La Feria de San Isidro
In a town notorious for partying, La Feria de San Isidro is the party in La Ceiba—a several-day bash culminating in a blowout Saturday night that attracts some 200,000 revelers from across Honduras and the Caribbean. The country may have other national celebrations, but the Feria—held in mid-May—is Honduras’s time to cut loose.
According to La Ceiba legend, three Spanish immigrants started the feria. The Spaniards—supposedly named Norquer, Artuche, and Pallares—arrived in the village in 1846, bringing with them the tradition of honoring San Isidro Labrador, a patron saint of campesinos. According to custom, they held a party in honor of the saint.
The annual fiesta became a popular event with the Garífuna, who, although hardly campesinos themselves, are always ready for a reason to get out and dance. It quickly became a local institution. The feria was declared La Ceiba’s official annual fiesta in 1886, and in 1929, the tradition of parades and floats was added.
On the final Saturday of the Feria de San Isidro, floats bearing scantily clad women proceed down Avenida San Isidro beginning in the late afternoon, headed by the Queen of the Carnaval. After the parade has passed, well-known Honduran and Central American bands on stages lined up and down the length of the avenue crank up, and the music keeps going until morning.
Many visitors, expecting to see crazed dancing in the streets, come away from Carnaval a bit disappointed. The only ones dancing, usually, are the fans at the band stage who have a grand time head-banging and slam dancing, and the occasional group of gringos in front of one of the salsa or punta (traditional Garífuna music) stages.
The secret, for those who really want to dance, is to enjoy the stage music on the avenue until midnight or 1 a.m. and then head out to the discos on 1 Calle. Normally packed anyway on weekends, the discos are bursting at the seams during the feria and should not be missed by the serious partyer. When out on the streets during the feria, beware of pickpockets in the crowds.
Saturday may be the official biggest party, but many locals insist that the “real” bash is on Friday night in Barrio La Isla, with bands on 4 Calle on the east side of the estuary from downtown. Other mini-ferias take place the previous Sunday in Sitramacsa and Miramar colonias, Monday in Barrio Bellavista, Tuesday in Barrio Alvarado, Wednesday in Colonia Alhambra, and Thursday in Colonia El Sauce. La Ceiba on the Sunday following Carnaval is usually utterly and completely dead, with most people rousing themselves only if there’s a decent soccer match on TV.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition