23 Mar Festival del Dulce – The “Sweetest” festival you’ll ever go to
It’s that wonderful time of year again – no, not Christmas, but time to warn your dentist that this 25th March will be the first day of Cartagena’s yearly “Candy Festival” – el Festival del Dulce. Prepare yourself to try some of the most traditional – and also some of the most innovative – handcrafted sweets and candy of the Caribbean.
The festival will be choc-a-bloc full of sugary delights that not only are delicious, but also are a celebration of local traditions and ingredients, even being named as part of the cultural heritage of Cartagena and the surrounding region. The star ingredients put under the spotlight are native to the Caribbean coast, such as papaya, mango, pineapple, coconut, plantain, yam, sesame, tamarind, and many, many more.
So, what actually is the story behind the festival?
The Candy Festival moves its dates each year in accordance to Easter. In Colombia, the tradition of making, eating and sharing sweet food at Easter has always been a religious ritual, despite capitalist exaggerations to such traditions in recent decades. Celebrating the end of Lent, sweets and candy bring joy to the population, as anyone who has eaten a chocolate Easter egg will know.
Cartagena, in colonial times, was a melting pot of three main cultures: indigenous, Spanish, and African. Each culture had its own language, world vision, and food preferences. The three were married together under the difficult circumstances of the colonizing era. Before the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous people used honey and the natural sweetness of fruits to curb cravings. Then, the Spanish brought sugar cane to Colombia, which they produced in giant plantations. African slaves who were made to work in the kitchens were used to the strong flavors of cloves, aniseed, cinnamon, coconut, and plantain and began to incorporate them into their cooking here in Colombia.
Fast forward to 2018 and Palenque, the “first free town of the Americas”, where African slaves used to flee to take refuge, is now famous for its sweet treats which mix fruit with sugar cane, spices and traditional ingredients such as coconut. The residents of this small town, all descendants of the Afro population, have proudly passed their secrets down for generations, and will do for generations to come. The candy produced in this town has become representative of their culture and any trip to Playa Blanca would not be complete without trying a cocada – a super sweet, sticky coconut or fruit based candy – from a Palenquera (a woman originating from the town Palenque).
Feeling hungry yet?
As you can see, the act of buying these traditional candy and sweets is an investment in the local land, its people, and its traditions. So now you have the perfect excuse to stuff your face with sugar! These traditional handcrafted sweets are made with love, dedication, and knowledge passed down many generations. And some of them have fruit – that’s healthy, right?
Parque Centenario, the park between the clock tower and Getsemani and “Portal de los Dulces” – under the arches of the clock tower square.
March 25th at 10am until April 1st at 10pm