- July 23. José María de la Concepción Apolinar Vargas Vila Bonilla is born in Bogotá, Colombia. Son of Elvira Bonilla Matiz and General José María Vargas Vila. Vargas Vila's father, a supporter of radical liberal ideas, dies in Funza in 1864.
- November 20. Takes part in the Battle of Garrapata in Tolima, Colombia. Vargas Vila enrolled in the West Army defending the radical liberal government of President Aquileo Parra under the command of General Santos Acosta (Manuel María de los Santos Acosta Castillo, 1827–1901). In the prologue to Sopena's edition of Alba roja (1919?), Vargas Vila comments that in that battle "at the age of 15, lifeless by a trench, I was rescued" (p. ix). The dates do not coincide: in truth Vargas Vila must have been 16 years old at the time.
- Works as a teacher in Ibagué, Colombia.
- Works as a teacher in Guasca and Anolaima, Colombia.
- Works as a teacher in the Liceo de la infancia a school for Bogotá's young aristocracy. The school is directed by Jesuit priest Tomás Escobar.
- June 5. Publishes in the Papel periódico ilustrado "Recuerdos de mi primera communion," a poem in praise of the First Communion of the students at the Liceo de la infancia. This is Vargas Vila's first published work.
- August 30. After being ousted from his teaching post, Vargas Vila publishes in the journal La actualidad (a radical liberal newspaper directed by Juan de Dios "El Indio" Uribe) a note accusing the priest Tomás Escobar of molesting the children at school. This move initiates Vargas Vila's heterodox stance. Leaves Bogotá.
- Works as a teacher in Villa de Leiva, Colombia. Enrolls in the radical liberal army fighting against the government of Rafael Núñez (1825–1894).
- June 17. Takes part in the Battle of La Humareda under the command of General Daniel Hernández. The radical liberals are defeated. After the siege of Cúcuta, Vargas Vila takes refuge in a hacienda near Tame and writes the text of his book Pretéritas.
- Vargas Vila fears being caught and executed by government troops. He escapes to Rubio, a Venezuelan town located on the border with Colombia. Here he co-founds a newspaper, La Federación.
- Takes part in founding two journals against the Colombian government, Eco andino and Los refractarios.
- Publishes his first novel, Aura o las violetas, in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
- Publishes in Curaçao a volume containing three of his short novels: Aura o las violetas, Emma, and Lo irreparable.
- As a result of his virulent criticism of the Colombian government through his publications in Venezuela, he is asked to leave the country. Travels to New York and writes for the journal El progreso.
- Founds, with César Zumeta, the journal Hispanoamérica.
- Joaquín Crespo, who had become president of Venezuela the previous year, calls him from New York to be his private secretary.
- Returns to New York. There he meets José Martí and becomes a life-long friend of the Cuban hero.
- Travels in Europe.
- Writes in Paris his famous eulogy in honor of his friend Diógenes Arrieta.
- Publishes in New York his novel Flor del fango.
- Eloy Alfaro, president of Ecuador, appoints Vargas Vila diplomatic envoy to Rome. Vargas Vila moves to Europe in the first months of this year. The legend of Vargas Vila's refusal to kneel before or kiss the ring of Pope Leo XIII arises from this time period.
- Publishes his controversial novel Ibis in Rome. Visits the Paris Universal Exposition. There he meets with celebrated Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío.
- Falling ill, spends the summer in Sorrento, Italy. Writes Alba roja. Travels to Madrid. Publishes Alba roja.
- Publishes in New York Ante los bárbaros, a direct attack on the politics of the United States, the Monroe Doctrine, and the idea of Manifest Destiny. Residence in the United States becomes difficult following publication. Soon after accepts the position of consul general of Nicaragua in Paris.
- By February relocates to Paris. Lives in Rue de Chabrol, 53. In March, meets with renowned Uruguayan author José Enrique Rodó and gives him the recently published Alba roja.
- Begins publication of his caustic Némesis, the journal he issues for the rest of his life as a platform for his political invective.
- Publishes his book Verbo de admonición y de combate in Paris.
- In Madrid. Serves on the Nicaraguan commission negotiating the boundary between Nicaragua and Honduras. The arbitration is led by King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
- Leaves the Nicaraguan embassy in Madrid.
- In Paris. Writes the preface to Clepsidra roja.
- The publishing house of Ramón Sopena begins the publication of the "definitive edition" of Vargas Vila's works.
- Travels to Latin America to give talks in different cities. Visits Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Mexico, and Cuba. After many years in exile, and also for the last time, visits the city of Barranquilla, in his native Colombia.
- Lives in Havana, Cuba, with his "adoptive son," Ramón Palacio Viso.
- Publishes Polen lírico.
- A German translation of his book La novena sinfonía is published in Berlin as Die neunte Symphonie.
- May 23. Dies in Barcelona. Is buried in the Cemetery of Les Corts. Against the expressed wishes of the author, his remains will later be moved to the Central Cemetery in Bogotá (1981).