When there is a parade or other major holiday event, expect most businesses to close. All Ecuadorians want to take part in the festivals. During holidays, plan your travel carefully. Think about what services you need to use before everything shuts down — banks, post offices, grocery stores, and even public transportation will be limited. Hotels cost more, and the streets will be packed with revelers.
All over South America, religious holidays are an infusion of Catholic and indigenous traditions that vary from region to region and country to country. Throughout Ecuador, you will find colorful, vibrant celebrations for many occasions as Ecuadorians embrace their holiday celebrations. Festivals and celebrations are tied to agricultural calendar times or historic events. Here are some of the most popular, not only just in Cuenca.May
Over 90 percent of Ecuadorians are Catholic making Santa Semanta (Easter Holy Week) the most important religious event of the year. In the Catholic tradition, those who are devout, fast during Lent. In most areas of the country, they hold massive Good Friday parades recreating Christ’s journey to the Cross and crucifixion. Quito has one of the largest parades where purple-clad penitents depict the suffering for their sins by walking barefoot for five hours down the streets while praying and bearing shrines or heavy crosses, whipping their backs or wrapping chains or nettles around their heads or ankles. This is a sight to witness and one you will never forget.
On May 24th 1822, General Antonio José Sucre defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Pichincha. On May 24th, military parades commemorate the decisive battle, which took place just outside Quito.
Inti Raymi (Quechua for "sun festival")
Inti Raymi is the Festival of the Sun. It has been celebrated in Ecuador and Peru since Incan times. The main event takes place in the city of Otavalo (in Imbabura) on the Summer Solstice of June 21st and 22nd. Indigenous people dress in native costume “taking over” the plaza to represent the rebellion against oppression. The week-long celebration features large barbecues, bonfires, traditional dances, and parades. At any other time, Otavalo is a great place to visit, especially weekends when all the indigenous come to sell their crafts.
Simón Bolívar's Birthday
Ecuadorians also celebrate the birthday of Venezuelan Simón Bolívar to commemorate his role in the liberation of South America from Spanish rule. This holiday is celebrated on July 24th.
Several regional corn festivals take place at harvest time in Ecuador. Tarqui’s Festival of the Corn is on August 16 and involves a Corn Queen competition, dances and music from local bands. The indigenous people in Otavalo hold the week-long Yamore Festival on September 1 to thank Mother Earth for the harvest and to pay homage to Nina Maria, the Catholic patron Virgin of Otalvo. Celebrations feature a special drink made from seven types of corn, folk parades, a Yamor Queen contest, food festival, bull and cock fights, fireworks, cart races, and competitions such as swimming across a freezing lake almost three miles across.
Dia de La Raza
The Day of the Races, also known as Columbus Day, is a public holiday on October 12th acknowledging the day that Christopher Columbus brought the Spanish to the region. It isn’t necessarily a celebration, although the provinces of Guayas and Los Ríos mark the date with large rodeos featuring male and female riders showcasing their abilities to corral a horse. There is also a parade of horses and riders, a beauty pageant, dancing, and music.
Day of the Dead
On All Souls’ Day, Ecuadorians visit the graves of loved ones with offerings of baked goods, a continuation of the Andean tradition of leaving food for the departed. The souls of the dead are said to return to the earth for 24 hours during the first days of November. Ecuadorian tradition dictates you risk the spirits’ displeasure if you don’t have a snack ready for them. These holidays are celebrated on November 1st and 2nd. Do note that you may find food left on graves. Ecuador’s poor are welcome to take the food that is left on graves, but visitors are not.
On Christmas Eve, Ecuadorians celebrate a special mass called the Misa de Gallo, or “Rooster Mass.” On December 25th, Ecuadorians go all out with citywide Christmas pageants. This is the day of the Paseo del Niño children’s parade. Children dress up as different characters from the Christmas nativity, and march down the street with statues of the baby Jesus. These statues typically have a special place in the family home.Cuenca is famous for its large Paseo del Niño parade, which begins at the San Sebastian Cathedral and ends at the Plaza de Armas square.
There are several days of parades leading up to the New Year’s countdown. Popular activities include burning effigies that represent the passing year. On December 28th, the traditional parades feature clowns and masked revelers.
Ecuador’s festival calendar varies according to the region. Many parades and festivals commemorate city-specific events. Each of these festivals reflects the character of the city where it takes place.
September 23rd and 24th in Latacunga
La Virgen de la Merced Festival
This festival revolves around a statue of Mama Negra, an African-American depiction of the Virgin Mary. Locals parade the statue down the street in the midst of loud, percussive music.While the statue has taken on a Catholic identity, she is said to have cultural ties to female African deities. This festival has roots in Afro-Ecuadorian culture, as well as indigenous Ayamara traditions.
July 25th in Guayaquil
Guayaquil Foundation Day
On July 25th 1537, the famous Spanish Explorer Francisco de Orellana founded the city of Guayaquil. It’s not known what existed here before the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish established it as an important port city; Guayaquil continues to have the same role in Ecuador today.
October 9th in Guayaquil
Guayaquil Independence Day
On October 9th 1820, Guayaquil declared itself independent from Spanish rule. This is the revolt that paved the way for the independence of Ecuador as a whole, declared in 1822. Modern-day Guayaquileans mark the occasion with a huge parade.
First Half of June in Cuenca
In Cuenca and the surrounding central Sierra, Corpus Christi is a major festival. Religious processions make their way through the streets for a full week. Candy plays a central role in this celebration, and you’ll see vendors with colorful piles of homemade sweets lining the streets and the plazas.
Cuenca Independence Day – November 3rd
Like Guayaquil, Cuenca celebrates its own independence day. This is a good festival for browsing art and souvenirs produced by locals at the many street vendors that gather for the celebration.
December 6th in Quito
Foundation of Quito Day
December 6th marks the Spanish founding of Quito by the conquistador Sebastian de Benalcázar. The city existed long before the arrival of the Spanish — historians believe the indigenous Quitu people originally established it as an important urban center. The founding of Quito is officially commemorated with bullfights, a tradition which is a relic of Spanish colonial rule.