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Barranquilla Carnival – Second in Size only to Rio!
Saturday 22nd February 2020
Tuesday, 25th March 2020
- 1 Barranquilla Carnival South America’s Second Biggest Carnival
- 2 Where is Barranquilla?
- 3 A Centuries Old Carnival
- 4 A Fusion of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast Cultures
- 5 Pre-Carnival Sets the Festive Mood
- 6 Whoever Lives It Are the Ones Who Enjoys It!
- 7 Be Prepared to Dance Cumbia
- 8 The Battle of Flowers
- 9 The Great Parade
- 10 The Festival of Orchestras
- 11 Picos – The Colombian Street Parties!
- 12 The Death of Joselito
- 13 What to wear to Barranquilla Carnival?
- 14 You’ll get an authentically local experience
- 15 Be Aware and Staying Safe
- 16 Where to stay?
Barranquilla Carnival South America’s Second Biggest Carnival
Barranquilla Carnival or Carnaval de Barranquilla claims to be the second biggest carnival in the world!! It is certainly the second biggest carnival in Latin America, second only to the famous Rio de Janeiro Carnival.
Barranquilla Carnival is officially celebrated for four days each year before the onset of Lent beginning on the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday and running until Shrove Tuesday.
Barranquilla Carnival hosts several events and celebrations like street parties, costumed parades, traditional music concerts and balls. The highlight of Barranquilla Carnival is the famous Battle of Flowers Parade which draws large crowds from all over.
Carnival season in Barranquilla officially begins as soon as Christmas is over, because like Christmas it is more than four days, it’s a season. Barranquilla Carnival is split into three parts, carnival preparations, pre-carnival and lastly carnival!
Where is Barranquilla?
The city of Barranquilla is situated on north side of Colombia’s Caribbean coast and is the fourth largest city in Colombia with a population of around 1.2million.
For a city that hosts the second largest carnival in the world, Barranquilla is practically unknown outside of Colombia. Most people don’t know that this fairly quiet port city in Colombia’s Caribbean coast is home to such a large event.
It is pretty easy to get to Barranquilla, which is only a 1.5-hour flight from Medellin, or a quick bus ride from Cartagena, Santa Marta and Medellin.
A Centuries Old Carnival
What Is the History of Carnival in Barranquilla? Carnival was introduced to Colombia when the Spanish colonised the Americas. Barranquilla Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival and the first official Barranquilla Carnival was held by the city in 1903.
However, the origins of Barranquilla Carnival and its traditions are much older. While the exact origins are not known many of the traditions and celebrations stem from Indigenous Pagan Celebrations that were held to welcome the spring and celebrate fertility.
The Catholic Church allowed the Indigenous People to keep their pagan celebrations, so long as they gave them Christian meaning. Therefore, the long held pagan celebrations were now celebrated under the guise of Christianity before Lent.
Barranquilla Carnival began to really flourish in the 18th Century becoming larger and larger and a notable date was when the Barranquilla Carnival King or King Momo was first appointed in 1888. In the 1900s, the Battle of the Flowers and the Carnival Queen was created. The Great Parade was introduced in 1967.
A Fusion of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast Cultures
What really sets Barranquilla Carnival apart is the fact that today it is a melting pot of cultural influences that represents the diversity of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast population.
Barranquilla was a port city that was built on the foundation of European, African and Indigenous cultures and this is all reflected in its carnival celebrations. Over 13 Colombian artistic expression that are carried out by around 650 cultural and ethnical groups.
The Indigenous Communities and the Afro-Colombian communities saw the carnival celebrations as an event in which they could showcase their own cultures, beliefs, and traditions by displaying them in the carnival atmosphere.
Carnival in Barranquilla has such a rich ethnic diversity, its traditions and celebrations are a fusion of European, Caribbean, African and the Indigenous tradition. All these cultures are represented through their dance, music, clothing and foods.
Barranquilla Carnival’s rich diversity and historic traditions are what make it so unique and it is for this reason that in 2003, UNESCO named Barranquilla Carnival as a Masterpieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Pre-Carnival Sets the Festive Mood
Carnival in Barranquilla is the highlight of the year, and during carnival preparations the entire city is overtaken with the carnival spirt. Everyone is in a festive mood and lots of drinking, dancing, singing, wearing costumes and fun is being had.
The whole city is decorated for carnival. The main carnival characters make up the bulk of the decorations, but there are also plenty of coloured streamers, decorations, tropical flowers and the cities colours of black, red, green and yellow adorn houses, cars, shopping malls and supermarkets.
With the city officially decorated for Carnival, the pre-carnival season. During the pre-Carnival season there are also plenty of events and parades happening all over the city. You can feel the carnival energy beginning to build.
There are two main events the first is the Izada de la Bandera which is where the Carnival Queen is crowned. The second is La Lecutra del Bando, where the Mayor of Barranquilla delivers the keys of the city, and the Carnival Queen declares Barranquilla an “empire of happiness” and reads the carnival rules of what is and isn’t allowed during carnival.
Whoever Lives It Are the Ones Who Enjoys It!
The Barranquilla Carnival motto is “quien lo vive es quien lo goza”, which translates as “those who lives it are the ones who enjoy it”! This motto embodies the Colombian carnival spirit of letting loose during the carnival.
For four days and the whole city of Barranquilla shuts down and the whole city is engulfed in carnival festivities. Everyone lets loose and gives in to the carnival celebrations. Carnival in Barranquilla is all about forgetting your worries for a few days and just celebrating life!.
Be Prepared to Dance Cumbia
If Argentina is known for its Salsa, then Colombia is famous for its cumbia, and Barranquilla Carnival is all about music and dance. Speakers sit on every corner, in every shop, bar and restaurant blasting Colombian music at full volume.
Other forms of Colombian music like porro, gaita, and puya also fill the air, but Cumbia is King! So, it’s worth practicing a few moves before you arrive in Barranquilla, because you will not get away with refusing to dance.
Cumbia first began as a courtship dance that was practiced by the African populations in the Caribbean coasts of Colombia. It evolved mixing with European instruments, steps and musical characteristics, and spread all over Colombia.
The Battle of Flowers
Barranquilla Carnival starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and begins with The Battle of Flowers (La Batalla de Flores) which is one of the largest, most popular and oldest parades of the carnival.
The Battle of Flowers is an explosion of sound, colour and movement and the most important cultural event at Barranquilla Carnival. Almost 2 million people attend the event including Colombia’s President.
The Battle of Flowers is a six-hour show that is full of the most elaborate and colourful floats, amazing costumes, folk dancing, fire breathers and live music. The Barranquilla Carnival Queen presides over it the event which officially opens the Barranquilla Carnival.
The Battle of the Flowers parade is such a popular event, that it is essential to pre-buy tickets because it sells out quick, and if you don’t buy a ticket to sit in one of the stands, then you will find it virtually impossible to find a spot to watch the parade.
The Great Parade
For the next following two days Sunday and Monday carnival in Barranquilla hosts several more street parties and parades. While the parades are not as popular as the Battle of the Flowers, they are still worth watching.
The Great Parade of Tradition (La Gran Parada de Tradicion) occurs on the Sunday of Barranquilla Carnival, this parade is about interpreting the regions history through dance, costumes and music.
The Grand Parade of Dance Groups (Gran Parada de Comparsas) is held on carnival Monday which sees different dance groups compete against each other for the prestigious title of best group. The parade showcases a range of Colombian dances like cumbia, mapale, salsa, merecumbe and merengue to name a few.
The Festival of Orchestras
Another extremely popular event is the Orchestra Festival held on the Monday of Barranquilla Carnival. The Festival of Orchestras is about showcasing the music and rhythms from Colombia and the Caribbean.
The Festival of Orchrestras is held in Romelio Martinez Stadium and has been held annually ever since it first began in 1960. The Orchestra Festival begins in the early afternoon and runs all through the night, finishing early Tuesday Morning.
The winner of popular Festival of Orchestras is awarded the prestigious prize of the “Golden Congo”, as well as nationwide adoration and fame.
Picos – The Colombian Street Parties!
Carnival is one big massive party for the Colombians! Prepare yourself because the Colombians know how to have a good time and party, and the best parties are free!
The best parties in Barranquilla are the local ones that take place in neighbourhoods throughout the city, and they don’t stop for the entirety of the carnival, these street parties are called Picos.
The Barranquilla Picos are legendary with giant sound systems and DJs everywhere you look pumping out the tunes, it’s not hard to join a Pico. You don’t need to make any plans, just wander around Barranquilla and wherever you go, you will find a party without even trying.
The Death of Joselito
The final day of Barranquilla Carnival which is Shrove Tuesday the carnival finishes with the Joselito se va con las Cenizas which means, the Death of Joselito.
The parade sees the burial of Joselito Carnaval who is a carnival character that is ‘brought to life’ during the Battle of the Flowers only to ‘die’ again on Shrove Tuesday, the final day of carnival.
The Death of Joselito Parade is probably the least popular and least attended parade because unlike other parades it is a sad event that mourns the death of Joselito. His burial symbolises the end of Barranquilla Carnival.
However, not to worry Joselito will be ‘reborn’ again in the next Barranquilla Carnival, during the Battle of the Flowers Parade.
What to wear to Barranquilla Carnival?
Absolutely dress up when attending Barranquilla Carnival! There are no rules, anything and everything goes, and the wackier the better! Bring, wear and buy lots of festive costumes, because you will feel more out of place if you don’t dress up, then if you do.
Everywhere you look you will see lots and lots of colourful costumes, body paint, lots of bare flesh, superhero costumes, carnival character costumes and so much more. Often you will see groups of families and friends wearing matching costumes.
You’ll get an authentically local experience
If you prefer things that are more authentic then choosing to celebrate carnival in Barranquilla instead of Rio is a great option! You will not be bombarded by hordes of foreign tourists, and its likely you will in fact be one of the few foreigners there.
The lack of tourists means that you will get to experience an authentic carnival in Barranquilla instead of Rio. Colombians are famous for their friendly treatment of foreigners and they will probably offer you numerous drinks and dances.
Be Aware and Staying Safe
When it comes to exploring Colombia, safety is a valid concern for many, but today Barranquilla and Colombia are safer than ever before. Most misconceptions about Colombia’s safety are from its dark past.
Most people feel very safe and welcomed in Colombia, and the biggest concern really is petty thefts. During Barranquilla Carnival, scammers will often take advantage of large crowds and pick pocking is common. So be aware of your belongings at all times and always exercise common sense.
Carnival celebrations are a cornerstone of Latin American countries, but the Barranquilla Carnival because it’s a beautiful expression and fusion of cultures, that are found on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Barranquilla Carnival shows off exactly what makes Colombia so one-of-a-kind!
And remember those who live it are those who enjoy it!
Where to stay?
Check out some accomodation options here.
For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.