Cartagena celebrates the 207th anniversary of its declaration of independence from Spain on November 11, 2018.  The date is celebrated with week long festivities.  The city has put a renewed emphasis on the festivities and using them as a showcase of the city, so 2018 promises to be a great celebration!  Read on for a complete 2018 schedule for Cartagena Independence Week.

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Two beauty queens dancing on a float.
The parade and beauty queens might steal the show, but there’s lots of other events. Read on for a complete festival schedule for Cartagena Independence Day.

Introduction – History Behind the Celebration

Before we get to the festival schedule for Cartagena Independence Day, a bit of history behind the celebration.  On November 11, 1811, the city’s leaders signed Cartagena’s Declaration of Independence, creating the sovereign and independent Free State of Cartagena.  That made it the first place in modern Colombia to set up an independent state.  The causes of independence were complex but centered around growing discontent with the power structure of the Spanish colonial system and a political crisis set off by Napoleon’s occupation of Spain.

However, this first move towards independence was doomed to failure, and the city was reconquered by the Spanish in 1815.  The Siege of Cartagena left much of the city’s residents starving or worse and its refusal to surrender earned the city its nickname of La Heroica.

The city then suffered under 6 years of harsh Spanish reoccupation, with many, including the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena, executed by the Spanish.  Finally, patriots succeeded in the liberation of Cartagena in October 1821, nearly a decade after the city’s declaration of independence.

(*If you’d like to learn more about the history behind independence, check out the links above as well as the links to the rest of our series of articles on it listed at the bottom of this post)

Today, the city celebrates this leading and heroic role it played in the independence of Colombia with the Cartagena Independence Celebrations, also known as the November Festivities.  The festivities actually officially begin in late September and there are a number of prelude events throughout October, but the main events are centered around the week of or preceding November 11th.  Read on for a complete guide to and schedule for Cartagena Independence Day 2018.

A few men walking, one waving the red, yellow, and green flag of Cartagena, during the parade, one of the main events on the 2018 schedule for Cartagena Independence Week.
The Flag of Cartagena being carried in the parade.

Practical Tips and Recommendations

A word of caution:  the celebrations get quite rowdy.  Particularly during the parades, people spray espuma (foam), throw maizena (corn starch), paint, and water.  People also throw little firecrackers called buscapies (literally, feet finders).  For the most part this is good natured, if perhaps a bit devilish, fun.

However, as is the case anywhere, there are some people with bad intentions.  Pickpockets have been known to spray people in the face with espuma to distract them while they quickly empty their pockets.  Also, occasionally, buscapie throwers can go a little overboard.

For all of the above reasons, keep in mind the following tips and recommendations for enjoying Cartagena’s November Celebrations safely:

  • Wear clothes that you don’t mind being ruined.  While, the foam and corn starch wash out easily, sometimes people use paint that can stain.
  • Wear closed shoes!  I leaned this lesson the hard way my first year in Cartagena, when I was burned by a buscapie.  Be smarter than me, no flip flops or sandals!
  • Carry only what cash you need and don’t carry any valuables or jewelry.  You’ll be in crowds with a lot of people, with a lot of going on, and thieves may try to take advantage.  Anything you’ll truly be heartbroken to lose, don’t take it out with you.
  • Finally, I’d suggest trying to embrace the craziness and react with a sense of humor.  Right or wrong, if you’re a foreigner you’re likely to be a target for espuma, maizena, and buscapies.  The best way to react is to laugh with them, or better yet get some for yourself and give it right back to them.  That being said if someone is aggressively targeting you, it’s probably best to just move to another place.
A guy in the middle of 6 girls sprayed with foam during the Cartagena Independence Festivities.
In the least you will end up covered in espuma during the Cartagena Independence Festivities, so be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.

The fiestas really are a unique experience and I highly encourage you to check them out.  Below, I’ve highlighted the main events on the 2018 schedule for the Cartagena Independence Festivities.  You can check out the full official schedule here.  Also, you can follow the fiestas’ organizers on Instagram here (they’ve been good about posting each day’s schedule and pictures from the events).

2018 Schedule for Cartagena Independence Week

Friday November 2

Night of Fantasy Concert

What to Expect:  A concert where musicians scheduled to perform are headlined by champeta singer Kevin Florez.  The theme for the celebrations this year is Cartagena’s marine flora and fauna, so expect the beauty queens to have on elaborate costumes of that theme.  The theme should be featured throughout the events on the schedule for the Cartagena Independence celebrations.

Time:  7 pm to 1 am

Location:  Plaza de Aduana, just inside to the Clocktower.

*Open and free to the public

Saturday November 3

Night Parade of Lights and Merriment

What to Expect:  A parade set to feature candles along with drums, singing, and of course lots of dancing.

Time:  6 pm to 12 am

Location:  Parque de Bruselas

Sunday November 4

Club Colombia Oktoberfest Concert

What to Expect:  Not part of the official schedule for Cartagena Independence Day, beer company Club Colombia does an annual Oktoberfest tour to major cities in Colombia.  The band Systema Solar will be playing and of course there will be lots of cold beer.

Time:  4 pm until (expect the band to play late, with perhaps some local bands playing earlier)

Location:  Parque la Marina (located outside of Centro near the San Pedro Church and Naval Museum)

*Advance tickets are listed at 40,000 pesos, it shouldn’t be necessary to have advance tickets but the price may be a bit more day of.  In years past, tickets have included several courtesy beers.

Thursday November 8

Independence Parade

What to Expect:  This is the main event on the Cartagena Independence Celebration schedule.  Expect to see lots of colorful costumes showing off the culture and history of Cartagena.  The participants in both the local and national beauty pageant will also be participating, riding on floats.  You should expect a bit of a rowdy crowd and lots of espuma, maizena, and buscapies.  If you want a really crazy experience, check out the massive buscapie fight in El Cabrero (not for the light of heart or hearing).

Time:  1 pm to 7 pm

Location:  Avenida Santander.  The parade starts at the entrance to Crespo and proceeds along the water front to the the end of the walls in Centro by Parque de la Marina.

*Spectators can see the parade from the street along the main waterfront avenue to the right outside of Centro or can purchase seats in the bleachers set up along the walls.  Be sure to be there around midday to get a good spot, although the parade often starts later than scheduled.

*Again be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and leave valuables at home.

A photo of women in colorful dresses participating in the parade during the Cartagena Independence Festivities.
The parade and its colorful costumes are the main event on the schedule for Cartagena Independence Week.

Friday November 9

Beauty Pageant Swimsuit Contest

What to Expect:  The candidates for Miss Independence will be strutting down the runway in their swimsuits.  Expect lots of music too.

Time:  4 pm to 8 pm

Location:  Plaza de la Aduana

*Free to the public

Saturday November 10

Salsa in the Plaza Concert

What to Expect:  Well the name says it all, salsa in the plaza.  Come ready to get your dance on and enjoy a few beers.

Time:  6 pm to 1 am

Location:  Centennial Park (just outside the Clocktower across the street to the left)

*Free to the public

LGBT Pride Parade

What to Expect:  A parade celebrating LGBT pride and diversity.

Time:  8 pm to 12 am

Location:  The official schedule says the location is TBA, in years past it has been in Centro along the inside of the wall.

Sunday November 11

Reading of the Declaration of Independence

What to Expect:  A reading of Cartagena’s Declaration of Independence and perhaps some words from the city’s local assembly members.

Time:  8 am to 10 am

Location:  Convention Center

Offering to the Martyrs of Independence

What to Expect:  A laying of flowers and homage to the people who lost their lives fighting for Cartagena and Colombia’s independence, including the 9 Martyrs of Cartagena.

Time:  11 am to 12 pm

Location:  Camellón a los martires, located in the median outside of the Clocktower.

Cabildo de Getsemaní

What to Expect:  A parade that arrives to the historically significant neighborhood of Getsemaní that lies just outside the city walls.  The mostly free black artisan population of Getsemaní played a key role in the city’s independence movement, a key figure being the blacksmith Pedro Romero.  The neighborhood is considered the cradle of Cartagena’s culture.  The parade begins elsewhere, so don’t expect it to arrive until the late afternoon.  It is one of the more interesting events on the schedule for Cartagena’s Independence Festivities.

Time:  2 pm to 7 pm

Location:  The parade leaves from the neighborhood of Canapote and heads to Getsemaní, where it ends in the Plaza de la Trinidad.

*The Plaza de la Trinidad gets quite rowdy and expect the party to continue late in the night.  Also expect lots of buscapies as well as espuma and maizena.  Again, wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and leave valuables at home.  If you aren’t a fan of crowds, this parade is probably best avoided as its not nearly as elaborate as the main one and tends to be much more of a local affair.

Crowning of Miss Independence

What to Expect:  The winner of the local Miss Independence beauty pageant will be crowned.  This is always a highlight on the schedule for Cartagena’s Independence Week, so expect people to really show out in support of their neighborhood’s candidate.

Time:  5 pm to 12 am

Location:  Softball Stadium (near the soccer stadium way down Avenida Pedro de Heredia).  *I would recommended that you only go here with locals.

*Beer Festival (not officially announced)

*Every year for as long as I can remember Club Colombia has hosted a beer festival after the main parade on Thursday.  Although not part of the official schedule for Cartagena’s Independence Day, and it isn’t officially scheduled anywhere, I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t happen again this year.  Usually there is live music as well.  In years past it’s been held in front of the convention center, but since their Oktoberfest will be at Parque Marina this year 4 days earlier, I would assume they will just leave everything set up and do it there.  Perhaps they will even run events on Saturday and Sunday as well.  Expect to pay an entry fee that includes a few courtesy beers.

Be Safe and Enjoy the Fiestas!

There you have it, a complete guide to the main events on the 2018 schedule for Cartagena Independence Week.  I hope this has helped you plan, and remember to follow the tips above if you do partake.  More than anything, I hope you enjoy the fun, avoid any buscapie burns, and get covered in espuma!

Photos of a truck with people dancing on it going by in the parade, the main event on the 2018 schedule for Cartagena Independence Week. Spectators stand on one side, the beach is on the other.
Be sure you do not miss the Independence Parade, the main event on the 2018 schedule for Cartagena Independence Week.

Interested in learning more about Cartagena’s Independence?

This is part 10 of an 11 part series on the celebration and history of Cartagena’s Independence.  Check out the other parts below:

Planning a trip to Cartagena for the Independence Celebrations?

*If you haven’t used Booking before, you can get up to $15 USD off your first reservation if you sign up here.

Interested in learning more about the history of Cartagena?

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