Christmas Lights are a Big Deal in Medellín
Even without the snow, Medellín’s Christmas vibe is straight out of the North Pole.
Every year, the city bursts to life with a splendour of colors and decorations.
The Alumbrados Navideños (Christmas Lights) or Los Alumbrados, as they’re known, are a source of pride for the region and attraction, with millions of tourists wanting to join in on the festivity.
This is a world-class celebration. Since 2011 through to 2021, the National Geographic have regularly featured Medellín’s Alumbrados as one of the top-ten best ‘dazzling light displays’ around the world.
EPM are The Driving Force of Medellin's Alumbrados
So, how has Medellín been able to host these events for 55 years now? How is it they’ve been able to contend on the world-stage as one of the most festive places?
That would be thanks to Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM).
EPM is a public institution that dominates much of the utility sector in Medellín. They are a primary provider of water, electricity, waste management and telecommunications.
EPM provides Medellín and the province of Antioquia with the majority of its energy. They even supply 24% of the nation’s total demand for electricity.
Did we mention they’re from, and headquartered in Medellín?
They have since expanded well-beyond this city alone and operate in other major cities such as Bogota. Despite this, they are heavily invested in their home turf and have been involved in its prosperity.
One such example of this is the yearly Alumbrados in which they power, orchestrate and bring to life the country’s biggest lightshow.
Everybody in Medellín, regardless of socio-economic background, is encouraged to partake in the festivities.
Each Year The Alumbrados Navideños take on a Different Theme
EPM have been powering Medellin’s Alumbrados for 55 years, but it was only in 1997 that each year’s event was given its own name.
This is because they wanted to develop them each with their own concept & experience for the community.
Their names capture the spirit of each year yet common elements prevail through: family, tradition, biodiversity & nature, inclusion are just a few. These are all Colombian treasures that EPM want to celebrate with each year.
Outside of Colombia, it may seem unusual to stray away from the classic conventions of Christmas. In the US, Christmas decorations aren’t likely to change drastically year-to-year. Not in Medellín! These micro-themes have proven an excellent way to keep the annual event novel and meaningful.
These have been the names of all Alumbrados since 1997:
1997 – La Magia de la Navidad
1998 – Navidad es paz
1999 – Caminos de luz
2000 – La Navidad nace en los barrios
2001 – Medellín, un escenario de Navidad
2002 – Medellín es luz
2003 – En Medellín todos pintamos la Navidad
2004 – Paisaje de luces
2005 – Medellín, luces de fiesta
2006 – Colombia es luz
2007 – Medellín, un museo de Navidad
2008 – Medellín, luces de vida
2009 – Medellín, fuente de luz
2010 – Medellín, un cuento de luz
2011 – Festival de luz
2012 – Naturaleza, vida y luz
2013 – Nuestra Navidad
2014 – Los valores iluminan la Navidad 2013
2015 – Carnaval de luz
2016 – En Navidad, Medellín es una gran familia
2017 – Alumbrados EPM, 50 años de historias en Navidad
2018 – Colombia, paraíso mágico de luz en Navidad
2019 – Alumbrados EPM, tradiciones que iluminan la Navidad
2020 – La magia de Colombia ilumina la Navidad.
This Year's Alumbrados will be Inspired By Encanto
Medellín’s lights are as much about about celebrating Colombian treasures as they are religious events. Does it surprise you that EPM then jumped on the opportunity to incorporate Disney’s Encanto?
This film is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon thanks to its portrayal of magic realism in Colombia. Encanto was the highest grossing film of 2021 and widely deemed as one of Disney’s biggest movies to date. This film has grossed a figure of over $293 million at the box office to date, making it an Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature in 2022.
Of course, a chance to incorporate this cultural treasure was something EPM didn’t sleep on.
However, it’s a decision that has polarized residents with some believing that the heavy licensing costs are an unjustifiable use of tax-payer money. Furthermore, EPM have been tightening their belt in recent years which has seen to a reduced budget of the Alumbrados since 2015.
The licensing costs for Disney’s Encanto are estimated to be around $1 million USD.
Another criticism is that an Encanto theme would be too much of a departure from traditional Christmas values.
Either way, the displays are guaranteed to be epic with 13 barges inspired from the movie. Additionally, there will be multiple holograms and figures spanning over 1,800m of footpaths.
Disney’s best movie yet will be coming to life like never before come Dec 7th. Medellín will sure relish the rights to this iconic brand in in their own city.
The First Lady of Medellín, Diana Osorio stated that “the children of Medellín who can’t travel to the Disney theme parks in the US can have a piece of that experience in the city”.
When will The Lights Begin This Year?
In keeping with festive rituals, the Christmas lights in Medellín will commence on the 7th of December. This is when the Día de las Velitas (Day of Candles) takes place.
The Day of Candles is an important holiday for Colombians. Come evening, all rejoice in the immaculate conception of Virgin Mary (that she was free of the original sin cast by Adam) with a display of candles and light.
No doubt a fitting time for EPM to commence their lights in line with this religious ceremony. Thus, Dec. 7 is unofficially recognized as the beginning of the Christmas season.
Note that this date applies only to Medellín. Other municipalities within the Aburra Valley have already commenced their 2022 Alumbrados:
- Envigado was the first to turn on their lights (Nov 11). Make sure to check out Parque Envigado. Picture below.
- Belen followed 2-weeks later (Nov 25) and commenced with a concert in their park.
- La Estrella (Nov 26)
- Sabaneta (Nov 27).
According to an article by the Semana, the lights in Medellín will last until the 9th of Jan. This means that people will be able to view the lights for 59 days in Envigado and for 34 days in Medellín.
Where will The Lights be This Year?
This year, official decorations will be scattered throughout 70 locations of the city alone.
Here is a breakdown of some places that you’ll find them:
All along the corridor of the Medellín River. This had long been the focal area of all Medellin’s light displays until 2015. This was due to the commencement of lengthy construction on the Parques del Río.
This loss was hard to recover with many feeling that the river was an integral part of Alumbrados.
Regulars will then be pleased to know that this 7-year dry (or dark) spell will come to a dazzling end.
- Mirabel, Luisa, Abuela Alma, Antonio, Bruno, Isabela & others.
According to sources these figures will be between 2.5m – 5m tall.
The ‘casa’ of the main family in Encanto will be temporarily relocated to Parque del Rio. It boasts as the biggest figure of them all (no surprise), spanning 15m in height and 24m in width.
Plenty of opportunities for a good photo/selfie.
In addition, mayor Daniel Quintero has promised luminous water fountains throughout the 1,800m of footpath along the river.
Cerro Nutibara: Pueblito Paisa will feature a ‘sun of the town’ which rises to a height of 16m. We recommend checking out the viewpoint on top of the hill. The Alumbrados, combined with the charm of Medellín’s nightly panoramic, will provide a view of pure magic.
Parque Norte: will offer an ‘immersive experience through light and colour’, inspired by both festive traditions and native biodiversity.
Avenida Las Palmas: between the Intercontinental Hotel and San Diego Roundabout there will be an array of colourful banners with flowers, all in the form of Encanto’s artistic style.
This is definitely not an exhaustive list. Other places include, but are not limited to:
- Avenida Oriental con La Playa (featuring a 23m model of the Abuela from Encanto).
- Paseo Junín
- Carrera 70
- EDM edificio.
Facts & Figures about The Alumbrados This Year (2022)
Although EPM’s budget for 2021 was greatly reduced, this year’s is speculated to range between 18,000 million COP – 25,000 million COP. This is somewhere between $3,7 million – $5.1 million USD.
We already mentioned that they incurred $1 million USD to obtain Disney’s world-recognized brand. This has not come without controversy.
EPM have also indicated that there will be some 332,000 figures scattered throughout the city, 10 million LED bulbs and over 750km of light hoses.
Stretched out straight, this would span from Medellin to Barranquilla in the coast!
This is a big spend on behalf of EPM, but they’re expecting good returns with an estimated three million visitors coming to see the display.
Chivas are a Popular way To See The Lights
One great way to see the lights is with a hired chiva. These are a culturally Colombian trademark; buses decorated with flamboyancy is mind.
With the ability to fit anywhere from 20 to 60 passengers, they’ve long been a popular means to compliment the party during the Alumbrados. Expect music and dancing!
Prices for a 30-man tour can range between $600,000 – $800,000 COP but can be way higher depending on the scale of features provided. This will include food and drinks, lots of drinks…
They’re pretty much a disco on wheels so if that’s something you fancy, then it is not something to miss.
Some tips for first-timers
Are the Alumbrados in Medellín safe to visit?
Yes – generally speaking. This is a fastidiously planned event. There will be a large presence of police to ensure that everything goes to plan without incident.
Of course, there’ll be a lot of people about so make sure to apply some basic precautions:
- Stay in groups. Don’t wander alone at night in areas you aren’t familiar with.
- Limit the amount you have your phone out. Be mindful of who is around you when taking photos.
- Take stock of your possessions and keep them guarded.
Even though December & January are the driest months in Medellín, it is wise to bring an umbrella.
Remember, it gets busy!
Don't Miss The Lights
Whether or not you care for Disney’s Encanto, the Christmas lights are bound to captivate even the biggest of Scrooges. This is an event that has taken the better part of a year to organize. Furthermore, EPM have had 55 years to hone in on perfecting their craft.
Don’t miss out on this one. it’ll not only be a world-class spectacle but also a fantastic way to rejoice and immerse with the community.
Also, remember that December and January are among the two driest months in Antioquia. This is the tropics though, so do make sure to have an umbrella on hand.
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