Fiesta de la Santa Tierra, Lake Titicaca (Peru). The main festival on Isla Amantaní sees the population split in two -- half at the Temple of Pachamama and the other half at the Temple of Pachatata, symbolizing the islanders' ancient dualistic belief system. Third Thursday in January.
Carnaval. The continent's liveliest Carnaval festivities are held in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and, most famously, Brazil. In Salta, Argentina, citizens throw a large parade, which includes caricatures of public officials and "water bomb" fights. In Oruro, Bolivia, Christian and indigenous myths and legends are woven into the fabric of the elaborate costumes and dances, which helped garner a UNESCO World Heritage rating in 2001. In Uruguay, Montevideo is the center for the main events, including parades, dance parties, and widespread debauchery. In Brazil, it's the party to end all parties -- all life comes to a halt for 4 days of nonstop singing, dancing, drinking, and general over-the-top merrymaking. Generally celebrated during the week before the start of Lent.
Festival of the Virgen de la Candelaria. Lively festivities are held in honor of one of the most beloved religious symbols in Bolivia and Peru. In Copacabana, Bolivia, the home of the Virgin, the celebration includes parades and dancing in the street. In Puno, Peru, it's one of the largest and most colorful folk religious festivals in the Americas, with abundant music and dance troupes, many in fantastic costumes and masks. February 2.
Festival de la Canción (Festival of Song), Viña del Mar, Chile. This gala showcases Latin American and international performers 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.
Argentina's Wine Harvest Festival, Mendoza, Argentina. Locally known as Vendimia, the country's celebration of wine, women, and song is centered around its wine capital Mendoza, in the foothills of the Andes. Concerts, parades, street theater, and a hotly contested beauty contest take place throughout the month of February but culminate in a bacchanalian fest with fireworks and gaucho displays during the first week of March.
Iberamerican Film Festival, Bogotá, Colombia. One of the world's largest theater festivals (and South America's biggest) is held every 2 years from mid-March to early April in Bogotá. Over 520 theater companies from around the world are invited to participate.
Festival Internacional de Teatro (Caracas International Theater Festival). This festival brings together scores of troupes and companies from around the world and across Venezuela for a 2-week celebration of the theater arts. Performances are held in a variety of theaters (and a plethora of languages) around Caracas, as well as in the streets and plazas. Begun nearly 30 years ago, this is the premiere theater festival in Latin America. For more information, contact the Ateneo de Caracas (tel. 0212/573-4400). Early to mid-April.
Semana Santa, Uruguay. During Holy Week, Uruguay shuts down. In Montevideo and the smaller cities, you'll find gaucho-style barbecues all over the place. During this time, there are also parades, where you'll be able to hear local folk music. Wednesday through Friday before Easter.
Fiesta de la Cruz, Peru. The Festival of the Cross features folk music and dance, including "scissors dancers," and processions in which communities decorate crosses and prepare them for the procession to neighboring churches. The danzantes de tijeras (scissors dancers) recreate old times, when they performed on top of church bell towers. Today the objective is still to outdo one another with daring feats. Celebrations are especially lively in Lima, Cusco, and Ica. May 2 and 3.
Gaucho Parade, Salta, Argentina. The parade features music by folk artists and gauchos dressed in traditional red ponchos with black stripes, leather chaps, black boots, belts, and knives. June 16.
Septenario Festival (Corpus Christi), Cuenca, Ecuador. During this weeklong event, Cuenca is at its most festive. The streets around the main plaza are closed and a carnival atmosphere prevails with games, special food stalls, and nightly fireworks. Thousands of balloons are sent into the sky over the city on closing night. The exact date varies, but is usually mid-June.
Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun). This Inca Festival of the Sun -- the mother of all pre-Hispanic festivals -- celebrates the winter solstice and honors the sun god with traditional pageantry, parades, and dances. In Argentina, celebrations take place in towns throughout the northwest on the night before the solstice (around June 20). In Peru, it draws thousands of visitors who fill Cusco's hotels; the principal event takes place on June 24 at the Sacsayhuamán ruins and includes the sacrifice of a pair of llamas. General celebrations continue for several days. In Ecuador, Inti Raymi merges with the fiestas of San Pablo and San Juan to create one big holiday from June 24 to 29 in the Otavalo area.
Fiestas Patrias, Peru. A series of patriotic parties mark Peru's independence from Spain in 1821. Official parades and functions are augmented by cockfighting, bullfighting, and Peruvian Paso horse exhibitions in other towns. The best celebrations are in Cusco, Puno, Isla Taquile, and Lima. July 28 and 29.
Feria de las Flores, Medellín, Colombia. Likely the largest flower festival in the world, Medellín's biggest annual celebration includes a long list of events such as the Cavalgata de Caballos (Horse Parade), Desfile de Carros Antiguos (Antique Car Parade), and -- the most famous and well known -- the Desfile de Silleteros, where young and old come out to show-off their hand made silleteros, or flower designs, in an hours-long parade. This festival is one of a kind and excitement rivals that of Carnaval in Barranquilla or Cartagena. First week of August.
Independence Day, Bolivia. To celebrate this holiday, Bolivians flock to Sucre, where the leaders of the Bolivian independence movement signed the declaration of independence in 1825. For several days before and several days afterward, there are colorful parades, fireworks, and all sorts of celebrations here. If you can't make it to Sucre, you'll find people partying throughout the country, especially in Copacabana. August 6.
World Tango Championship, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tango aficionados from all over the world converge on the Tangolopolis of Buenos Aires to strut their stuff and try to walk away with the coveted first-place prize. The less agile can watch or attend the hundreds of events scattered across the city celebrating Argentina's most valued cultural export.
Virgen del Valle, Isla de Margarita, Venezuela. The patron saint of sailors, fishermen, and all other seafarers is honored with street fairs and a colorful blessing of the fleet procession. September 8 to 15.
Independence Day and Armed Forces Day, Chile. Chile's rich cultural heritage comes to life with plenty of drinking, dancing, rodeos, and military parades. This holiday can stretch into a 3- to 4-day weekend, and the best place to witness celebrations is in the Central Valley south of Santiago. September 18 and 19.
El Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles), Lima, Peru. Lasting nearly 24 hours and involving tens of thousands of participants, many of whom are dressed in purple, this procession celebrates a Christ image painted by an Angolan slave that survived the 1746 earthquake and has since become the most venerated image in the capital. October 18.
All Souls' Day and Independence Day, Cuenca, Ecuador. The city celebrates both the Day of the Dead and its independence day with parties, art shows, parades, dances in the streets, and food festivals. November 2 and 3.
Santuranticuy Festival, Cusco, Peru. Hundreds of artisans sell traditional carved Nativity figures and saints' images at one of the largest handicrafts fairs in Peru in Cusco's Plaza de Armas. December 24.
New Year's Eve, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Copacabana beach is ground zero for an event that attracts more than one million people. The roughly 10km (6 miles) of sand are jam-packed with New Year's revelers, and the entertainment never stops, with concerts and performances all night long leading up to the best fireworks display in the world. The evening is also an important one in the African Candomblé religion; it's the night to make an offering to the sea goddess Yemanjá. Candomblé followers, all dressed in white, offer small boats loaded with flowers, candles, mirrors, jewelry, and other pretty trinkets to the sea in a candlelit ceremony with music and dancing. The sight on the beach is truly spectacular. December 31.
Ferias de Cali, Cali, Colombia: Known as Colombia's hardest partying city, Cali really shows what it's made of during its famous ferias. For 2 long weeks each winter, the streets of Cali become a virtual party ground, full of street vendors, performers and merrymakers. Book your ticket in advance during this time because hotels fill up. Between late December and mid-January.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.