Travel & Food

A First-Timer's Guide to Bacolod's Famous MassKara Festival

MassKara dancers in colorful costumes and masks.

PHOTO CAPTION: Approach Bacolod’s MassKara festival with an open mind and an eagerness to experience the culture.


Longing for an unforgettable experience? Look no further than Bacolod city's MassKara festival. More than a cultural event, it's a chance to learn unique traditions, celebrate with locals, and witness the resilience and unity of this thriving, tight-knit community. If you're a first-timer, this guide is for you. Find out what to expect, how to prepare, and what to do once you get there.


What's the MassKara Festival?


MassKara dancers performing.

PHOTO CAPTION: The festival is a symbol of optimism, which is why performers wear colorful costumes and smiling masks.


Why is the MassKara festival celebrated? Due to the sharp decline in sugar prices in 1980, sugar-producing Negros Occidental went through an economic crisis that led to widespread hardship. That year, the province also grieved its losses from the MV Don Juan disaster. In response, Bacolod's local government launched mask-making workshops to boost income and restore joy in the community. This led to the establishment of the MassKara festival.


Today, the smiling masks are a symbol of hope and optimism. Every year, visitors and locals honor the occasion by dressing in colorful costumes, throwing street parades, and engaging in other festivities around the capital.


The Essential Checklist for First-Time Festival Goers


Colorful MassKara festival street parade.

PHOTO CAPTION: Wear sunscreen, hats, and other protective gear to avoid sunburns when you’re watching the street parades.


Every savvy traveler knows a comprehensive checklist is the key to a fun-filled, hassle-free trip. Cover these essentials, and you’ll have a memorable, smile-worthy first time. What’s more, this list is timeless so you can check back if you decide to come through again next year (and every year after!).


1. Book your accommodations.


Finding a place to stay during one of the most highly anticipated events of the year may be challenging and expensive. Try to secure your spot a few months in advance. See if you can stay with local family or friends to cut down on costs. Less competition, too!


For hotels in Bacolod, aim for those within the city center. L'Fisher and Seda are both on Lacson Street, where many of the festival's key events take place. You won't have to worry about the commute if you're already in the area. Plus, you can freely hop from one event to another within minutes.


2. Plan your itinerary.


The Ruins in Bacolod City, a historical monument.

PHOTO CAPTION: While you’re there for MassKara, schedule a side-trip to the Ruins, Bacolod’s historical landmark.


Save room in your itinerary for this year's festival highlights, happening from October 20-22. From music festivals and mall shows to the iconic float parade and street dance competitions, there’s lots to do. 


Be prepared to dance the night away in Lacson, the venue for Electric MassKara, a.k.a. Bacolod's biggest street party. You can even purchase a mask to wear for the occasion! Check the Bacolod City Government’s official website and their tourism office’s Facebook page for information on ongoing festivities.


And if you have time to spare, you should check out other attractions while in the capital. Visit historical monuments, like The Ruins Bacolod, explore nature conservatories, and learn more about the province through its museums.


3. Bring a travel companion.


As fun as it is, MassKara can be overwhelming, and that's even truer if you're traveling alone. So, if it's your first time, bring someone with you. By following the buddy system, you'll be far less stressed when navigating rowdy crowds and attending new-to-you events. Besides, nothing beats making new memories with loved ones!


4. Prepare a bag with your must-haves.


Once you're in festival mode, expect to be out and about for at least half a day. As such, you should have an easy-to-carry bag with all your essentials, like hand sanitizer, bottled water, and cash.


Don't forget to fully charge and load your mobile phone! Globe has a prepaid promo for whatever you need. Stay connected with your travel buds with GoUNLI, post real-time updates on your socials with GoSURF, and more.


5. Figure out transportation.


Here's another reason it's crucial to have reliable data. You should be able to check maps for navigation, especially in unfamiliar territory. Is walking everywhere not a viable option? No worries! The city has buses, jeepneys, and taxi cabs to bring you where you need to go. Pull up your route online, so you don’t get lost.


6. Dress comfortably.


The festival draws large crowds into a warm environment, so you can count on it being hot and humid wherever you go. Prioritize comfort whether you opt to wear festive garb or keep it simple. Wear lightweight, breathable clothing in bright, bold colors to embody the event's spirit. For shoes, choose a pair you can walk and dance in for hours on end.


7. Hit up local food spots.


Close-up of chicken inasal with sauce.

PHOTO CAPTION: You can’t leave Bacolod without checking out Manokan Country, the locals’ go-to spot for chicken inasal.


The city is also known for having mouthwatering cuisine. Namit gid! Some iconic Bacolod delicacies include chicken inasal, kansi, and napoleones. You can't leave without trying them, as they're simply not as good anywhere else! And remember to bring pasalubong for the people back home. Caramel tarts, barquillos, and piaya are crowd favorites.


Try Manokan Country for the ultimate inasal experience. It houses dozens of stalls that specialize in grilled-to-perfection chicken. There's also Calea's Cakes, a paradise for anyone with an insatiable sweet tooth. Their chocolate mud pie is *chef's kiss*.


Terrasse, Delicioso, and Kubo sa Lawn (KSL) are also worth trying for a sit-down restaurant experience. And, of course, you can expect vendors to set up stalls along the streets. Be ready with cash!


8. Stay safe.


MassKara is a large-scale party, so it comes with the same risks associated with partying. Mind your belongings, don't venture alone in crowds, and send your location to your companions, so you're easy to spot. Stay hydrated, but don't take drinks from strangers.


With that, you're ready for your first MassKara festival. Immerse yourself in the culture, celebrate with a smile, and make colorful memories. The best part: next year, you can come back for more!

Vibe check! How does this make you feel?

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