When I talk to friends about Carnival, they immediately bring up Rio de Janeiro. While Rio’s Carnival is famous throughout the world, most friends have never heard of Barranquilla, host of the second Carnival of the world and declared a Colombian National Culture Heritage. Well… that is until I tell them that Barranquilla is the birthplace of Colombia’s most famous singer: Shakira!
The city of 1.2 million people on the Magdalena River, near the Caribbean Coast, is home to the largest port of Colombia. Big “brothers” Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena & Cali are more popular with tourists than Barranquilla. When it comes to Carnival though, there is only one Colombian city that counts: Barranquilla! Once a year, the work stops when the hard working locals take a break to join the biggest party of the country.
The fact that Barranquilla has not been discovered by the crowds yet, is exactly what gives the city its charm. The locals, called “Costeños” are proud of their culture and love to show visitors their hometown. Costeños are warmhearted & welcoming and love tourists who want to party with them. Don’t be modest while dressing up for carnival as nothing can be too colourful. Every crazy outfit is allowed during carnival!
During carnival, the streets become one big street party for locals and tourists alike. The city is transformed into a giant showcase of traditional Colombian dances & music (Cumbia, Merengue, Mapalé, Salsa and Merecumbé), around 500 folk groups, parades, incredible costumes, live bands and international artists, all to be enjoyed in one energetic ambiance.
Official carnival is from March 2 to March 5 2019, but there are many pre-carnival events.
CARNIVAL EVENTS 2019:
March 1: Children’s Carnival Parade & the Coronation of the Queen of Carnival
The most famous Pre-Carnival event is night parade La Guacherna, on the Friday before carnival. There is also a popular Gay Guacherna. The parade is based around the song “La Guacherna” by Esthercita Forero.
March 2: Batalla de Flores: (Battle of the Flowers): 1pm on Via 40
A six-hour parade with floats, beautifully decorated costumes and lots of folkloric groups. Big chance you will meet president Trump at this parade. Every year a parody or two can be seen at the parade; celebrities and politicians are popular “victims”-:)
March 3: Gran Parada de Tradición y Folklore (Great Parade of Tradition and Folklore): 1pm on Via 40. More than 300 dancing groups participate in this parade yearly, as well as traditional folkloric and dance groups, with no floats.
March 4: Gran Parada de Comparsas (Great Parade of Groups): 1pm on Via 40. Also known as the “Great Fantasy Parade”, this is a more international version of the Great Parade with more innovative music mixtures. Traditional, local music and modern international music are blended perfectly together, such as Cumbia with Salsa, Samba, Reggaetón and electronic music.
March 5: Joselito se va con las Cenizas (Joselito Leaves with the Ashes): The last day of Carnival is marked by the death and burial of “Joselito”, symbol for the joy of Carnival. Thousands of people go through the streets with Joselitos, which are transported on stretchers or coffins. This is not an extravagant, dancing parade like the ones before, but involves a lot of crying, when the Joselitos are carried from door to door to mourn his death and the end of carnival! If you want to be part of the whole Carnival experience, then you have to see this!
Click on this link for more information on Carnival in Barranquilla
These INSIDERS TIPS, may come in handy before, during and after Barranquilla’s Carnival!
“Pre- Carnival” tips:
- Buy tickets for use of the bleacher area, as they have some shade and you can sit if you want to rest from all the dancing (even though i doubt you will want to sit in this ambience -:)). Here you also have easy access to drinks and food. Seats are not designated, so you still have to come early to get a good spot. Tickets can be bought through tickets Carnival Barranquilla. Most tickets are sold as a 3-day package.
- Even if you didn’t buy tickets up front, you will still be able to buy some last minute tickets, even at the parade itself. Be prepared to pay extra for last minute tickets.
- If you only have one day in Barranquilla, join the beautiful Batalla de Flores (Battle of Flowers). While you will still be able to show up for the other parades without ticket, it might be more difficult to obtain a good spot to watch the immensely popular Batalla de Flores without ticket.
- Learn a few words of Spanish; The Spanish of the Costeños is different from other parts of Colombia, but your effort to communicate in Spanish will be highly appreciated.
Carnival Parade tips:
- Wear a colourful outfit to blend in with the crowds.
- Bring a hat or cap and sunscreen.
- Hats and colourful ornaments can be bought at stalls along the parade.
- The weather will be hot and sticky, so drink lots of water.
- Bring an extra shirt, because you will be dancing and sweating. Moreover, expect to be sprayed with foams and powders (the “weapons” of carnival) so you will get dirty!
- Bathrooms not always provide toilet paper and soap, so bring some tissues and a small non-soap hand sanitiser.
- Be open for socialising with locals, they are really friendly and want you to have a good time.
- After the parades, the fun street parties begin, don’t miss them!
- Keep an eye on your valuables. Wearing a thin money belt under your clothes is always a good idea.
- Extend your party in Barranquilla; the excellent restaurants, bars and clubs are a good reason to stay a few days longer.
- Make a side trip. Barranquilla is an excellent gateway to visit st. Martha or Cartagena after carnival. The Caribbean town of Santa Martha is approx. 2 hours away by bus. The colonial city of Cartagena is approx. 2.5 hours away by bus.
“Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza“; “He who lives it, enjoys it!”. This is the motto of Barranquilla’s carnival. Nobody lives up to this motto more than the Costeños do. I’m sure you will agree with me if you have the chance to join Carnival in Barranquilla!
Happy Carnival greetings,