Mama Negra festival is a celebration of a legend. The city of Latacunga in Ecuador sits under the shadow of Cotopaxi Volcano. Cotopaxi is one of the biggest active volcanos in the world. It destroyed the town twice and, in 1742, it threatened to do so again. Fearing its imminent threat, the locals of Latacunga prayed to the Virgen de la Merced and the town was saved.
In her honour, they host a party in the streets twice a year – once in September, and then again in November. This spectacle is known as the Mama Negra festival.
MAMA NEGRA FESTIVAL
The Mama Negra Festival parade involves thousands of people dressed in brightly coloured costumes dancing, drinking, carrying pig carcases and performing rituals with live guinea pigs. They spit alcohol at spectators and occasionally force it down their throats.
Last to pass through is Mama Negra herself – a local man dressed as a black woman, who rides a horse and sprays milk on the crowds. It’s somewhat non-PC.
Here is a taste of what to expect
Mama Negra makes her way through the crowds.
A masked man dances with a baby doll.
Jesters dance around me with sticks, spitting alcohol on my head!
Cute or scary? These characters look like Ku Klux Klan, crossed with MC Hammer on acid.
Adding a splash of normality to the festivities, women dance in traditional dress.
Pig carcases laden with alcohol and cigarettes are paraded through the streets.
A strange ritual involving herbs and a live guinea pig.
Mama Negra Festival is a great chance to make new friends. Just make sure you book your hostel in advance because nobody wants to miss it! This is an all-day affair with fireworks continuing into the night, so get a good night’s sleep the night before.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN LATACUNGA
Most people visit Latacunga for world-class hiking. The Cotopaxi volcano climb is a challenging hike requiring crampons and a lot of will power. Setting off at midnight from a refugio, it’s an unrelenting slog in freezing conditions, but the views once you break through the clouds make it all worthwhile. Prepare for this high-altitude experience with a Quilotoa day trip and some lighter hikes in the surrounding area. Quilotoa Crater Lake is a stunning body of aquamarine water. If you’re continuing on to Banos, the Banos to Puyo bike ride is a great way to get some exercise without overdoing it. You can follow the road downhill for almost 60 km and then hitch a ride back in a truck.