It’s not news to most that South America plays host to a Carnaval. The annual carnaval held in Rio is probably the most well-known party on the planet. It may come as a surprise that Latin America has it’s own version of the carnival that is held in Barranquilla, Colombia every year.
Rio's little cousin
While Barranquilla’s carnaval may lack the publicity of it’s Brazilian cousin, it’s known to be just as spectacular. The Colombian carnaval takes place 40 days before Easter, this years carnaval takes place from February 25th-28th, 2017.
Starting as a muddle of pagan, catholic, and other ethnic festivities, it has come a long way from it’s humble roots. The Barranquilla carnaval is currently the second largest carnival in the world drawing over 500,000 visitors every year.
It has been declared by UNESCO to be a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. For those travelers who aren’t convinced by those impressive facts the bold slogan should change your mind, “Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza” (Those who live are those who enjoy it).
The carnaval is not contained to four days of revelry. The entire month before the event is packed with various events. Even if you cannot attend the actual carnaval, any time between January 20th and February 28th you are sure to find a happy atmosphere in Barranquilla; tourists have been known to confuse the pre-parties with the carnaval itself.
The pre-event festivities conclude with La Guacherna, a night time parade and dance party, a week before the carnival kicks off. The official Carnival events begin on February 25th with the Battle of Flowers, a traditional float parade featuring some of the carnivals best displays.
Parades and Parties
Parades are the hallmark of the carnival and take place everyday in and around Via 40. Parades are made up of brightly colored floats, extravagantly costumed dancers, and bizarre mascots.
Grandstand tickets may be purchased in advance for around 160k COP. This ticket will grant you access to shaded seating on the main parade routes for the entire carnival. Outside of the main events there are countless other fun ways to enjoy the Carnival.
Smaller parades are held on secluded side-streets offering a more intimate, interactive view of the spectacle.
There are parties everywhere, peoples houses, bars, clubs, the streets themselves, all of them are jumping until the wee hours of the morning everyday of carnival. Outside of the more traditional carnival activities, there is a comedy festival everyday.
Latin American music concerts can be found scattered throughout the occasion. The Barranquilla Carnaval is much more than 4 days of parades; the entire city is given over to a spirited celebration. With of all of the different choices available it’s impossible not to have a fantastic time.
Carnaval Tips and Tricks
With so much going on it can be a little hectic to get your trip planned. Below we’ve included a few tips to help you have the best possible experience.
- With the influx of visitors, good accommodations go quickly; book early if you can.
- If you are purchasing grandstand tickets do so beforehand, there are rumors of street-purchased tickets for 100k COP but there is no guarantee of authenticity, you can easily be ripped off.
- While carnaval is generally a peaceful occurrence, populated events like these always bring a rash of petty crime, keep a close eye on your valuables and carry as little as possible with you.
- Partake and enjoy local alcohol favorites aguardiente and ron (rum) but remember your surroundings and don’t make and easy target of yourself.
- Most people visiting Barranquilla are unaware of the strong Caribbean sun; it’s hot and intense, be sure to protect yourself, stay well hydrated.
- Wear nothing you don’t want to get ruined, as part of the celebration includes a continuous battle of spray foam and corn flower, as a foreigner you’re sure to be a big target, a good way to do this is to by a cheap carnaval costume!
- Don’t stick to only the big festivals, the smaller parades and parties will provide a better chance to meet locals
Arriving in Barranquilla
When arriving in Barranquilla it’s almost as though you’ve arrived in a different country. Compared to the rest of Colombia you’ll notice differences immediately. The temperature feels a good 20 degrees warmer thanks to the increase in humidity. Visually you’ll notice that a large percentage of the population is descended from Afro-Carribbean roots.
... is that really Spanish?
As you listen to the conversations taking place, you may find yourself slightly confused... as you listen to locals you are not certain whether what you are hearing is Spanish.
Spanish is spoken with a completely different accent in this area of the country. When you mention this to other Colombians they’ll chuckle sympathetically and tell you that they often have trouble understanding this dialect. This is why Medellín is so highly recommended in Colombia as a place to learn Spanish, it has a neutral accent that is easily understood all over the world. Not to worry, one thing that doesn’t change from place to place in Colombia is the legendary friendliness of the Colombian people.
¡Bienvenido a Carnaval!
Regardless of the language barrier you’ll soon find yourself completely immersed in the magic of carnaval. Barranquilla’s carnaval is a fantastic opportunity to experience the friendly exuberance that defines Colombia as a country. You may find yourself making it an annual event.
Check out the official Carnaval website: http://www.carnavaldebarranquilla.org/