Photo Credit: Dominique Debos

Attending Patron Saint Festivals, or fiestas patronales, can be a great way to indulge in Puerto Rico’s rich culture this summer. As about 85 percent of the county’s residents are Roman Catholic, religion is a huge part of locals’ way of life. Therefore, each region or town has its own patron saint, which is honored during an annual festival. Visitors who have the chance to attend one of these celebrations will be entertained in the town’s central plaza with plenty of food and drink as well as music, games and a religious procession. However, the exact way that locals decide to honor their saint can vary from town to town.

For example, nine different towns on the island have made Virgen del Carmen their patron saint. This religious figure is one of the many invocations of the Virgin Mary and is honored by her towns on July 16. Travelers who decide to go to places like Arroyo, Aguadilla, Villalba, Cidra, Culebra or Barceloneta during this time will have the chance to participate in the various festivities. For instance, in Aguadilla, people start celebrating across the city on July 9. Then, on July 16, they meet at the plaza and follow a religious procession to the sea.

Later in the month, locals in Aibonito, Fajardo, Guanica, Loiza Aldea and Santa Isabel gather in their towns to celebrate the festival of their patron saint Santiago Apóstol. This Catholic saint, apostle and martyr is honored every year on July 25. The tradition to celebrate the apostle was brought to the island of Puerto Rico by the Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s, but travelers who have a chance to see this festival will know that the practice is still very much alive today. For example, in Loiza Aldea, the celebration begins on July 25 and lasts for a full week. During this time, locals engage in religious events as well as a carnival celebration. In order to tell the history of the patron saint and his festival, four people from the town also dress up as characters and put on a performance.

Still, travelers who cannot make it to Puerto Rico this summer do not have to miss out on all this fun. Patron saint festivals occur all over the island throughout the year. A little advanced planning can ensure that visitors do not miss one of these many celebrations.