2012 San Sebastian Street Festival, Old San Juan

san sebastian street destival puerto ricoThis week, the 2012 San Sebastian Street Festival (Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián) will turn Old San Juan into one HUGE street party. The four day event kicks off on Thursday January 12 at 5pm and ends late on Sunday January 15 (well actually Jan 16 at 2am). Visitors and people from all over the island will descend in their thousands to experience at first hand the largest festival in Puerto Rico.

San Sebastian Street and beyond

The balconies along San Sebastian Street will be filled with people taking advantage of the high vantage points as the parades and throngs of people stream along the parade route, following the vejigantes, the gigantes, and the cabezudos, while dancing and singing to the festival’s beat.

Away from the main parade route you will find around 300+ local artisans set up around the Cuartel de Ballajá and Plaza de San José.

The official main music stage will be set up at Plaza del Quinto Centenario, but you will also find musicians and dance groups taking part in impromptu performances in and around the streets of Old San Juan.

What to Expect

san sebastian street destival puerto ricoDuring the day (Saturday and Sunday) you will find a slighter calmer atmosphere than on an evening, with more families enjoying the daytime festival activities.

As evening falls a younger crowd takes to the streets to make the most of the lifting of the ‘drinking alcohol in public’ ban in and around the streets of Calle San Sebastian, with the partying continuing until 2am at which point a police curfew is enforced.

Thursday and Friday the festival starts around 5pm and continues until 2am. On Saturday and Sunday the activities will start early in the morning and end again at 2am.

The San Sebastian Street Festival Parade

One of the main events of the San Sebastian Street Festival is the parade; think Mardi Gras or the Nottinghill Carnival in London but with a Puerto Rican twist.

The parades are scheduled to start at 5pm on Thursday and Friday and at 9am, 1pm and 3pm on Saturday and Sunday. The parades will start at Abraham Lincoln School, continue down along San Sebastian Street and end at Quinto Centenario Plaza.

The highlights of the parades are the vejigantes (clown-like characters, wearing brightly colored masks), the gigantes, and the cabezudos (large comical, paper mâché heads that typically depict people from Puerto Rican history), that head along the parade route dancing and singing to the sounds of Puerto Rican music. This is where having a high vantage point gives you a distinct advantage of seeing the parade in all its glory.

For those of you who don’t have the option of a balcony view, you can either follow along with the parade of just pick the best spot available and watch the parade go by.

San Sebastian Street Festival Schedule

Thursday, January 12
5pm: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Parade with cabezudos, starting at the Abraham Lincoln School, along Calle San Sebastian and ending at Plaza Quinto Centenario
6pm: 2012 Opening ceremony, Plaza Quinto Centenario
8pm: Luisito Vigoreaux, Jr
10pm: Ismael Miranda and his Orchestra
2am Curfew

Friday, January 13
5pm: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Parade with cabezudos, starting at the Abraham Lincoln School, along Calle San Sebastian and ending at Plaza Quinto Centenario. The parade will feature the Folkloric Ballet Company of San Juan
7pm: Villarini
8:30pm: Cachete Maldonado y los Majaderos
10pm: Hector Tricoche
11:30pm: Plenealo
2am Curfew

Saturday, January 14
Parades at 9am, 1pm and 3pm (according to the Vocero newspaper)
1:30pm: Eco Raices
3pm: Tres Panderos
5pm: Terraplen
6:30pm: Julio Alvarado del Sur al Norte
8pm: Balie de Epoca con la Orquesta de Johnny
10pm: Sonora y su Orquesta
2am Curfew

Sunday, January 15
Parades at 9am, 1pm and 3pm (according to the Vocero newspaper)
11am: Memorial Mass in the San Juan Cathedral featuring the Brass Quintet of the Conservatorio de Musica de Puerto Rico
12:30pm: Rondalla de Humacao
1:30pm: Tuna UPR
2:30pm: Pleneros con Cache
3:30pm: Grupo Cafe Colao
4:30pm: El Combo de Hoy
5:30pm: Plena Libre
7:30pm: Orqesta Costa Brava
10pm: NG2
2am Curfew

san sebastian street destival puerto ricoNote: This is a HUGE festival and Old San Juan will be heaving with thousands of people both day and night so here are a few tips for surviving the San Sebastian Street Festival:

Traffic chaos – roads in and out of Old San Juan will be very congested. If you are not staying in Old San Juan and want to attend the festival, consider taking the bus from Condado / Isla Verde or the Hato Rey or Catano Ferry.

It will be Hot – temperatures will be in the mid 80’s during the day and mid to low 70’s in the evening, so wear comfortable clothes and keep well hydrated.

Only take what you think is necessary.

You are probably better off taking cash for purchases.

If you are with a group of people, make sure you have arranged a meeting point in case someone gets lost from the group (preferably a meeting point away from the main festival activities).

If you plan on being at the festival all day; PACE YOURSELF….

Remember the festival will end at 2am (police curfew) each night, but if you are not staying in Old San Juan, you will need to find out when the last buses / ferries will be running.

Article resources: Schedule: organizing committee and Vocero
Photo Festival Street Scene by Liz Saldana on Flickr using Creative Commons License


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