Musicians perform at the Buenos Aires Jazz Festival

Travel Guide: Top Cultural Festivals of Argentina

Festivals are one of the best ways to imbibe the culture of a country. Besides getting to gorge on the delicious food, slurp on the drinks and dance with jolly strangers, they’re essentially an open window to the country’s history, tradition and background. In Argentina, celebrations range from carnivals, film festivals, book fairs, tango championships, drinking barrel- loads of beer to imbibing folk music. Festivities are scattered all along the year, so even if you unwittingly land in Argentina just for a peaceful vacation, you’ll end up witnessing some of the grandest festivals of the country.

Gualeguaychú Carnival

A parade during the Gualeguaychú Carnival. credit@ El Litoral

While the Gualeguaychú Carnival may not be as big as the Rio Carnival, it still is one of the grandest festivals and occasions of Argentina. The carnival may have originated from the pagan rituals offered to worship Bacchus, the God of Wine. Gualeguaychú Carnival starts from January and lasts till the beginning of March. A communal celebration, the local communities light up the streets with dance, music, light, food and spectacular parades, without which no carnival would exist. The locals spend months in preparation. Although celebrations take place throughout the country, the biggest events are held in Gualeguaychú, hence the name of the festival.

The parades consist of beautifully decorated floats, dancers in scanty and extravagant costumes and headpieces. The parades end at the Corsódromo, at the junction of Piccini and Ayacucho Streets. The floats will have giant models of mythical beings mounted on top of them and the participants from the area from which the float comes. Dancers and performers perform ahead of the float, engaged in an energetic display. The costumes of the performers are always a homage to the indigenous elements and symbols. By the time night arrives, each team would have put on a dazzling display to be crowned the best float. The judges give the score based on the costumes, floats, choreographies and how well they have incorporated the theme into these elements.

Buenos Aires Jazz Festival

Buenos Aires Jazz Festival in 2019. credit@ Buenos Aires Travel Guide

More than twenty three sites in Buenos Aires are set up for the Buenos Aires Jazz Festival held every year in November since 2002. It is a music festival organized by the city and genres including swing and Nuevo tango, classic bebop, gypsy jazz, klezmer and jazz fusion are celebrated. The concerts put up all around the city include open air venues, inviting thousands to enjoy the country’s culture and music. The jazz festival was partly inspired by the café concerts held after dinner in the cities of Argentina throughout the 1960s and 70s.

Over the years, the festival has seen some of the best local and international talent. At the venues, live concerts, acoustic jams and talks and one- off collaborations last late into the night. Overall, more than 500 local and international artists grace the venues for over five days. Swing dance classes in the parks, activities for kids and open air improvisations are just a few of the activities that visitors enjoy. To boost the popularity of the city’s jazz scenario, there are also music clinics, master classes, workshops in singing, stand- up bass, drums, piano and guitar.

Oktoberfest, The National Beer Festival

Crowd at the Oktoberfest. credit@ Welcome Argentina

Argentina’s Oktoberfest or the National Beer Festival is the country’s version of the German Oktoberfest. Celebrated in October since 1963, thousands of tourists throng to the Beer Village in Villa General Belgrano, a venue that was designed exclusively for the festival and chug down several litres of beer in giant German mugs.

Villa General Belgrano was founded by two Germans, Jorge and Pablo Heintze Kappuhn in the 1930s. The village was intended to be a safe region for their compatriots. Joining hands with the locals, the village soon began to rise- houses with red roofs, lots of wood and pretty gardens. Soon, everything about Central Europe- cuisine, customs, dance, music, crafts, language and festival- found its way to Villa General Belgrano. Oktoberfest came to be when the first immigrants arrived at the village.

The festival lasts for eleven days and commemorates the Oktoberfest which is a pagan ritual that originated in Germany five centuries ago. Both national and international beer trademarks take part in the festival where their products are promoted and sold in many stands. And it isn’t just beer that flows in plentiful- it’s a plethora of traditional German dishes like the leber- wurst, Frankfurt sausages and smoked pork ribs. Dessert consists of the scrumptious negra cake (chocolate sponge cake with cream and morellos fruit) and the Apfelstrudel (apple pie with puff pastry). Sometimes, the festivities are moved to the city, where communities parade in their colourful costumes. Towards the afternoon, beer barrels are opened. The people believe that drinking from those barrels will bring them good luck.

Vendimia, The Grape Harvest National Festival

A concert during Vendimia. credit@ Pinterest

A celebration of wine and the wine industry takes place every year in March in Mendoza City (the wine capital of Argentina), attracting tourists all over the world. Vendimia has been celebrated since the 1930s. Tons of grapes are acquired after harvest season, and during the festival, the tourists witness the fruits being turned into wine. Local wine tours take the tourists for wine tasting in the breweries that are scattered in the area. And it’s not just wine- there’s great food, spectacular parades and musical concerts too.

There are several events in the festival. First comes the blessing of the fruit, which takes place on the final Sunday of February. Next comes the Vía Blanca de las Reinas, when on the evening of the first Friday of March, the most beautiful women are elected as the Queens or Reinas. The women are from different parades, all dressed up in decorative costumes and riding in their chariots. Their outfits are a tribute to the tradition of wine making. After the queens are elected, comes the event of Carrusel Vendimial which takes place during the morning of the next day. It’s a daylight parade when the elected Queens ride along the streets on their chariots. They are accompanied by throngs of men who are clad in Gaucho (horseman) style costumes and ride horses. The men are followed by dancers who represent the many provinces of Argentina and the other Latin American Countries. The main event of Vendimia takes place in the Frank Romero Day Greek theatre. More than a thousand performers, including musicians, dancers come together to put on a dazzling show of music and light. The show pays tribute to the Virgen de la Carrodilla. The music is mainly traditional folklore music. The final event of the festival is when the Reina Nacional de la Vendimia is elected and a large display of fireworks is put up.

Buenos Aires Tango Festival

A couple dancing at the Buenos Aires Tango Festival. credit@ Grand Circle Travel

The Buenos Aires Tango Festival in August invites you to take part in the dance of seduction and passion. The festival originated as an attempt to help the growth of national and international movements tango. Since the 1800s, the city’s neighbourhoods have been greatly influenced by Gaucho, European and African influences and has consequently led to the rise of the tango. From the mid-week to the end of August every year, tango music will be played in the traditional neighbourhoods and cafes. Plenty of Buenos Aires dance halls and tango shows dot the area. Over 600,000 individuals flock to the city to take part or witness the world’s championship of tango. Other than tango, it is a plethora of music, art, tradition and sentiment that makes up the foundation of Buenos Aires.

The festival opens with a celebration known as La Festival. La Festival is a huge outdoor tango dance when thousands of tangueros dance along the streets. The opening event lasts for a week and it is an explosion of dance lessons and shows, recitals, musical performances and movie screenings, all running late into the night. Even if you don’t know a step of tango and are afraid of falling over your face, not to worry, as there are dance lessons for anyone and everyone who wishes to dance, starting from beginners. As for the second half of the Tango Festival, it consists of the Mundial de Tango, the Tango World Championship. This is when the world’s best and most skilled dancers come together to compete for the world championship title.

Cosquin Festival

Musicians perform at the Cosquin Festival. credit@ The Real Argentina

The Cosquín Folk Festival is one of Argentina’s most important folk music festivals. Lasting nine days, it takes place after the middle of January in Cosquín city in the Córdoba Province. The festival lasts for nine days in reference to the nine moons of Cosquín. The festival’s stage named as the Atahualpa Yupanqui, is situated at the large square Prospero Molina and is declared as the National Folklore Square. The stage is named after Atahualpa Yupanqui who won the first prize at the festival.

The first Cosquin Festival was held in January 1961. The tradition was born as a group of residents, led by Dr. Reinaldo Wisner and Dr. Alejandro Guinder decided to put together a folk music and cultural show during the summer months so as to increase tourism in the area. The show would later become the identity of the village. The presence of renowned Argentinian artists at the festival added to the more than expected crowds and now, the Cosquin Festival is the largest folk event in Argentina. The festival also led to a renewal of the local folk music and culture among the younger generations. Besides the music, there are ballet performances, workshops, bonfires by the river and an exhibition of arts and crafts.

Buenos Aires International Film Festival

A film screening at the Buenos Aires International Film Festival. credit@ Buenos Aires Turismo

Every year in April, the city of Buenos Aires houses the Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema, an international film festival managed by the Ministry of Culture of the Government of Buenos Aires City.

The first edition of the festival was held in April 1999, organized by the Secretaryship of Culture of the Government of Buenos Aires City. Although the festival is staged in the most important movie theatres in the city, there are free open air screenings held in squares and parks all over the city. The first film festival was attended by 146 guests, among whom were Francis Ford Coppola, Todd Haynes and Paul Morrissey. The first year, over 150 national and international movies were screened. Since then, spectators have risen to more than a million and the festival features more than 400 movies. Besides the screenings, other activities were added including workshops, competitions and conferences. Out of the several competitions, the most important ones are the Argentinian Competition and the International Competition. A jury evaluates and selects the films as the winners for awards like Best Film, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Special Mentions. Since the third edition of the festival, awards have been included for short films too, like the Best Short Subject Film and Best Director.

Buenos Aires International Book Fair

Shop for books to your heart’s content at the Buenos Aires International Book Fair. credit@ Welcome Argentina

Ah, to touch and smell books, what heaven! If that’s not enough, then imagine being surrounded by famous authors whose books you’ve consumed cover to cover. That’s what the Buenos Aires International Book Fair gives you. Held in April every year, the Book Fair is one of the top five book expos of the world. The fair lasts for twenty days, serving as a meeting place for anyone who is obsessed with reading and books. Besides serving as a meeting point for this obsession, the festival includes readings, conferences, workshops and book presentations. Each year, prominent authors grace the fair. John M. Coetzee, Doris Lessing, Ray Bradbury, Italo Calvino, Mario Vargas Llosa and Henning Mankell are just a few of the long list of writers who have been part of the fair. There are also special activities targeting audiences like librarians, teachers and translators.

The fair was established in 1975 and held in the Centro de Exposiciones de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires, a utilitarian building in the Recoleta borough. Fifty prominent writers and more than 140000 visitors attended the fair. Now, the book expo is organized by the Fundación El Libro and establishment of the Argentine Society of Writers (SADE). Stands are divided into stalls for national and international publishing houses, communities, countries and provinces of Argentina. Every year, the fair has a specific motto. Recent years has seen the expo being hosted by the Argentinian Rural Society. Stands now amount to 1500 in number from fifty countries.

Festivals are an important way of celebrating culture, traditions and heritage. While many of the festivals in Argentina were born out of local culture, some of the others were inspired by the wide variety of ethnic groups and immigrants who settled there. Many celebrations are the result of Italian, Spanish and European backgrounds merging together into one explosion of cultural events. Through these festivals, legends, traditions and knowledge are passed down to the coming generations.

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