Inside Petronio Alvarez In Colombia: Latin America’s Largest Afro-Culture Festival
By DeAnna Taylor
Let us introduce you to Cali, Colombia. While most people only hear about Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota, Cali is actually the third most populated city in the country and it is said to have the second largest population of African descendants in all of Latin America. However, that fact is still being debated.
In 1996, the Petronio Alvarez Festival was started as a way to bring respect back to the Afro-Colombian community that had been forgotten.
Cali is the gateway for African descendants from the Pacific Coast region of Colombia. This area is predominantly Black but has faced lots of problems thus forcing many to relocate to Cali.
We had the chance to go inside this year’s festival and it was everything we expected.
As you walk into the gates and onto the grounds, you immediately hear salsa music and music of the Pacific Coast playing all around you.
The entire festival space is broken down into 4 sections: food, drinks, commercial vendors, and the concert area. It’s huge.
On any given day of the 6-day event, you can be among nearly 100,000 people truly living it up and having the time of their life. The best part about it all, is that there are Black people at every turn and most only speak Spanish– making it that much more beautiful.
The melanin vibes are definitely on 1000.
When you head over to the concert area, the number of people out in the crowd is truly mind-blowing. No matter what artist is on the stage at the time, you will see thousands of white flags pumping to the beat in unison.
The actual event is a contest among local bands and groups, but the entire crowd supports everyone no matter what. Even if you can’t understand what the musicians are saying due to a language barrier, you’ll catch the vibe immediately. It’s something about the energy that draws you in and next thing you know, you’re pumping along with everyone around you.
People go out all in African garb and fashions similar to those you will find at Afro Punk. The hairstyles, the accessories, and the traditional face paint tie everything together. Again, it’s truly a beautiful thing to see.
As far as the food, whew chile. Let’s just say get ready to throw your diet out of the window.
The festival allows local restaurants to set up food stalls. There are literally around 100 food vendors to choose from and many of them are award-winning chefs and restaurants from the region.
You’ll be able to indulge in plenty of homemade empanadas, seafood dishes, and fresh-fried plantains.
In the drink area, vendors flag you down to come to their stall to try their brand of the local spirit, Viche. If you’re a lightweight, this spirit is not for you. Yes, it’s that strong. But the locals can take it like champs.
The commercial vendors offer everything from clothes, to natural products created in Colombia, and handmade crafts. The biggest item at the festival are the turbans and head wraps. Since head wraps are a big part of African culture, festival-goers dawn them or purchase them onsite from vendors who do custom wrap styles on the spot.
At any given moment you’ll see drum circles starting up or groups breaking into chants. It’s really all about the culture.
The festival is held yearly in mid August and is free to enter. To learn more about Petronio Alvarez and all it has to offer, check out their website: www.petronio.cali.gov.co.
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.