Labour Day, La Paz

1st May 2014

If the past month is anything to go by, Bolivians love a parade. In La Paz we witnessed three parades in five days, in most cities we’ve heard confetti canons and mini fireworks going off every other day, we stumbled upon a parade of schoolkids in Torotoro, a procession leading a saint around Sucre, heard two parades in one weekend in Tupiza, and the few times I’ve watched the news here I’ve seen reports of fêtes, galas, fiestas and parades across the country. I’m not sure if everyone in Bolivia has the entire month of May off, but there’s a definite party atmosphere lurking behind most cities.

On our second day in La Paz, I went out to buy a new notepad, only to walk almost into a group of riot police blocking off a street. From the plaza, I could here a loudspeaker commentary, shouting and whooping, chants, and occasional sharp bangs that, from our hostel, had Labour Day La Pazsounded like gunshots. It turns out that it was the First of May, Labour Day, when Bolivians celebrate their workers and unions, and make the most of a day off work!

The atmosphere was electric. Huge groups of men and women marched almost ferociously up the hill into the plaza, carrying banners, punching the air, and chanting at the tops of their voices. They represented various workers unions, holding banners declaring things like ‘national republic of football photographers’ and other such strangely specific workers groups. There were many women dressed in the traditional clothes of indigenous groups, especially huge groups of chulitas, the local slang term for tLabour Day La Pazhe women who essentially carry La Paz on their backs; big ladies with huge strong arms, their long, never-cut black hair in two neat plaits down their backs, wearing layers of thick skirts and cardigans, with the small brown or black bowler hats perched on top of their heads. These women are super strong, carrying entire market stalls on their backs into town at four or five in the morning, along with babies, sacks of potatoes and all sorts besides. Big groups of them marched in the parade, but there were more around the plaza, dressed in their best skirts of velvet or prettily embroidered bright colours.

It was a really exciting parade, the whole plaza buzzing with marching bodies, people waving the multicoloured flag that represents Bolivia’s indigenous groups, food stalls with sizzling meat or deliLabour Day La Pazcious, sweet smelling popcorn. President Evo Morales’ beaming, chubby face peered down from posters, and people seemed filled with a fierce, patriotic pride as they marched beneath the banner that proudly announced “eight years as a nationality”.

The festivities continued for the rest of the day, with a huge funfair in the big, spacious park in the Miraflores district, and well into the night with fireworks, and, I’m sure, lots of parties. It was a fantastic atmosphere and I’m really glad I got to see it.

Want to know more about travelling in Bolivia? Check out the Bolivia section on my sister site, Backpack South America – and get in touch if you have a question. 

About Emily Luxton

An award-winning writer and travel blogger on a mission to explore the world through deeper, more intelligent travel. Seeking out adventure, cultural exchanges, food experiences and more as she attempts to get to know the world. Lover of the great outdoors, sunsets, good food, and the odd bit of luxury!

17 Comments

  1. What a great insight into the local mindset! My days off are normally spent in bed! Haha! Fantastic photos and a great post.

    • Thank you! I know what you mean – any bank holiday in England means a trip to the beach or a BBQ, in Bolivia they seemed so patriotic and also very proud of their unions. It was awesome to see!

  2. It’s fascinating to observe the local celebrations that have nothing to do with entertaining tourists. I really enjoy posts like these that educate the reader about the different cultural/societal aspects of a passing parade.

  3. South America and Bolivia are high on our list of travels. Hope to make a long trip there in the future. Sounds like a great way to spend Labour Day!

    • It’s an incredible continent – and Bolivia was one of the highlights! So interesting, so cheap, and so beautiful! Lots of rugged landscapes to have adventures in!

  4. What an interesting celebration. It’s such a wonderful experience when you set out to do something (like buying a notepad), and end up running into something totally unexpected. It’s great you had a camera with you to capture the moment…

  5. Looks like a colorful celebration! I’d love to visit Bolivia. I have a friend there that keeps wanting me to visit! One day I hope I will! 🙂

  6. May Day is a huge holiday almost everywhere – I’m glad you got to experience it in Bolivia where the tradition is quite strong. I was in Cusco, Peru on May Day a year ago, and it too included a great parade. I spent a month in Bolivia last year and noticed that not only do the local love a parade, but they’re also VERY big on marching bands. 🙂

    • Oh yes! Marching bands, confetti cannons and street fireworks – they love them! May day is a bank holiday in the uk, but there are oj parades and no such thing as labour day that I know of. We all just take a lie in or go to the beach for the day – so I’ve never seen anything like this!

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  8. Amazing post Emily! I love seeing local festivals wherever I go and it looks like you stumbled onto a great find! Plus, La Paz is a really pretty city!

  9. I love the pictures!!! Looks like a fun feast!

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