Mabuhay! It means "Welcome!" in Philippines. And here, you truly are.
On Tourism Philippines Guide, you'll find friendly unbiased updated travel information for touring Philippines, what to see and what to avoid. More [+]

Festival: Kalibo Ati-Atihan

Posted by on Apr 26th, 2009
Filed Under: Aklan, Bohol, Featured, Festival, Luzon, Photos

All photographs by Kickflickr

Celebrated every third weekend of January (Ati-atihan peaks on the last three days but people start dancing on the streets as soon as the New Year’s Day hangover is finished), one can hear the echoes of the drums in the distance the moment one steps on the tarmac of the Kalibo Airport. The entire town center erupts in frenzied, non-choreographed dancing and shouting “Hala Bira! Puwera Pasma!” to the beats of snare drums, bass drums, trumpets, xylophones and a cacophony of other instruments seemingly playing from all the corners of this sleepy little boomtown of Kalibo.

2010 – 798th Kalibo Sto. Niño Ati-atihan Festival Calendar of Activities

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Kalibo Ati-atihan, which started as pagan festival gained religious significance when the Spaniards injected Christianity into the celebrations, thus, pictures, images and paintings of the Child Jesus are widespread. Christian traditions have been inserted as well such as the paeapak, where a little statue of the Child Jesus or more commonly known as the Santo Niño are rubbed all over a devotee’s body (this is held at the Kalibo Cathedral all throughout the duration of the festival) and is believed to take away the exhaustion and any ailments of the devotee. A religious procession (with very drunk revelers dancing in the streets with grandma in Mardi Gras garb clutching her own statue of the Child Jesus next to a man dressed in Vampire costume – complete with a stake buried to his heart dancing along with a giant papier mache effigy of a Bornean datu) and a fireworks display cap the entire event.

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

This spectacular event got so famous that similar festivals were copied all throughout in different cities in the Philippines – Dinagyang of Iloilo, Sinulog of Cebu, and Masskara of Bacolod amongst others. Filipino communities especially in North America stage their own versions of Kalibo Ati-atihan dancing through the streets of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto. Even Cayman Islanders got a special treat when Kalibo Ati-atihan participated and eventually won in a competition in the Caribbean island-nation. Travelers to Kalibo are advised to book their hotels and plane tickets at least 2 months in advance as there is a dearth of accommodations during this period.

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

A food festival on the streets and an agro-industrial trade fair showcasing Aklan’s different arts, crafts, plants, foodstuffs and souvenir items are on display during the week-long festivities while ‘snake-dancing’, which is more like a more complicated, more inebriated and more packed conga line dancing at the Magsaysay Park happens nightly. Think of it like a mix of a New Year’s Eve party, Woodstock mosh pit, A Night in The New Orlean’s French Quarter, a Filipino Fiesta and a crazy Gloria Estefan concert rolled into one. With the thousands of people spilling into the streets, snake-dancing is relatively safe and quite enjoyable if you want your community dancing turned into some kind of contact sport. No report of a stampede has occurred so far, and while Aklan locals are relatively peace-loving people, the influx of people into Kalibo coming from other provinces of course comes with a smart caveat – watch out for your valuables. Wear comfortable shoes (never wear flip-flops and no wearing heels for the ladies especially when snake dancing). That being said, keep your skirts in the closet ladies (although Korean women mindlessly wear them- which I personally think a bit moronic at the very least).

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Philippines Festival Kalibo Ati Atihan

Saturday morning usually is the best time for photographers to catch the best photos for the festival as the competition proper kicks off at around 7 in the morning- you will get fresh takes on the garish, colorful and the most whimsical costumes. Foreign and local tourists can join the parade at any time – and yes, you can play dress up too! Spotted in Ati-atihan is a Scotsman proudly wearing a kilt (and apparently nothing underneath it), an androgynous man/woman entirely painted in gold and in a skimpy bikini, an entire group of men and women painted like snakes, a group of aging local transvestites in full Mardi Gras gear and flags from all the different nations of the world. Other Aklan towns that also celebrate their own versions of Ati-atihan are Batan and Ibajay (late January), Makato (15 January) and Altavas (22 January).

You can see Kickflickr’s Ati-Atihan photos here.

google custom search on Tourism Philippines

Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination. Learn more about me [+]

Tourism Philippines thrives on the knowledge of the community. Got a tip, photo or even a guide on a place you been to in Philippines? We will love to hear from you!

9 Responses to “Festival: Kalibo Ati-Atihan”

  1. KC Lau says:

    looks like a fun festival to attend, any idea what are the estimated number of the crowd? is it legal to consume beer in the open during these kind of festivals?

    • Ryan says:

      Hi KC,

      There are no clear estimates but it would be the tens of thousands of people on the main square…this goes on for at least a week with the action mostly coming on the final three days (with crowds that could possibly exceed 100,000- this is just a ballpark figure).

      Beer and liquor is sold right on the streets, so yeah, it is definitely legal to consume it out in the open. Just be sure to keep your valuables away in a safe place. Hope you check Ati-atihan out!



      • Marvin says:

        Hi! i just want to ask if there is anyway I could get a list of fiestas lasting at least a week long and where liquors and food are sold in the open streets.

        • Ryan says:

          Will try to check that one out – but usually Filipino fiestas are like that- a Filipino fiesta is never complete without food and liquor and the bigger festivals – Ati-atihan, Sinulog and Dinagyang – these can last up to a week. :)

  2. Flugo says:

    This reminds me of the Mardi Gras events minus the beads!

    • Ryan says:

      Actually these are just some of the pictures, there are some groups that actually does look like Brazil’s Mardi Gras! :)

  3. mackyespiritunobles says:

    how is Zambales right now after the undoy?i hope that it recovers the nice places there…

    • Scott says:

      Ummm……Zambales is in Luzon, Kalibo and the Ati-atihan are in the Visayas. You should post on the right article. Also Ondoy was almost a year ago.

  4. crystal says:

    Wow….thanks for posting Ati-atihan Festival..Nothing could make me prouder or happier than being here to see my hometown Aklan to be featured in this article..

Leave a Reply