The Petronio Alvarez Festival of Pacific Music is the largest festival of its kind in Colombia. Each year news of this free festival, which takes place in Santiago de Cali, spreads further and attracts more people. As a foreigner living in Cali, who is about to enter her 5th annual Petronio Alvarez festival, here are some things I think you should know.
1. Petronio is for everyone.
A couple years ago a Colombian told a Canadian colleague that she shouldn’t go to Petronio because “only Black people go to that.”
While Colombia’s Pacific coast is often synonymous with Afro-Colombian culture, I’m confident in saying that at this year’s festival, there will be people of various races, ethnicities, and nationalities. Not to mention babies, elders, and everyone in between. This year more than ever, I’m sure we’ll see an even more diverse crowd as Cali’s reputation continues to grow internationally.
2. Petronio isn’t a wild, dangerous event.
Similar to the above point, in my first year in Cali I was warned against attending Petronio because the festival, is supposedly a dangerous event. But as a person who moved to Cali in large part because of my interest in its strong Afro-Colombian presence, I decided to take my chances. It was worth it.
Remember, Pertronio Alvarez is the largest festival of Pacific music and culture in the entire country. Also, it takes place in an enclosed complex –it is not some wild free-for-all. Of course, with thousands of people in attendance, it’s a good idea to hold your valuables close in case of pickpockets. But most of the people there are just trying to enjoy themselves, like you are.
3. You may not be able to find your friends.
The toughest thing about Petronio by far is meeting up with people at the event, and you can blame the combination of bad cell phone reception and the amount of people for that. Think you’ll be clever by telling friends to find you at a particular booth number? Well, I found out the hard way that a booth’s number isn’t necessarily unique (i.e. there may be two #91 booths).
I’m not saying it’s impossible to meet up with your group at Petronio, but I am saying it’s likely to be a challenge. Rather than waste your time trying to find folks at the event, try to meet up with them before you get to the festival grounds. Other than that, just flow with it. One of the beautiful things about Petronio is the possibility for chance encounters.
4. Petronio is a good excuse to visit Cali.
The rest of the world is finally ready to let Colombia outgrow its infamous reputation, but most tourism seems to land primarily in Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena. Although it carries the nickname “A Branch of Heaven,” Cali is just starting to see tourists in larger numbers. The Petronio Alvarez festival is a great reason to visit Cali because it highlights the aspect of Cali living that makes the city so intriguing: Pacific culture.
In this one festival, you have the opportunity to see talented performers dancing currulao and playing chirimia, eat some of Cali’s tastiest seafood, and sample traditional drinks like viche, arrechon and tomaseca.
5. There WILL be a lot of people.
This is the common thread that runs through all of the above points: There will be a lot of people attending Pertronio Alvarez.
Without a doubt, Petronio will be well-attended this year, as always. Just like most festivals, the later it gets in the day, the more people show up –this is especially true for the weekend. The road leading up to the venue will be bumper to bumper, so you might as well hop on the Mio transportation system, since the buses have their own lane along la quinta. The walk from the station (Unidad Deportiva) to the venue is a short one.
Regardless of what day or time you show up, relax and enjoy the flow of things. People travel to Cali just for this festival because it’s worth it.