Medellin’s Flower Festival and Silleteros Parade
Colombian Tailor-made Travel Consultant Lina shares her memories of the floral extravaganza that is Medellin's Flower Festival, which takes place every August.
I still remember the excitement that I used to feel when I was a child and my grandmother mentioned that we had to leave early the following day to see El Desfile de Silleteros (The Silleteros Parade), the main attraction at the Feria de las Flores in Medellin. We used to take a folded chair each, snacks and plenty of water in preparation for the long wait and the sunny August day ahead.
What is a silletero?
I used to be amazed by the beauty of the flower arrangements that ‘Los Silleteros’ carried on their backs - Silleteros are the porters who used to carry colonial officials and wealthy families through the Andes on a chair ('silla') on their back.
Nowadays, for the fair, the ‘silletas’ are created by the farmers who live in the small town of Santa Elena, located up in the mountains very close to the city of Medellin. Here, the weather is cooler and the soil rich with nutrients, making it an ideal area to grow a wide variety of flowers for overseas export and for their works of art for the festival. The farmers wait until the night before the main event to create their masterpieces so that they are as fresh and vibrant as possible. Many locals and tourists alike make a pilgrimage to this area the night before the parade to witness the artists at work.
Some of the flower arrangements can weigh up to 90kg and they only have their head and backs to hold them – it’s an impressive sight but you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for them as they walk for miles and miles, sweating in the hot sun. But then you must remind yourself that they are so passionate about it all and they have been waiting a whole year for this day to come and feel extremely proud of their achievement!
What happens during the Festival of the Flowers?
While it is my favourite part, there is more to the Feria de las Flores than just the Silleteros Parade: it’s a 10-day festival which begins on the first few days of August every year and there are different events that occur each day building up to the Silleteros Parade finale. The whole city blooms on these days and the streets, balconies, terraces, gardens and billboards get adorned with flowers. During the fair there is always a horse parade; orchestral festival; the national trova festival (singers that improvise verses to display the creativity, humour and identity of the ‘Paisas’*); classic cars parade; the chiva carnival (typical open-sided buses which are built on truck chassis and brightly painted); and a children’s flower parade. There are also bird and orchid exhibitions at the botanical gardens and parties in the streets of every neighbourhood.
*The word ‘Paisa’ derives from the word ‘Paisano’ (one from the same country) and is the name given to people from Antioquia, who are very attached to their traditions, family and land: they place great importance on their history and are well known for their welcoming attitude towards travellers to their region.