The birthplace of narco terrorist Pablo Escobar is also the birthplace of grown men who make huge, elaborate flower arrangements and carry them on their backs. It’s a legacy that’s celebrated with beauty and tradition during the annual Feria de las Flores (Flower Fair) in Medellin, Colombia. The main event is the Desfile de las Flores (Flower Parade) during which massive floral arrangements are carted through the streets of Medellin by young and old alike.
The Flower Festival in Medellin by the numbers
The Flower Festival numbers are staggering: 157 events over 10 days including 400 activities (fireworks, food, traditional singing competitions, open-air concerts, and more) enjoyed by more than 700,000 people.
The central event of the Flower Festival in Medellin is the Flower Parade which includes 500 men, women, and children (called silleteros) carrying enormous and elaborate flower arrangements on wooden contraptions (called silletas) on their backs. More than 600,000 individual flowers are used to create the arrangements, some weighing as much as 220 pounds (100 kilos). Twelve event judges ultimately hand out awards for top examples in various categories.
The ugly origins of the Flower Festival
In Colonial times the wooden silletas were used by slaves to carry wealthy men and women up and down the mountains that rise around Medellin and throughout the district of Antioquia. In a post-slavery world, a woman named Maria La Larga used her silleta to carry children and that inspired farmers to imagine the silleta as a way to get their produce–including flowers–to market.
Today, Colombia ranks just behind Holland in global flower production with the rural Santa Elena area of Medellin as a major area of production. The first Flower Festival was held in 1957 to honor and encourage farmers in the region. It spanned just five days and the Flower Parade attracted just 40 silleteros.
Highlights from the spectacular Flower Parade in Medellin
Check out our video, below, to see more of the serious and emotional judging and awards process.
Watch a sea of flowers move slowly through the streets in our video, below, from the Flower Festival Flower Parade in Medellin, Colombia.
Our video, below, gives you a glimpse of performances by traditional dance troops and musical groups which are also featured in the Flower Parade. It’s really too bad Colombians don’t like to celebrate…
These days the Flower Festival is about more than just flowers. Other top events include the controversial Cabalgata Horse Parade and a charmingly provincial Classic Car Parade (we hope you like Elvis impersonators and Jeeps). We also take you behind the scenes in Santa Elena where local artisans grow and arrange the flowers and backstage as proud chiva bus owners dress up their vehicles.
Flower Festival Medellin travel tips
Every year the Flower Festival in Medellin brings in thousands of tourists and hotels fill up fast. During last year’s Flower Festival we managed to get a room at 61 Prado Guesthouse and we highly recommend it to any traveler who likes spotlessly clean and comfortable rooms at reasonable rates (US$35 for a private double room with bathroom) in a homey environment just a few blocks from Medellin’s famous metro system.
Here’s more about travel in Colombia