The Philippines is one of the most exciting and beautiful places I’ve visited. With its thousands of tropical islands, incredible scenery, and distinctive culture, there is always something that makes me want to return.
I genuinely believe that a visit to the Philippines should be on everyone’s bucket list.
In particular, the Philippines is known for its many fun festivals, which mark certain important occasions throughout the year, many of them religious.
You will find festivals happening here every month. The last time I visited the Philippines was in October, and I got to experience the lively Masskara Festival that takes place in the normally sleepy Bacolod province.
Make sure you book a place to stay in Bacolod in advance as it gets fully booked weeks before the festival. Not sure where to stay? Check our section with recommendations for hotels in the heart of the festival.
As the largest festival in the country and the most famous festival of Bacolod, it gave me an experience that I’ll never forget.
Here’s everything you need to know about this fun festival. You will absolutely want to check it out if you’ll be in the Philippines during October this year.
See also: Best Time to Visit the Philippines
What is Masskara Festival?
The Masskara festival is a costume festival that came about from unhappy circumstances. It started in the 1980s when the region experienced a crisis with sugar cane, its primary crop.
During this time, sugar substitutes, such as high fructose corn syrup produced in the United States, caused the price of sugar to reach an all-time low.
Because of the economic crisis caused by the collapse of the sugar industry, a great famine in Negros developed that affected over 1 million people.
If the famine wasn’t tragic enough, a ferry carrying many prominent families sank around the same time. The city, known as the “City of Smiles,” was instead filled with grief.
Why is Masskara Festival Celebrated?
The city of Bacolod first celebrated the Masskara Festival because the local government desired to lift the villagers’ spirits with happiness and demonstrate resilience in the face of hardship.
To this day, people view the festival as a way to let go of any sadness and grief and “throw it away,” as they did back when the festival first started.
It is known to be one of the country’s happiest and most vibrant festivals, and you cannot attend it without feeling happy and vibrant as well.
Masskara Festival Place of Origin?
Many people question, “where is the Masskara Festival celebrated?” The Masskara Festival originated in Bacolod and continues to take place there today.
Bacolod is the capital city of the island of the Negros. Still, it remains a city that most tourists don’t visit because it has a reputation as just a simple place for much of the year.
You should try not to overlook it, though. It’s easy to get to by airplane and makes an excellent destination for foodies and tourists.
Here you can also explore further the history of sugar cane plantations from the 19th and early-20th centuries. You will still hear the city referred to as the “sugar bowl” because it again booms with the sugar cane industry.
Of course, during festival season, the area comes alive with all kinds of excitement and takes on new life.
When is Masskara Festival Celebrated?
The dates of the Masskara Festival are from the 1st to the 31st of October each year. The entire month comes alive with celebrations, dance competitions, displays of traditional attire, and of course, colorful masks.
In addition, the festival has concerts, garden shows, and other types of competitions, including the Masskara Queen beauty pageant.
Is Masskara Festival a Religious Festival?
Although the Philippines has its share of religious festivals, the Masskara Festival does not tie to any specific religious event or has religious origins. Instead, the festival simply celebrates the “many smiles” of the families who suffered in the Negro region during the 1980s.
However, the religious and non-religious festivals similarities in the Philippines are many. Both types include extravagant parades through the streets.
Masskara Festival Costume
As the name implies, the festival focuses primarily on the festivalgoers’ many different types of masks. These highly colorful masks depict “happy faces” and display engaging smiles to show the overall mood of Masskara during this time.
The Masskara costumes worn by the locals during the festival also depict many vibrant colors. These costumes include an elaborate headdress and other unusual accessories to complete the extravagant look.
If the Masskara Festival colors aren’t bright enough during the day, you’ll find them even more vibrant when you attend the festival during the night. At nighttime, you’ll see electric lights everywhere you go.
The parade dancers complement these lights by wearing neon lights that match the bright colors of their costumes. Between the lights and the neon costumes, the city becomes an unstoppable party and an incredible sight to witness.
If you’re visiting as a spectator, you’re encouraged to wear a “happy” mask as well. That way, everyone in attendance displays a joyful face.
Masskara Festival Mask
The main characteristic of the Masskara Festival Mask today is the giant smile that it proudly displays. However, initially, the masks were all different and reflected the culture of the native Filipino people.
Local artists taught the people how to make paper-mâché masks that they designed themselves and decorated using readily available materials. Most of the earlier masks were painted by hand and carefully adorned with feathers, native beads, and flowers.
As the festival grew in popularity, the masks started to show the influence of the Carnival of Venice and the Rio Carnival.
The current masks utilize plastic beads and sequins and are designed from a single template to create consistency. The dancers must each add their own unique headdress to make the style their own.
If you attend the Masskara Festival, you are encouraged as a spectator also to wear a mask to show your solidarity with the people of Bacolod. You’ll find your fair share of villagers selling masks that you can purchase and wear during the festival.
You can also make your mask by following a Massakara Festival drawing example that you can use as a template.
Masskara Festival Description
One can only describe the Masskara Festival as a time when the city fills with complete joy. Nearly 3 million people attend the festival each year, for a good reason. The festival creates an experience like no other.
Because it is such a lengthy festival that lasts an entire month, it includes many activities and experiences for the visitors. Each year has a theme, and festival participants go all out embellishing themselves with amazingly colorful masks and costumes.
During the festival, you’ll find various celebrations, parties, concerts, gatherings, sporting events, dance competitions, and other types of entertainment. People come from all over the world to see the Masskara Queen beauty pageant, one of the main attractions.
Each day you attend, you’ll see floats, puppet parades, and fireworks. There’s also lots and lots of music. Music is important during a festival because it creates an atmosphere of fun and helps people let loose and connect with each other in new ways.
There’s also nothing like the experience of street parties. These parties are almost as popular as dance competitions. The largest party is called Masskaraland and shouldn’t be missed.
Starting at around 4 PM, Lacson Street transforms into a massive celebration with bands, DJs, food, and drinking.
During the afternoon, festivalgoers are doused with many colored powders to countdown to the party, creating an energetic and colorful display. Once they start, the parties last well into the morning hours.
The festival’s most significant event is celebrated every third weekend of October. If possible, you should try to time your visit around that time to add to your experience. But anytime is a great time to immerse yourself in the festival.
Masskara Festival Highlights
There are so many amazing sights and sounds during the Masskara Festival that it’s hard to pick the main highlights.
Of course, the Masskara Queen Pageant is something worth experiencing and can be considered a highlight of the event. This local beauty pageant attracts visitors from around the world and exhibits the beauty and talent of local Bacolod women.
You’ll also want to make sure that you catch the Electric Masskara parade. This parade showcases vibrant lights, music, and beautiful neon colors.
Dancers and performers adorn their Masskara headdresses with costumes with lights and glowsticks to stand out against the night. It is considered one of the events of the festival that one should not miss.
The street dance competitions are a treat to see as well. Different dance teams perform for special awards and cash prizes, and their beautifully choreographed dances create a fantastic display for viewing.
These masked dancers must display great stamina and mastery in their craft as they make their way through the streets wowing spectators with their performances.
There is also an annual Masskara Festival mask-making contest in which the public can participate. Festivalgoers can then see the created designs on display at the Masskara Festival exhibit.
Masskara Festival Tips
Now that I’ve convinced you that the Masskara Festival is a must-addition to your Philippines bucket list, you can start planning when you’ll attend.
- Book a hotel in advance. The accommodation in Bacolod gets fully booked weeks before!
If you make it to the festival, you will undoubtedly have a great time! Here are some tips to make your overall experience even better.
- Wear Comfortable Clothing and Shoes
You will walk and stand a lot within a massive crowd of people for the duration of your time at the festival. Therefore, only wear shoes that you’ll feel comfortable walking and standing in for long periods.
You’ll also want to consider wearing clothing where you can easily move around. You’ll be dancing, walking, running, and participating in all of the fun!
- Scope Out A Good Spot In The City To Watch
Consider finding a spot in the Bacolod Plaza, one of the best areas to view the street dancing parade and dance competitions. Get there early to ensure that you have a good view. The dancing parade usually starts around 2:00 PM.
- Bring Essentials For The Day
When you head out to the festival, make sure you pack the basics like sunscreen and an umbrella. You’ll also need some water as the many crowds, and extensive walking will require that you stay hydrated.
Have a plan for your day and know what things you want to experience, the food you want to try, and the parties you want to attend.
Where to Stay in Bacolod during Masskara Festival
Right into the business district of Bacolod City and in the heart of the festival.
L’Fisher Hotel Bacolod
Another great place to stay as some of the festival events are starting from here.
Circle Inn Hotel and Suites
Other central places to stay in Bacolod, perfect for Masskara Festival:
- Avenue Suites Hotel
- Hometown Hotel Lacson Bacolod
- Metro Inn Bacolod
- Planta Centro Bacolod Hotel and Residences
- GO Hotels Bacolod
- GT Hotel Bacolod
Some Other Things to do During Your Stay in Bacolod
Although the Masskara festival marks the highlight of your visit, there are also a few other tourist spots in Bacolod and things that you can do during your stay. Hopefully, you’ll take advantage of them to experience and learn more about the history of Bacolod City.
- Try Some of the Amazing Local Food
Make a point to try the chicken inasal, the city’s most famous dish. The chicken is known for its yellowish look and smokey taste. You will also want to try cansi, traditional comfort food made of beef shank and batuan fruit.
- Visit the Capitol Building
Take in the Beaux-Arts architectural design, the manmade lagoon, the sculptures, and the golden statues on the grounds here. The capitol building is the official seat of the province’s governor.
- Visit the Negros Museum
This museum helps tourists better understand the history and culture of life on the Negros Island. You can also view local artwork and toy collections from around the world. Visit it to gain a better appreciation for the area.
- Prepare for a rainy festival
If you are coming to Bacolod for the festival, be prepared for a rainy vacation. Bacolod is extremely wet & hot during the month of October.