MassKara Festival: A Local’s Guide
Bacolod’s pride, MassKara Festival (Pista sang MassKara) is an annual festival held every fourth Sunday of October (or the closest weekend to the 19th). It features the parade of street dancers in colorful costumes reminiscent of the Rio de Janeiro Festival and culminates with the contest and pageant for MassKara Queen.
Drum and bugle competition, concerts, sports events, food festivals, trade fairs, and garden shows are other festival highlights.
MassKara Festival is a 20-day city-wide celebration, being held in Bacolod Public Plaza, Bacolod Government Center, and the Lacson Tourism Strip.
History of MassKara Festival
Before the Mardi Gras-themed came into being, the City of Smiles experienced one of the saddest moments in its history. On April 2, 1980, MV Don Juan collided with Tacloban City, a tanker, and sank in Tablas Strait. The vessel was carrying several Negrenses including from prominent families.
In the same year, the agricultural industry was also suffering a blow due to the decreased production of sugar. Bacolod City is the center of Negros Occidental, the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines. Prices of sugar hit an all-time low. The United States, its primary importer, started using sugar substitutes such as high-fructose corn syrup.
The then-mayor Jose “Digoy” Montalvo commissioned the help of the artistic community to help him revive the enthusiastic spirit of the locals through a festival of smiles. MassKara Festival was created. A festival that initially promoted the culture of escapism, it was first celebrated on October 19, 1980, Bacolod City’s Charter Day.
The activities then were as simple as pig catching, pole climbing, mask-making contest, and coconut milk drinking. There were the disco king and queen contests as well, but of course, the masks made from either molded clay or papier-mâché were the focal point of the celebration.
Contrary to the prominent belief that MassKara is taken from the Spanish mascara which means mask, MassKara is a portmanteau of mass (people or crowd) and cara, a Spanish term that means face. MassKara refers to people’s faces, with a twist, of course. The masks worn by the participants are smiling. Ely Santiago, a local cultural artist, coined the term MassKara.
Indeed, the MassKara Festival, which is also considered as one of the most beautiful and colorful festivals in the Philippines, is a significant celebration for the locals – it signifies their resilience.
MassKara Festival guide for the first-timers
With all the merry-making happening, it’s quite easy to get confused. This is particularly true for the first-timers, especially those who are not used to seeing a big crowd. This guide is for you.
MassKara Festival 2019 schedule has already been decided. The main highlights - the street dancing parade and competition throughout the day and Electric MassKara featuring colorful lights and music at night - will happen on October 27, 2019.
Schedule the trip ahead of time
Plan around this date to ensure that you will see these activities. The most exciting part is the build-up toward the day of the parade.
This also means checking out the list of activities to know if other things may interest you including the mentioned above. If visiting the top tourist destinations in Bacolod is on your itinerary, all the more that you need planning.
Some of the places to visit in Bacolod are:
Mariano Lacson’s mansion ruins, the most fascinating ruins with a guided tour
Negros Museum that houses artifacts about Negros and specifically, Bacolod
Penalosa Farms to learn more about how to live an organic lifestyle
Mambuka Resort, an eco-destination with seven-tiered waterfalls and butterfly garden
Campuestuhan Highland Resort, a family-friendly destination
San Sebastian Church and other ancestral churches
Ancestral houses of Silay City, one is home to El Ideal, the oldest bakeshop here
Association of Negros Producers to buy local-made handicrafts and other pasalubong
While at it, the after-party happens at Lacson Street where mini shows and concerts are held. The last thing you should worry about is food. The street is a tourism strip where you can find restos and food chains.
Be a local, not a tourist
Before you go there, read about the Negrenses, their history and culture, the food they eat, the places they visit. Mingling with the locals is perhaps the best way to experience Bacolod City.
Definitely, you will get fascinated with the MassKara Festival, and it will show. Be the active spectator that you must be.
Be at the plaza at the earliest time possible so you can choose the right spot and get the best view of the street dancing competition. Show starts at 2 pm. Some of the best places are in front of Rizal Elementary School or Lopue’s at Araneta Street or San Sebastian.
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes as there would be lots of walking to do. Don’t forget to bring an umbrella and water bottle/jug.
Be patient, resourceful, and practical
Bring a lot of patience as you will really need it. Other than the crowd, the traffic can get terrible since major roads are closed to give way to the flow of the parade. If you can get an accommodation closest to the plaza, the better.
Better yet, if you know someone living in Amaia Scapes North Point , ask him or her if you can stay for at least two nights. The house and lot in Bacolod are just 25 minutes of driving away from the public plaza. Lacson Tourism Strip is closer, though, at only 10 minutes of driving away.
Be in the know
Anyhow, there are public announcements that you can check while there. Prepare for the weather also. Since it’s October, one day it’s too hot, the next day misty.
How to get to Bacolod City
There are two modes of traveling to Bacolod City: by air and sea.
RORO vessels (Fastcat) from Iloilo to Bacolod are available.
Take a flight going to Bacolod-Silay Airport. From there, there are several shuttle services for Php150 per head. A taxi terminal is also by the airport, taking the passengers from there to their actual destination.
Since the festival is peak season, the airport can get congested. Tickets can get expensive also. Your next best option is to take a flight going to Iloilo. Then, travel by sea.
Pedicabs, tricycles, and jeepneys are the main transportation modes. The minimum jeepney fare is Php 8 and Php 10 for pedicabs and trikes. Special trips on tricycles start from Php 80, depending on where you are going./p>
TNVS operators are another option for roaming around the city./p>
The main roads where the parade will pass through are closed to these transports can only take you where allowed. With this, you may also explore Bacolod City on foot. Walking is the perfect opportunity to get intimate with the people while enjoying the sights and sounds happening on the streets.