Festival Costumbrista Chilote, Chiloé. The city of Castro hosts a celebration of the culture, history, and mythical folklore that makes the island unique. Part of this celebration is centered around making chicha from fermented apples and curanto, a slowly cooked combo of shellfish and pork steamed over hot rocks in the ground and covered with nalca leaves. Early February.
Semana Valdiviana, Valdivia. This grand weeklong event features a variety of maritime-theme activities, contests, expositions, and more. The highlight takes place on the third Saturday of February, the “Noche Valdiviana,” when the Río Valdivia fills with festively decorated boats and candles, and the skies fill with fireworks. This is a very crowded event, and advance hotel reservations are essential. Mid-February.
Festival de la Canción, Viña del Mar. The gala Festival of Song showcases Latin American performers and usually one or two hot international acts during a 5-day festival of concerts held in the city’s outdoor amphitheater. The spectacle draws thousands of visitors to an already packed Viña del Mar, so plan your hotel reservations accordingly. Late February.
Fiesta del Cuasimodo. This event is held mostly in towns in central Chile, in which huaso cowboys parade through the streets accompanied by Catholic priests who often pay visits to the infirm and people with disabilities. First Sunday after Easter.
Fiesta de San Pedro. Fishermen celebrate in towns along the coast of Chile to bring about good fortune, weather, and bountiful catches. They decorate their boats, light candles, arm themselves with an image of their patron saint, and drift along the coast. A great place to check out this event is Valparaíso. June 29.
La Tirana. Almost abandoned during most of the year, this tiny Atacama Desert village, east of Iquique, hosts Chile’s most important traditional religious festivals, including La Tirana (“The Tyrant”), named after a legendary — and legendarily cruel — Inca princess who converted to Christianity and was martyred. Close to a quarter million of the faithful, including 207 religious associations in colorful costumes, swarm the town for the Virgen del Carmen commemorations. It’s best to stay in Iquique, though the dancing goes on all night. Other major pilgrimages here occur January 5 and 6 (Three Wise Men or Magi), Holy Week, and Independence Day. July 10-19.
Virgen del Carmen. The patron saint of the armed forces is celebrated with military parades throughout the country, especially near Maipú, where Chile’s liberators O’Higgins and San Martín defeated Spanish forces in the fight for independence. July 16.
Carnaval de Invierno. Two days’ worth of parade floats and fireworks inject some cheer into the dank, dark, sub-Antarctic winter in Punta Arenas. Last week of July.
Independence Day. While serious, stiff official commemorative parades are held in Santiago and Valparaíso, everywhere in Chile around “El Dieciocho” (the 18th) and Armed Forces Day (the 19th), festivities abound in fondas, mostly outdoor fairs under armadas, tree branches and reeds offering shade or a place to string up multicolored light bulbs. The biggest celebration is La Pampilla, near Coquimbo. Grilled meats and empanadas abound, along with rivers of wine and pisco, and live traditional music adds to the merry-making under ubiquitous national flags. September 18-19.
Rodeo season kick-off. Chile’s rodeo season starts on Independence Day and culminates with a championship in the city of Rancagua around late March or early April. There are a variety of rodeo dates throughout the Central Valley, but September 18 and the championships are festivals in their own right, with food stalls, lots of chicha (a fermented fruit cider) drinking, and traditional cueca dancing. Contact the Federación de Rodeos in Santiago at tel./fax 2/420-2553, or visit www.huasosyrodeos.cl for a schedule of rodeos throughout Chile. September 18.
Fiesta Grande. The remote mining village of Andacollo, south of La Serena, proudly boasts a purportedly miracle-working wooden statue of the Virgin Mary. In her honor, an astounding 400,000 pilgrims congregate here on December 26, following a tradition begun in 1584, with dancers drawing on pre-colonial traditions. A smaller commemoration takes place on the first Sunday in October. December 26.