Your Ultimate Guide to The Black and White Carnival Colombia

At the start of every year in Pasto, Colombia, something special happens. The whole city unites to celebrate the Black and White Carnival.

December 28th, 2020


January 6, 2021

Days to start

Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland

What is the Black and White Carnival?

Carnaval de Negros y Blancos in Colombia, which is known as The Black and White Carnival in English is a beautiful mixed celebration of Andean, African and Spanish culture and traditions. The Black and White Carnival is so unique that it has even been recognized by UNESCO as being a “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”!

The Black and White Carnival is one of the most ancient carnivals in America and its traditions stem from ancient Indigenous rituals that used to be performed by the native people who would at harvest time perform indigenous dances dedicated to the sun and the moon, asking for protection, for their crops.

When the Spanish colonizers arrived, these ancient ancestral celebrations merged together with Spanish culture. Furthermore, the carnival commemorated when African Slaves were given a day off work and would celebrate. All these cultures mixed together creating this wonderful carnival celebration. Today 10,000 people participate and 300,000 people come to celebrate this carnival.

What is the history of the Black and White Carnival?

pasto carnival

Travelling back a few hundred centuries to 1604 there was an uprising of the African Slaves who demanded to have one day off work to be able to rest and truly be free. The Spanish troops fearing even greater revolts allowed them this day of rest.

The 5th January was declared a day off that was dedicated entirely to people of color. The local black population took to the streets dancing to tribal music. They also began to paint the white walls of the city black.

Skipping forward a few centuries to 1912 the modern version of this carnival was established after a joke between friends. One friend took powder and scattered the powder all over the room whilst shouting “vivo los blanquitos!”

The joke continued onto the streets with all the friends running around throwing white powder at each other. When a crowd of people nearby began to exit a parish, they became victims of a flour bomb whilst the friends shouted “long live blacks and long live white people!” This phrase is the famous phrase which the official carnival celebrations took their name from.

Where is the Black and White Carnival?

The Black and White Carnival is celebrated every year in the Andean city of Pasto, the colonial capital of the Narino State, located in southwestern Colombia. This tiny town which most people have never heard of, every year during carnival, attracts people from all over the world.

When is the Black and White Carnival?

black and white carnival

The Black and White Carnival officially begins every year on December 28th and ends on January 6th the following year. January 4th is when the carnival officially kicks off.

How do they celebrate the Black and White Carnival?

The Black and White Carnival consists of six amazing days when the whole city unites for one epic party. There are parades, parties, costumes, floats and all the normal carnival things. However it is famous for its unique traditions.

This includes taking to the streets and covering each other with foam, flour and talcum powder on one day and black paint and charcoal on another day. The Carnival of Blacks and Whites is one crazy, messy and fun way to kick of the new year!

Black and White Carnival 2019-2020 Program

pasto carnival

Here is the official 2018-2019 Black and White Carnival Programme to help you better organise your carnival. The Black and White Carnival consists of four main days of celebrations when the entire city is consumed with carnival fever.

Pre-Carnival – December 28th 2019

On the 28th of December the party starts with a huge water fight. Literally the entire city of Pasto goes out onto the street and participates in a giant water fight. They bring all their ammunition water guns, water bottles, hoses, water balloons and whatever else one can get their hands on. The aim of the game is to get as many people as possible soaking wet.

Children’s Carnival – January 3rd 2020

Why should adults have all the fun? The Black and White Children’s Carnival is a miniature version of the adults carnival. The day is dedicated to families and is all about getting the next generation excited and involved in carnival.

The Parade of the Castaneda Family – January 4th 2020

pasto carnival

The Parade of the Castaneda Family kicks off the official carnival. This procession has been occurring ever since 1928 and gets its name from a family who came into town to watch a Horse Parade. The family, which consisted of numerous kids, arrived with all their pigs and sheep.

The father of the family began waving to the crowd that had gathered to watch the Horse Parade and shouted “Viva La Familia Castañeda!” The parade of this family became institutionalized as an official part of carnival.

Today in commemoration of that day, the local people of Pasto dress up in period costumes, transporting the city back in time. There are also carnival groups who perform the peasant dance which is a traditional and well-known style of dance.

The Day of the Blacks – January 5th 2020

January 5th is still to this day all  about commemorating the African Slaves who had to fight to win this day of freedom. To honour them everyone paints their bodies head to toe in black and shouts “Long live the Blacks!” Painting yourself in black is done to show there is no distinction between races.

The Day of the Whites – January 6th 2020

pasto carnival

The Day of the Whites is when the colour changes. Today everyone covers themselves head to toe in talcum powder, flower or shaving creams. There is also an artistic procession that demonstrates the creativity of the local Pasto Artisans. The parade runs for 7km through the Pasto city centre and the crowds shout “Long Live the Whites!”

Accommodation for the Black and White Carnival

There are plenty of accommodation options near the Black and White Carnival celebrations which mainly occur in the city centre. Accommodation is pretty affordable because this celebration is mainly attended by Colombians and other South American communities. You must book in advance to get the best prices.

Check out some accommodation deals here. 

How to get the Black and White Carnival?

Black and White Carnival

There are several ways to get to Pasto, but the best option is by booking a flight to the Antonio Nariño airport which is 30 kms from Pasto. There are also connecting flights to two other airports that are 84 and 300 kms respectively. To get a quote for a flight click here.

Colombia has an excellent transportation system, with 37 bus companies that transport around 8000 people throughout the entire area daily. The ease of getting to the Black and White Carnival is guaranteed.

Tips to enjoy the Black and White Carnival

Some handy tips to enjoy the Black and White Carnival to the fullest include:

  • Definitely buy your parade seat tickets in advance so that you can get the best views of the parade, as they sell out quickly and you don’t want to fight for a spot to view the parade with the rest of the crowds
  • Book your flight and hotel as early as possible to ensure best price and availability options.
  • Definitely brings some clothes that you won’t want to wear again because they will most likely be pretty dirty and damaged after this carnival
  • Wear comfortable shoes! You will not only be walking all day but also dancing!

Wear some cyclist glasses because they will protect your eyes from getting talcum powder, flour or some other substance in them. A bad reaction in your eyes could spoil your trip!

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

Is Pasto Safe? 

FOr the most part you shouldn’t have any problems. But the more remote areas of Colombia can be slightly dubious at times. During carnival there is an increased police and security presence. But be aware of pickpockets! Especially during carnival when there are big crowds and it is easier to get your stuff stolen. So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. If you have to take your phone out with you, don’t have it on show for long. 

Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance! Never travel without coverage! Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads!

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