It’s time for a post about the extravaganza known as Carnaval! I realize, Carnaval is in February. But, I actually timed this post in mid-December on purpose. Most of you are caught up in the holiday spirit of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years. But, if you dream in sparkle and neon (like I do), now is the best time to start planning your Carnaval fiesta.
You may already know that the biggest and most famous Carnaval festival is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. However, so long as you are in South America (and even select cities in Europe) the week of Carnaval, you can find yourself a celebration.
My two months exploring Colombia happened to fall during Carnaval 2017. I feel fortunate that it did. Baranquilla, Colombia is the 2nd largest Carnaval festival in South America. It is an iconic annual Colombian tradition.
If you happen to be in Colombia in mid-February you absolutely DO NOT want to miss out on Baranquilla, Carnaval!
In this post:
- What is Carnaval?
- Where can you go in Colombia to celebrate Carnaval?
- How to plan for Carnival?
- What can you expect at Baranquilla Carnaval?
- Awesome images from 2017 Carnaval in Colombia!
1) What is Carnaval?
First thing first. Let’s stop confusing Carnaval with carnival.
More familiar in the western world, is the term carnival. This is a traveling show that typically consists of acrobatics, exotic animals, sideshows, rides and games. Carnivals are unrelated to Carnaval. However, their names have the same latin origin “carne levare”, meaning “to remove meat”.
“To remove meat” is apropos, because Carnaval is a religious festival preceding Lent. This Christian celebration occurs before Ash Wednesday. Festivities of Carnaval are similar to the tradition of Mardi Gras, in New Orleans, USA.
Carnaval is celebrated through parades, masks and costumes, and public parties in the streets. Alcohol, meat, and sweets are commonplace during Carnaval festivals. After all, people are trying to get all the gluttony out of their system before Lent begins.
Carnaval is a time for throwing social rules out the window. The expectations of how to behave in daily life are put on hold for a festival of pure enjoyment and indulgence.
How Carnaval is celebrated varies from place to place and depends on local traditions. Some Carnaval celebrations are 1 day or 1 weekend. In Rio de Janeiro and Baranquilla, Carnaval festivities are a week long.
2) Where to go for Carnaval in Colombia
“It falls in February”, was the extent of my Carnaval knowledge when I arrived in Colombia. So, I started with a quick google search of the following: best place to celebrate Carnaval in Colombia. All sources agreed. Baranquilla.
Admittedly, Baranquilla is one of the least exciting places to visit in Colombia. If it is not Carnaval, I wouldn’t suggest a visit. Surrounding cities like Cartagena, or Santa Marta (Taganga is quite nice) are more exciting places for travelers.
So, you have two options.
- Stay in Baranquilla. Be in the middle of all the Carnaval action.
- saves time
- saves transportation costs
- freedom to join in as many Carnaval activities as you want
- housing options are more limited and often expensive
- you will be far from other tourist sites and activities
- Stay in one of the more exciting cities. If you choose this, you will need to hire a driver, or rent a car. Cartagena to the South or Santa Marta to the North are tourist friendly cities. Both are approximately a 45 minute drive from Baranquilla.
- Many options of hotels, hostels and guesthouses
- More affordable housing options
- easy access to other tourist sites and activities
- close to beaches
- Far from the action of Carnaval
- Expensive transportation
- Limits time and number of Carnaval activities you can take part in
3) How to plan for Colombia’s Carnaval?
Simple answer: In Advance!
- Determine where to stay. You can stay in Baranquilla or in one of its surrounding cities.
- Get on booking.com and reserve your accomodations.
- Buy tickets in advance. You can show up and buy entrance tickets to the parade, but you will be dealing with scalpers and their exorbitant prices (easily $ hundreds of USD). After a quick google search, the cheapest ticket price I found online was at Ticktbis.com for $47.13 USD (€39.99). These prices are not likely to last. So, act quickly. Tickets include 3-day entry to the parade.
I know you are probably focused on Christmas and New Years right now. But, if you want to party Carnaval-style, now is the time to start planning! Planning for Carnaval in advance can save big $$.
As many of you know, I am a spontaneous traveler. Planning in advance is not my jam. But when it comes to Carnaval, don’t wait! Things book up and get very expensive. I mean, of course they do, Baranquilla is the place to be for Carnaval!
So, are you convinced? Save yourself the cash, and start planning today.
4) What to expect at Baranquilla, Carnaval?
Beginning several blocks away from the main parade street, you will find venders selling foam, sparklies and neon in the form of hats, jewelry and trinkets. Oh yes, and snacks.
*You are not allowed to take outside food or beverage into the parade tents and bleachers. Consume all before entering. You can buy from inside.
As you get closer to the main street, things start to get more crowded and crazy.
People dressed in costumes will be everywhere. Music will be blaring, feet will be dancing, foam will be flying, and beer will be drunking. Bright colors, wigs, cross-dressers and general rowdiness are sure to distract.
But, if you have tickets to enter, you will need to find your designated entrance.
Let’s be honest, If you don’t look like this in mid-February, then you’re doing something wrong!
Don’t forget to dress “appropriately”. The crazier your colors and style, the better!
- brimmed hat
- wigs (the faker the better)
- vivid hair accessories
- big unusual jewelery
- Match your friends and family
If your outfit meets any or all of the criteria from this list – you are ready for Carnaval.
Most hotels in Barranquilla are not within walking distance to Carnaval, unless you are willing to pay a small fortune. So you will need to rely on taxis. But don’t worry, once you are on site, they are easy to come by. Getting to Carnaval may require calling to get a taxi. Be sure to ask the receptionist at your hotel/hostel for the number of a reliable taxi service.
At Carnaval, let your inner oddities shine through.
Marvel at incredible traditional costumes
Have a blast!
35 thoughts on “¡Celebrating Carnaval, Colombia!”
Oh wow! This post came at the perfect time! We have a long weekend in mid-February here in Argentina and my husband and I were just deciding where we want to go for it! Colombia might have just risen to the top of that list. I’ll have to show my husband this post tonight! Thank you so much!
My pleasure! Colombia is a wonderful place to visit!
Nice festival. Can’t wait for the day that I can explore Colombia.
How exciting to learn some history about Columbia! It’s fascinating to learn about other cultures and what they do for celebrations. Thank you so much for sharing, and awesome photos too!
Thank you! I always love learning about traditions around the world – and I had a lot of fun editing these photos 😊
I was in Medellin for 3 months a few years ago and always wanted to visit for Carnaval, I would just love to go back!
I adore Medellin! It’s one of my favorite cities! I hope you do go back and visit for Carnaval sometime!
Oh my goodness. So much fun. I want to go.
I haven’t been to Columbia, but this looks like a good enough reason to go! The outfits look so colourful and lovely and I would love to experience the dancing and music from the sidelines. Toronto has something similar during a weekend in the summer.
Oooh! What is the festival in Toronto called?
Thank you so much for this! As someone who lives in the Caribbean, I totally get your first point on how often people mistaken Carnaval with Carnival. So not the same! You have great footage is this post, and oh my thanks to you I want to travel to Colombia just for this festive season. Thanks again!
Yay! This comment makes me smile! Definitely visit Colombia… But for so many more reasons than Carnaval! It’s a marvelous country!
Love your Carnaval guide! It’s very informative and thanks for educating us on the difference. Colombia is on my places to visit. It would be awesome to visit during this season as it looks like an awesome celebration. Thanks for sharing!
I love seeing the colorful and traditional costumes worn by those people marching in the parade especially the ladies dancing in their long skirts with flowers in their hair. You have provided a ton of useful tips in this post for readers who may be inspired to visit Barranquilla during Carnaval.
First I thought of Carnival but I didn’t know about Carnaval is religious festival of removing meat. I haven’t been to Barranquilla but this is great to know I would love to go during February.
I knew they did this in Brazil but I did not know they had Carnival in Colombia! My mother is from Colombia 🙂
It’s so fun to hear about the traditions people in differnt parts of the world celebrate. Being from the U.S. this is the first time I’ve heard of Carnaval. At first, I couldn’t understand why it was based on removing meat, until I got the connection with Lent. With all of the pretty costumes and happy people, it looks like such a wonderful time! x
Carnaval isn’t something we do here in the states – except in New Orleans, we have Mardi Gras. It’s a similar tradition. But in South America Carnaval is a very big deal! The biggest is in Brazil!
Wow- such beautiful colours! Might have to plan a trip here to see them for myself!!
I can’t imagine these kinds of crowds! Glad you had a blast!
So much color and culture!!! I can’t wait to make it down for Carnival someday! Looks absolutely amazing. I liked the video as well 🙂 I subscribed!
Thank you so much for the support! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I hope you get to go and experience this too someday ❤️
first I must tell you that the photos are stunning ! I have Colombia on my bucket list and not wade me want to be there even more
When you start planning your trip, let’s chat! There’s nothing I love more than talking Travel and South America!
I just love the carnival pictures. I always keen to learn about other cultures, their celebrations and history. Thanks for highlighting this fascinating carnival and for sharing, these awesome photos too!
I kept thinking of it as a spell error until you explained the difference between Carnival and Carnaval! This looks so much fun and I would love to attend one. Specially the idea of the dress code is brilliant! 🙂
Just thinking of carnival makes us happy .Have never been there but I am thinking to to there.your pictures are very intimidating and I feel like going now itself
Looks like I missed out on this fest by a few months earlier this year and that’s truly a shame. I had no idea that the South American 2nd largest Carnival was in Colombia. I’ve been dying to go to one, anywhere, and this looks like a more affordable option for travelers coming from the states!
Carnaval is truly an experience. I hope you get to experience one in the coming years!!!
Well, I may not make the Colombian version…but I’ve got Dominican carnaval in my sights for this year!
Awesome! I hope you share about it!
I love reading about other cultures and it was great to read about Columbia. It would be fun to attend a carnaval, I loved these pictures!
I love all of the photos. They are such a panoply of colors and beautiful images. I know out here we call it Mardi Gras, and basically the only place to go for that and really celebrate is New Orleans. I didn’t realize Colombia had such a vibrant one. Although you are probably right because most people think Rio. Sounds amazing in Colombia too.
I didn’t realize they had a Carnaval as big as that in Columbia. The colors are so vibrant and it looks like a magnificent celebration. It is too bad it doesn’t get the recognition that Rio does.
Great Post and very informative. Will need to visit Carnaval in Columbia!