Are You Ready for Bacolod's MassKara Festival?

If you happen to be one of the lucky residents of the province of Negros Occidental, then you will know that October signals the beginning of the province's popular annual Masskara Festival, a vibrant and colourful festival that draws in thousands of tourists from all over the Philippines each year.

masskara bacolod
"MassKara Bacolod"
Copyright Photo: John Albert Pagunsan/Wikimedia
The "City of Smiles" also known as Bacolod City, is the main stage for this colourful festival showcasing colourful costumes, stunning head attire, and incredible masks. It is without a doubt Bacolod's answer to the Mardi Gras Carnival in Rio de Janieiro. The Masskara festival features a number of activities throughout the month of October culminating in the main event every third weekend of October nearest to October 19, Bacolod's Charter Day. Popular events include the MassKara Queen beauty pageant, carnivals, drum and bugle competitions, sporting events, concerts, agri-trade fairs, garden shows, and of course, food festivals. No trip to Bacolod would be complete without sampling the famous Bacolod Chicken Inasal!

The most popular spectacle of the annual Masskara festival is the street dance competition featuring people from all walks of life as they take to the streets dressed in colourful masks gyrating and dancing to the rhythm of Latin vibes. It is a stunning display of coordination and stamina that requires mastery. The climax is the festival's mardi-gras style parade where the various dance troupes parade down Lacson Street with their colourful masks and costumes to the tune of Latin rhythms. Dancers wear costumes made with a variety of fabrics showcasing different patterns and colours. Many are embellished with multicoloured beads, shiny sequins, and exotic feathers. It's a sea of colours and when the festival songs and beating drums begin reverberating in the air, it may be difficult fighting the urge to join in the dancing. The street is ultimately a gigantic dance floor and everyone is welcome to participate. As long as you're wearing a smile, there will be a place for you in the MassKara Festival.

The MassKara Festival is held annually in Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental and the sugar capital of the Philippines. It began in 1980 as a means to lift the spirits of the people and the economy at a time that the city was in a period of crisis as the global prices for sugar plummeted and a pervasive atmosphere of gloom infiltrated the city. With the support of the city's artists,civic groups, and the local government, it was decided that a festival would be launched to celebrate Bacolod as the City of Smiles as a declaration by the local residents that no matter how tough or challenging times may be, the City of Bacolod will always pull through with a smile. The term MassKara was coined by local artist, Ely Santiago, as a combination of the words: "mass" meaning crowd and the Spanish word, "cara" meaning face, which when combined together means, "many faces."

The smiling mask continues to be the symbol of the fiesta dramatizing the steadfast nature of the Negrenses as they respond to challenges. A trip to the MassKara festival is not just an opportunity to indulge in the jovial Negrense spirit, beautiful smiles, and the vibrant music and colours of the festival, but also an opportunity to explore all of the great amenities that Bacolod has to offer.

While Bacolod is not typically considered a tourist destination outside of the MassKara Festival, the city actually has plenty of attractions and activities to fill a weekend city break. From refreshing highland resorts to local delicacies and plenty of shopping, Bacolod has all of the ingredients to make a memorable weekend for you. One of the most popular attractions in Bacolod is the "The Ruins," the remains of a 903 square metre mansion that was constructed in the early 1900's by one of the local sugar barons. It was the largest residential structure ever built at that time in Negros. The mansion was burned in the early part of World War II but the structural frame remains intact to this day delighting visitors with its Italianate architecture and neo-Romanesque columns that have an uncanny resemblance to the fa├žade of New York's Carnegie Hall. 

the ruins talisay
"The Ruins"
Copyright Photo: John Marky Soguilon
For a city of its size, Bacolod has an impressive number of shopping outlets including a Robinsons Mall, SM City, and Ayala Mall. There are also a number of stunning local handicrafts available for sale at Negros Showroom and of course, there is Bacolod's ever popular "Piaya" pasalubong. No trip to Bacolod would be complete either without enjoying some traditional Bacolod Chicken Inasal or visiting one of the many modern restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world along Bacolod's Restaurant Row on Lacson Street. Cafe Bob's is a popular hang out for locals featuring delicious gelato along with traditional Italian brick oven baked pizzas and pastas. Bacolod features an extensive array of accommodations from the budget friendly Go Hotels to the L'Fisher luxury hotel. If you ever plan to go to MassKara, you must always ensure to book your hotel in advance as the city sells out fast.

When planning your trip to Bacolod to enjoy the MassKara Festival, be sure to consider the following tips to help you get the most of your stay in the City of Smiles:
  • Be sure to check the official schedule of activities in advance from the official Bacolod MassKara Festival website to ensure that you don't miss any of the action. 
  • Packing lighter clothing is advised to combat the scorching heat. Rain is always a possibility so you may wish to bring along an umbrella. 
  • Ensure that you book your Bacolod flights and your Bacolod hotels well in advance to ensure availability and to guarantee the best possible price. 
  • Arrive at least one hour prior to the Street Dance competition in order to ensure that you guarantee a spot in front for great photographs. Bacolod City Hall is a good viewing spot along with Rizal Elementary School and Lopue's San Sebastien. 
  • Don't miss Bacolod's other attractions including The Ruins or Campuestohan Highland Resort
  • Those interested in retail therapy can make a trip to one of Bacolod's many shopping malls. 
  • Bacolod is filled with local delicacies and culinary indulgences. The Ube Piayas and Cheese Tarts from Bong Bongs are not to be missed. Be sure to dine at Manokan Country for the best chicken inasal in the city. But if you crave something from the continent, head to Cafe Bob's for the city's best traditional Italian pasta and pizza. The cafe also features an Italian deli filled with imported goods along with delicious pastries, beverages, and gelato. The price is also very reasonable.  
  • For a unique experience, be a voluntourist for the day by paying a visit to one of the local Children's Homes operated by the Kalipay Negrense Foundation. The foundation does its best to rescue the hundreds of street children that are living on the streets of Bacolod with the goal of providing education, health care, food, and a loving home. 
Traveler's Notes:

Bacolod is served by a number of airlines from the Bacolod-Silay International Airport. Regularly scheduled flights are operated from Bacolod to Manila, Cebu, and Davao. 
There are also a number of ferry and bus transportation options available. Bacolod offers a range of hotel experiences from high-end luxury to comfortable budget accommodations. Some of our favourites include:

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