The Secret Service sex scandal has placed Colombia and its hospitality industry at the forefront of news cycle, but that’s certainly not Colombia’s entire story. While everyone is reveling in the salacious underbelly of the South American country, there are many more culturally enriched aspects of Colombian society that you may not have heard about—for instance, did you know that the world’s largest Afro-Latino festival, the Petronio Alvarez Afro-Colombian Festival, occurs annually in mid-August in the southwest Colombian city of Cali?
The Petronio Alvarez Festival is a relatively new 4-day celebration of Colombia’s rich African history and heritage, started in 1997. Pride in Black Colombians’ African heritage is growing and increasingly evident as the last festival drew more than 50,000 people—compared with just 4,000 attendees four years ago.
The growing popularity of the festival is appreciated by the country’s many Afro-Colombian musicians. “It helps bring attention to our music,” says Ruth Marien, director of the band, Semblanzas del Río Guapi. “Before the festival, Afro-Colombian music was not even played on the local radio. But the festival is slowly helping it regain popularity in the mainstream media.”
Typically, over 100 musical groups compete for prizes across various categories and genres. If you like music and a wild but peaceful party and want to do something dramatically different this summer, then the Pacific coast of Colombia and the Petronio Alavarez Afro-Colombian Festival is a destination worth exploring.