd to 7th of January in the city of Pasto, the capital of the department of Nariño. In this edition, you can enjoy the different colors and figures that adorn the floats, the parades in the streets, and the history behind each of the days of the carnival.

Get ready to witness the traditional events of the carnival, such as the Old Years Parade, the Carnavalito, the Castañeda Family Parade, and the Black and White Day. Also, other important events such as the Latin American Music Concert and the Festival of Peasant Culture.

Black and White Carnival</strong> is actually filled with colors | Colombia Travel
Credit: Óscar Garcés

A carnival full of vibrant colors and experiences

Additional carnival information

  • Rockcarnaval: music is a fundamental part of the carnival, that’s why it’s present at this event. National and international bands appear to honor the rock genre.

  • Choreographic Collective Parade: this important parade, which has its tour on the Carnival Trail in the opposite direction to the others, has hundreds of musicians and dancers dressed in bright colors. It ends at night at the Liberty Departmental Stadium, when the jury chooses the winner. First and second place gain the right to participate in the Black and White Carnival parade on January 6.

Find out what else you can do in Pasto

While you are in Pasto living the best of this festival, you can also enjoy a variety of plans and activities for all tastes. Discover the different events alternate to the carnival, such as the Cuento Pastuso Festival and the Trout Festival.

Tour this beautiful city and familiarize yourself with its most iconic places. Visit the Sanctuary of Las Lajas, the imposing basilica that will dazzle you with its medieval architecture and location. Then, pay a visit to the La Cocha Lagoon and the Carnival Museum.

Lastly, you can’t leave the city without having savored its gastronomy, which is indicative of the region. You can find a medley of indigenous, Spanish, and African flavors. Dare to try typical Nariño dishes, such as the paila ice cream –a creamy handmade jelly, flavored with different fruits–, the hornado –consisting of pork meat, skin leather, cooked potato, grains, and salad–, and the guinea pig.

Discover other Colombian festivals such as the Medellín Flower Fair

Visit Colombia and prepare to enjoy an unforgettable experience at the Black and White Carnival.