It’s a known fact that Filipinos everywhere in the world love to celebrate and get together. Just take a look at this long list of festivals in the Philippines. With that being just a partial list, we wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least one fiesta or festival in a town somewhere in the country on any given day of the year.
Lasting anywhere between a day to an entire month, Philippine festivals are huge cultural celebrations that attract both local and foreign tourists due to its colorful and festive nature.
Because of Spain’s Catholic influence dating back to the mid-1500s, most of these festivals are usually religious in nature while others are meant to commemorate important events in history. Either way, attending a Philippine festival is definitely something you have to experience at least once.
Since there’s usually a festival going on each month, timing isn’t going to be a problem. If you’re looking for Philippine festivals to attend, here’s a chronological list of 10 popular ones to give you an idea of which ones to visit.
3rd weekend of January | Kalibo, Aklan
This Sto. Niño festival started it all. One of the oldest religious celebrations in the country, Ati-Atihan is characterized by a parade filled with face-painted celebrants, indigenous costumes and weapons, tribal dances, and loud drumbeats.
Tourists who flock to Kalibo for the festivities are free to cover themselves in black soot and dance on the streets with the drum beats. Known as the “The Filipino Mardi Gras,” it is truly an experience not to be missed.
3rd weekend of January | Cebu City
Cebu also has its own version of the festival in honor of the Sto. Niño. If you find yourself attending the Sinulog Festival, “Pit Señor!” is a phrase you will hear a lot. It means “Panangpit sa Señor,” a Cebuano phrase that means to plead to the Señor Santo Niño.
It is one of the most attended festivals in the Philippines, attracting millions of locals and tourists from all over the world. In 2013, it was reported that the number of participants reached a whopping four million.
Sinulog not only sets the stage for Cebuano talents but also for other regional acts as contingents from neighboring provinces are showcased through street dancing, pageantry, and sports. It is also known for hosting the country’s biggest raves, drawing a growing number of party-goers from all over the country year after year.
4th weekend of January | Iloilo City
If you happen to know someone from Iloilo, try and ask them about this Philippine festival. You’ll see how their pride for their city’s festival is nothing short of astounding.
Once a year, Iloilo City transforms into one big street party — streets closed, bands in all corners, overflowing food and drinks, and towering boom boxes. To cap it all off, tribes representing different barangays and high schools perform in one very competitive street dancing contest.
It’s no wonder how this city’s once simple celebration in honor of the child Jesus (Sto. Niño) ended up bagging several awards including the Association of Tourism Officers of the Philippines’ (ATOP) title holder for Best Tourism Event of the Philippines.
According to Iloilo City Tourism Officer Ben Jimena, the winning tribes are now going international and will be promoting Philippine tourism to countries like the United States, Canada, and Singapore.
February | Baguio City
The word “Panagbenga” comes from the Kankanaey term that means “season of blooming.” With the numerous parades of floral floats and children dressed as flora and fauna, it definitely lives up to its name, making Baguio the perfect destination for those who still have a hangover from the huge festivals in January.
Adding to the usual tourist sites to visit, the whole length of the Session Road during Panagbenga becomes a feast for the eyes. Called “Session Road in Bloom,” Baguio’s famous street is closed to vehicular traffic to make way for flower carts, street dancing, and outdoor cafes.
Now that it’s a huge event bringing in thousands of tourists each year, it’s important to plan ahead (make early restaurant reservations, bring a map, etc.) if you are attending this Philippine festival.
Holy Week | Boac, Gasan, and Mogpog, Marinduque
This week-long celebration of the life of St. Longinus is what makes Marinduque one of the top destinations during Holy Week in the Philippines. Morion is the helmet worn by the centurions while Moriones refers to the costumed penitents reenacting the search for St. Longinus, hunted by his fellow centurions for converting to Christianity.
During the festival you will see Marinduqueños dressed up as centurions (Moriones) looking for Longinus. One person acts as Longinus, hiding from them while the townspeople play along and allow him to hide in their houses. Via Crucis or the reenactment of the Passion of Christ also happens during this Philippine festival.
Last weekend of April | Pasay City, Manila
Aliwan Fiesta is more of a competition than it is a festival. However, it has undeniably added great value to the growing interest in Philippine festivals. Although it just started in the early 2000s, it has already gained a strong fan-base nationwide with more than 5,000 young men and women from all over the country joining the competition.
For a lot of people who are in Manila, heading to the CCP Complex is the cheapest way to see quality performances from tribes representing festivals in their respective provinces. Plus, it’s always great to see tribes from Dinagyang and Sinulog give their A-performances to grab the million-peso grand prize.
15th of May | Lucban, Quezon
One of the Philippines’ most colorful harvest festival, May 15th marks that time of the year when people in Lucban decorate their houses with different-colored produces in an almost competitive manner.
It’s not uncommon to see singakamas (turnip), talong (eggplant), sigarilyas (winged bean) and all the other vegetables and fruits mentioned in the Bahay Kubo song hanging on the exteriors of their homes. You can actually bring a basket and pick the produce from the walls for free.
29th of June | Tacloban City
Pintados is another festival in honor of the Sto. Niño (yes, this is the 4th of its kind in the list). It just goes to show how Filipinos want to be reminded to be childlike in their ways and to place hope in their children.
This festival has been growing in popularity because of the contingents they send to the Aliwan Fiesta every year. They don’t fail to amaze. Leyte is also the home base of other festivals like Alikaraw, Pasaka, and the 2009 Aliwan Fiesta champions, Buyogan.
3rd week of August | Davao City
Kadayawan comes from the Dabawenyo word “madayaw,” a friendly greeting which means good or beautiful. Probably the biggest festival in Mindanao, Kadayawan has everything all other festivals have: street dancing, beauty pageants, fireworks displays, floral floats.
It is a celebration of Davao‘s as well as the rest of Mindanao’s abundance; showcasing flowers, fruits, and other produces that abound the country’s second largest island. Just two years ago, they even introduced a week-long street food fiesta in Freedom Park, Roxas Avenue called Kaan sa Da’n.
19th of October | Bacolod City
Colorful masks, street dancing, electrical displays and best of all… the sweet smiles of Bacoleñas! What more could you ask for?
MassKara is a combination of the words “mass” which means “crowd” and “kara” which means “face.” You will see participants wearing smiling masks signifying a multitude of smiling faces, solidifying Bacolod’s title as the “City of Smiles.”
Like Sinulog, it is also swarmed by the younger party crowd as it is conveniently scheduled during the semester break.
There are still a lot of Philippine festivals not mentioned in this list. The next time you book a flight, you might want to consider scheduling it during that destination’s festival dates.