The Festival of Fruit and Flowers in Ambato

The city of Ambato (San Juan de Ambato) is situated on the banks of the Ambato River in the heart of Ecuador at the foot of the active Tungurahua volcano. Located in a very fertile region, the Ambato region is well known for its wide variety of fresh produce and flowers. Ambato is also well known for a much-loved festival that is held in February each year – the Festival of Fruit and Flowers or La Fiesta de la Fruta y las Flores.

The Festival of Fruit & Flowers was originally started as a way to encourage locals to recover from the devastating effects of a huge earthquake that destroyed most of the city on 5 August 1949. This festival was so successful that it became an annual event and a major tourist attraction in Ecuador.

During the two week Festival of Fruit and Flowers the city of Ambato comes alive with parades, pyrotechnic displays, exhibitions and copious amounts of peach-flavored wine. Fruit of some sort is always in season in Ecuador, but the fruit in Ambato – particularly pears and apples – are at their very best in February. Other fruits that are almost always available include plums, papayas, blackberries, all varieties of citrus, many varieties of passion fruit, mangoes, figs and bananas. In addition to a large variety of other flowers, the most stunning roses grow and bloom profusely in the volcanic soil.

The festivities include very popular beauty pageants where girls from the local high schools and universities compete for the title of “Reina” or Queen of Ambato. Posters of the finalists are displayed around the city in anticipation of the final televised selection which takes place after a parade through the streets. The position of Reina is much sought after, and the winner becomes the community’s figurehead and spokesperson until the next Festival of Fruit and Flowers. The selected Reina becomes the focus of attention for the largest all-day parade of the festival. The parade also spotlights the beauty queens from nearby cities. The floats that the beauty queens and young children ride on are colorfully decorated in fruits and flowers as well as little loaves of bread. Between the floats of the parade, troops of dancers from all over South America display their regional dances in a swirl of bright colors. In between the traditional dancers, more contemporary style dancers showcase their talent and imagination, often with outlandish garb. All through the festival there are ongoing neighborhood (barrio) parties where anyone and everyone can join in the fun.

While a huge amount of partying goes on during the festival, locals do not forget that the Festival of Fruit and Flowers is primarily a religious holiday. On the Saturday before the Catholic Lent, a well-attended outdoor mass, known as the Blessing of Flowers, Fruits and Bread, is held in front of the Cathedral. A huge mural – usually depicting Jesus amid traditional symbols – constructed from flowers, fruits and bread is displayed outside the Cathedral as part of the celebrations.

Clearly the colorful Festival of Fruit and Flowers is an event that tourists who travel to Ecuador do not want to miss.