Across Latin America, the countdown is on to the biggest party of the year:
Everyone’s heard of carnival in Rio… but few are familiar with the world’s second-biggest pre-Lenten celebrations. These take place here in Colombia, in Barranquilla.
Barranquilla, located on Colombia’s northern coast where the Magdalena River meets the Caribbean Sea, is this country’s fourth-largest city. It is a cosmopolitan, commercial port city and a melting pot of cultures whose sons and daughters include Nobel Prize-winning writer Gabriel García Márquez, actress Sofía Vergara, and singer Shakira.
In Barranquilla, carnival, celebrated here since the 19th century, is such a big deal that it has earned a UNESCO Heritage Award (citing the party as a magnificent example of folklore and heritage).
Carnival in Barranquilla is a fusion of Indian, African, and European traditions. Pre-events begin as early as mid-January, but the major parades and celebrations begin Saturday, Feb. 25 and continue over the 26th, 27th, and 28th. For these four days, the streets of Barranquilla explode with costumed party-goers, dancing, singing, and letting loose. The energy is contagious.
Heed this warning: While the first parade is impressive, remember there are three more days of parades and three more nights of dancing and partying to come!
Stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and conserve your energy.
You can purchase bleacher seats to take a break and watch the goings-on sitting down.
The preferred carnival beverage is aguardiente (“burning water”), known locally as guaro. Vendors sell it everywhere, along with hats, food, and noisemakers.
The festivities commence with the extravagant Battle of the Flowers Parade, which begins at noon on Saturday the 25th along Vía 40. This six-hour parade, which includes miles of ostentatious floats, flamboyantly costumed dancers, and energetic musicians, is led by the newly crowned Carnival Queen who throws flowers to spectators as she passes.
It’s great sexy fun. Sequins sparkle in the sun, skirts twirl, feathered headdresses bow, bodies dance, flail, and contort, and music keeps everything and everyone pumping. Even from a bleacher seat, you can’t help but clap, tap your feet, and dance.
Sunday’s parade is known as “The Day of Tradition” and emphasizes Colombian folklore and typical Caribbean cumbia music. The costumes depict historical events and characters.
Monday events include the “Parade of Fantasy” and the “Festival of Orchestras,” with more than 30 local bands competing in different genres.
Tuesday’s “Death of Joselito” carnival parade is the last in the series and represents the end of partying before Lent. This parade has a slightly different feel, but it is anything but sad. It’s meant to show appreciation for all the fun that has been had in the days prior.
Barranquilla’s carnival is a spectacle for all your senses. You will smell the flowers, you will hear the music, you might be touched by the performers, who love to reach and throw things into the crowd…
You might get sprayed by water or foam or flour…
You will taste guaro and the local specialties…
The parades are long, the sun is hot, and the entire experience is electrifying.
Months of planning go into the costumes, the floats, and the parades, and the full calendar is already mapped out up through Carnaval de Barranquilla 2040. Details for future carnivals are here.
While it’s probably too late to join this year’s party, it’s not too early to plan for Carnaval de Barranquilla 2018.
Bleacher seats are already available for purchase, and booking now means the best airfare deals.