🇧🇴 Oruro Carnival

Oruro Carnival is Bolivia’s top tourist attraction. It is an incredible mix between the ancient Andean and Spanish colonial traditions and religions. Here is everything you need to know about attending carnival in Oruro, Bolivia.

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    Your Essential Guide to the Oruro Carnival

    Oruro Carnival, also known as the Devil’s Carnival or Carnaval de Oruro is one of Bolivia’s most important cultural events. It is a fascinating mix of indigenous and European traditions. Here is everything you need to know before traveling to carnival in Oruro – events, dates, locations, and more!

    Carnivaland recommends tours, events and accommodation based on our extensive experience and knowledge of them. We may earn affiliate commission from affiliate links in this article. Read more about our policy.

    When is the 2023 Oruro Carnival?

    When is Carnival in Bolivia? Oruro Carnival main celebrations always start the Saturday prior to Shrove Tuesday, and finishes on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. The 2023 Oruro Carnival dates will begin Friday, February 17, 2023 – Monday, February 20, 2023

    Where is Oruro?

    Oruro or Uru Uru is a small mining city located in the arid Altiplano region of Bolivia that has a population of 250,000. Oruro sits a dizzying 4000 meters above sea level. This little mining town is actually home to one of the world’s most famous carnivals celebrations.

    Sitting in the mountains of western Bolivia this was once a pre-Columbian ceremonial site. Oruro was also an important mining area in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The town was resettled by the Spanish in 1606. The town never stopped being a sacred site for the local people, many of whom would often travel long distances to perform their rituals and ceremonies.

    What is Oruro Carnival?

    oruro carnival

    Every year the city of Oruro is home to one of the most famous carnivals in the world. Oruro Carnival is over 200 years old and considered to be a very important religious carnival so much so that in 2001 UNESCO declared Oruro Carnival a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”.

    Oruro Carnival attracts about half a million people and is Bolivia’s most famous tourist attraction. Oruro Carnival is one of the most unique carnival experiences you can have and one heck of a fiesta.

    How do they Celebrate Carnival in Oruro?

    oruro carnival

    Every year the usually sleepy town of Oruro is brought to life hosting a very unique carnival that is a mix of pagan/indigenous ceremonies and Catholic symbolism. Oruro Carnival features traditional folk dancing, extravagant costumes, lively music, amazing parades, ceremonial rituals, beautiful handcrafts and plenty of partying.

    During carnival the town welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors from all around the world who come to witness the amazing parades. Carnival is a happy and festive time that is filled with lots of eating, drinking, partying, dancing, bonfires, costumes, confetti and water fights.

    What is the History of Oruro Carnival?

    The origins of Oruro Carnival dates back long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The ancient town of Uru Uru, the pre-Hispanic name for Oruro, was actually a religious destination for the Indigenous people of the Andes.

    The locals would come to worship Pachamama (mother earth) and their ancient God Ito. They held grand celebrations for Ito, this is  how the Oruro Carnival originated.

    When the Spanish arrived in Oruro back in the early 1600s, they discovered the locals mining the land for silver. The Spanish took their land away and used the local people for labor. They also attempted to convert the locals to Christianity, banning their religious traditions and practices.

    The Indians refused to renounce their beliefs, continuing to worship Ito in secret, under the guise of Catholic rituals. The Catholic priests encouraged the native people to perform their traditional dances and music, so long as they coincided with Catholic holidays.

    By the mid-18th century the Andean rituals had entirely morphed into Catholic observances which created the modern Oruro Carnival celebrations as we know them.

    A century after Bolivia gained independence from Spain socialism spread throughout Bolivia and Indigenous culture was viewed as being an ideal model for society, as well as a matter of national pride. More traditions became based on ancient Andean culture.

    Why is the Oruro Carnival Celebrated?

    oruro carnival

    Oruro Carnival commemorates an ancient story about a miracle that occurred in one of the mineshafts and is still honored today during carnival. Legend has it that a Virgin once took pity on a fatally injured man by helping him reach his home near the silver mines of Oruro before he died.

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    The miners who had discovered the dead man’s body in the mine, found him with an image of the Virgin of Candelaria hung above him. Some say this story was concocted by the Spanish to convince the natives to worship a virgin.

    Oruro Carnival has observed this event ever since it occurred and now honors the Virgen de la Candelaria which translates as Virgin of the Mineshaft. The natives changed their original celebrations of Anata into a three-day festival worshiping the Virgin Mary, held on the same dates as their original celebration. Many of the dances of Oruro Carnival are all based on the Virgin.

    Oruro Carnival Main Events

    oruro carnival

    • Anata Andino: The Anata Andino is the indigenous ceremony that gives thanks to Pachamama for crops and other gifts from the earth. Thousands of indigenous people will embellish their clothes with flowers.
    • Cha’llas and Musical evening: This is an evening event that features the best folkloric musical groups that perform in the parade. A Cha’alla is a ritual offering to Mother Earth. The indigenous people give thanks to Mother Earth and the ritual consists of sprinkling the earth with wine. There are also fireworks which announce the wajt’a, another offering to Mother Earth that is burned.
    • Socavon Virgin Pilgrimage: Starting at 7am, this is the big carnival event that features over 50,000 folkloric dancers and musicians. The 48 folkloric groups put on an impressive display filled with traditional costumes, music, designs and choreography.
    • Corso del Carnaval: This festivity takes place on Carnival Sunday and the 48 folkloric dance groups share their joy and dances with the entire city, who want to continue to carnival celebrations.
    • Devil and Moreno Day: Monday is a farewell to the Socavon Virgin. It features dance groups and starts with a mass and special blessing at the Socavon Virgin Sanctuary. Later, the famous Diablada story telling takes place.

    Oruro Carnival – Pilgrimage to the Socavón Sanctuary

    oruro carnival

     The Pilgrimage to the Socavón Sanctuary is the main parade and the central day of carnival! The parade lasts for 20 hours and covers a four-kilometer parade route. The parade features around 48 groups that are made up of 20,000 dancers, 150 bands and 10,000 musicians who all participate in the parade. An audience of 400,000 watches the parade in person, and millions more tune in on tv. Months of preparations go into the parades.

    This incredible parade is why the Carnival of Oruro is so famous and attracts people from all around the world. In fact, it is so culturally important that it was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The 48 folkloric groups performing wear the most colorful costumes and put on an incredible display of tradition, heritage and culture through their incredible music and choreography.

    The parade is led by the Archangel San Miguel who is followed by devils, bears, pumas, monkeys and condors who are all symbols of Uru mythology. The chief devil Lucifer and China Supay, the devil woman, attempt to seduce San Miguel with their dance.

    The 50 dance groups will perform 18 different dance performances. Some are the most well-known are the Diablas, Kantus, Kullawada, Suri Sicuris, Potolo, Tinku, Tobas, Caporales, Llamerada, Morenada and Waca Waca. The groups all portray different aspects of life in Oruro.

    The Famous Dance of the Devil – La Diabla

    Diabla Mask Oruro

    Devil Mask at Oruro Carnival. Photograph by Pame82s, distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

    When the parade commences, two plays will be acted out. The first about the Spanish conquest and the second about San Miguel’s battle with good and evil. This is the most famous performance of carnival and this folk dance is called Diablada or Dance of the Devil.

    Diabla or Dance of the Devils has remained unchanged since colonial times and it is one of the things that carnival in Oruro is famous for. This dance features an army of devils and demons and represents the struggle that takes place between good and evil, and the defeat of the seven deadly sins.

    It is a folkloric dance that is performed in the traditional Bolivian culture. La Diablada is an incredibly colorful spectacle filled with stunning handmade costumes and devil masks. The dance begins with the entrance of El Tio, who is followed by thousands of masked dancing devils and demons.

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    The Carnival of Oruro Parade Route

    oruro carnival

    The Oruro Carnival parade begins on Bolívar Street and passes through the Plaza 10 de Febrero square. From Bolivar Street it will run down La Plata, Adolfo Mier, Presidente Montes, La Petot, Civic Avenue and Junín street.

    The parade runs for more than 40 blocks and along the parade there are plenty of grandstands where you can pay for a seat. Plaza de Armas or the finishing point are the most popular places to view the parade.

    The parade finishes at the Santuario del Socavón, the parade will enter the church to pray and express their devotion to the Virgin of Socavón. The final procession lasts for over 15 hours and sees thousands of dancers and musicians perform for over 15 hours.

    oruro carnival

    Oruro Carnival Program 2023

    To help you organize and plan your carnival celebration better Here are the top Oruro Carnival events that will occur and events to help you plan your trip better:

    Oruro Festival of Bands

    • When: Saturday (week before carnival)- Feb 11, 2023
    • Where: Civic Plaza, near the Santuario del Socavón.
    • Time: Begins around 9:00 am

    Oruro Carnival starts with a ceremony dedicated to the Virgin of the mineshaft where marching bands play to greet the Virgin.

    The Last Convite

    • When: Sunday – (week before carnival) – Feb 12, 2023
    • Where: Departure Point (Potosí Esq. Aroma)
    • Time: Begins around 06:30 am

    There are two ‘convites’ which is a parade rehearsal that occurs the week before carnival. The second convites generally takes place on Carnival Sunday. This big rehearsal will see the 50 folk dance groups parade through the streets of Oruro City, practicing their choreography and music.

    Indigenous Entrance Anata Andina

    • When: Thursday preceding Lent – Feb 16, 2023
    • Place:Carnival Parade Route. The parade departs from the corner of Aroma and 6 de Agosto Avenues.
    • Time: 8:30am

    The Anata Andina is an indigenous celebration that celebrates and gives thanks to Pachamama or Mother Earth for providing them with agriculture production. The Andean population in Bolivia believe that everyone and everything is one. They live in harmony with the earth, cosmos, and other animals.

    The Anata Andina celebration occurs two days prior to the Oruro Carnival and features very traditional Bolivian folk music, dance and costumes that demonstrate their rich traditional Andean culture and history. The entire city is covered in colorful flowers that symbolize crops blooming.

    Over 100 native folk groups from all the towns and provinces around Oruro, Potosi and La Paz perform dance choreographies on the streets. It is one of the most unique folkloric displays in the world.

    Day dedicated to El Tio & Challa

    • When: Friday that precedes Lent – Feb 17, 2023
    • Place: Oruro

    The Friday that directly precedes Lent is dedicated to El Tio and the mine sites known as Challa that surround the city. On Friday night a soiree takes place in dedication of El Tio covering the whole carnival route way into the wee hours of the morning. This is followed by a serenade to the Virgen del Socavón that features numerous performances from folk groups and bands.

    The Challa is a ritual offering to Pachamama for the crops and spiritual and material wealth that has been granted. The Challa sees earth being sprinkled all over workplaces, shops, businesses etc. That evening a serenade will be held at the Virgen del Socavón held in the Plaza Principal 10 and featuring folk groups, bands and ensembles. An epic fireworks show is also put on.

    Central Pilgrimage to the Socavón Sanctuary

    • When: Saturday directly preceding Lent
    • Place: Potosí Esq. Aroma
    • Time: 6:30am

    Today is the main parade which starts at 7am with the great Socavon Virgin Pilgrimage that goes all day and night along the carnival route in Oruro city. Today is when you will see over 50,000 performers in 48 Folkloric Ensembles.

    It is a majestic folkloric parade with the participants wearing the most colorful costumes in a display of culture, heritage and tradition displaying the most incredible choreography and music.

    Carnival Sunday – Corso del Carnaval

    • When: Saturday directly preceding Lent
    • Place: Corner of Potosi Street and Aroma Avenue

    On Carnival Sunday there is a traditional dawn celebration that takes place around the Socavón Sanctuary, with the participation of the Oruro carnival bands. The festivities continue along the same parade route with more dancers and musicians taking part. It is a much smaller parade yet still incredibly colorful with lots of jubilant crowds.

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    Devil’s Monday – Day of the Devil and Moreno

    • When: Monday before Lent – February 20, 2023
    • Place: Socavón Sanctuary for mass & 10 Febrero square for a Diablada dance
    • Time: 1pm – Diablada dance

    Monday is the last day of carnival Oruro and is a day to bid farewell to the Socavon Virgin. It starts with a mass and special blessing at the Socavon Virgin Sanctuary. There are numerous choreographed performances put on by different dance groups all around the city.

    The traditional Diablada storytelling will take place around 1pm. This famous Diablada story represents the fight between good and evil and the seven capital sins. The performance ends in a particular Diablada dance towards the Socavon Sanctuary.

    Farewell of the Carnival of Oruro

    • When: Shrove Tuesday February 21, 2023
    • Place: Various neighborhoods of Oruro

    Shrove Tuesday is all about family and family reunions. There is also a traditional ‘challa’, a ceremony giving thanks to Pachamama.

    Children’s Corso

    • When: Sunday straight after Shrove Tuesday – February 26, 2023
    • Place: Various neighborhoods of Oruro

    The following Sunday is a much smaller procession for the kids. They will dress up in traditional folkloric costumes and perform traditional dances. This is a cute parade and it gets the next generation involved in carnival.

    Dia del Agua

    • When: Monday after Shrove Tuesday – February 27, 2023
    • Place: Oruro City

    A children’s parade is held on the Monday that follows Ash Wednesday.

    Oruro Carnival Characters

    Oruro Carnival is a mix of Catholic and Pagan customs, so the Catholic Virgin and Devil icons mix with the Native Pagan religion of Pachamama and El Tio. Pachamama is Mother Earth and the Pagans saw her as a giving goddess.

    El Tio is the most recognised Oruro Carnival Character. He is a malevolent character that is said to be the Uncle of the Mountains. During carnival, El Tio transforms into the Devil. Indigenous Miners believed that El Tio owns the mines and oversees their safety.

    So, in order to not anger him for stealing his precious metals, during the carnival the miners dance for him. They also leave him many gifts of food, alcohol, cocoa and cigarettes. Other Carnival Characters that you will see during carnival include:

    • The Incas
    • Spanish Conquistadors
    • Archangel San Miguel
    • Tobas Inca Warriors
    • Llama Herders
    • Caporales – which were slave owners
    • Morenos – African who were enslaved by the Spanish

    Oruro Carnival Water Fights

    Water fights are a common occurrence at South American carnivals and Oruro is no different. They are all in good fun but you should know that it will be impossible to stay dry as you will most likely be hit with a water balloon or some foam spray. You may even have an entire bucket dropped over your head.

    We recommend wearing glasses because the foam really stings your eyes. Also, there are plastic ponchos readily available to wear for those who don’t want to get wet.

    Oruro Carnival Tickets

    We highly recommend purchasing a ticket to watch carnival in one of the grandstands they set up along the route. Sitting in a grandstand will give you amazing views over the parade. Aim to get a seat close to Plaza 10 de Febrero, which is one of the focal points of the parade.

    That being said, purchasing a ticket can be extremely expensive! You can expect to pay upwards of $300USD for a seat close to the central plaza, something the average Bolivian cannot afford. There are seats that can be purchased for as little as $10, but of course you get what you pay for.

    You can forego a seat on the grandstand and instead watch the parade on foot. Most sections of the carnival route are sectioned off from spectators. However, there are parts of Calle Bolivar that are open to revelers who want to walk up and down.

    Oruro Carnival Tips & Things to Know!

    • Book your accommodation early: Oruro is a small city and does not really have the resources to cater for the thousands that make their way here for carnival. The hotels book out months in advance! Many locals will rent out their house for carnival.
    • Theft is rampant: large crowds and naïve tourists who usually have valuables like iPhone are easy targets. Leave your valuables back in your hotel room.
    • Bolivian time: You are in Bolivia and things run on Bolivian time here. That just means don’t expect anything to stick to a schedule. Instead, you just need to go with the flow.
    • High altitude: Oruro is 3700 meters above sea level which means that travelers can get altitude sickness. We recommend taking some time to adjust to the altitude and avoiding alcohol for the first night.
    • Learn the history: We highly recommend learning a bit of the history of carnival and about the different dances, history, costumes and characters. This will give you a much better appreciation of carnivals.
    • Chicha: This is the name for the typical carnival drink. Be warned that you should proceed with caution when drinking too many of these as they have a reputation for causing terrible hangovers!
    • You don’t have to stay overnight: Plenty of tourists and locals will just make their way to Oruro on a day trip from La Paz. This is not the ideal option because it is an 8hr return journey, but it’s a good option for those that can’t find accommodation.
    • There is a water fight: The celebrations involved lots of water bombs and foam spray. As a tourist ‘gringo’ you are a good target to be hit. It is all in good fun but the foam can sting your eyes.
    • Crowds get rowdy: huge crowds attend carnival in Oruro, and like any major event with big crowds and drinking you have to be aware.
    • Temperature: It can be cold in Oruro, particular at night. So, we recommend bringing warm clothing!
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    What to Eat during the Oruro Carnival?

    One of the best things about carnival is the food! Remember carnival was historically about eating rich food before the onset of Lent. Carnival has many street food vendors all over allowing you to enjoy anything you want from local Andean food, to cakes, drinks, candy, meat dishes, potatoes and more.

    Beer salesmen walk around with coolers full of the Carnival Beer Pacena! There are plenty of booths with tables set up for you to take a break from the festivities and enjoy some food.

    One of the typical carnival foods is a dish called Charquekan which is dried llama meat, accompanied by eggs, corn, cheese, potatoes, and a spicy sauce. Another traditional dish is the Apicon Pastel which is a thick sweet drink made with corn flour, water and cinnamon. You would usually drink it with fried cheesy flour cakes. Puchero de Carnaval is another traditional dish you could try which is a crispy meat and cabbage dish, with a spicy sauce.

    How Long Should I attend Oruro Carnival for?

     Oruro Carnival is a big party and it goes for a week and if you want to stay for the entire time, you won’t be disappointed. Many people have trouble finding accommodation so they will just come up for the main parade and stay for the day.

    Should I go to Oruro for Carnival?

    Yes, absolutely! There is a reason that hundreds of thousands travel from all around the world every year to attend this carnival. There is a reason it was recognized by UNESCO! You will not be disappointed if you attend carnival in Oruro. If you enjoy being immersed in rich culture, traditions and history, then this is a celebration for you. Or if you love to drink, party and have a great time, this is also the celebration for you. Carnival in Oruro is an all-ages event, everybody takes part from the kids to the grandparents, so there is something for everyone to enjoy.

    Oruro Carnival Costumes & Masks

    The costumes at Oruro Carnival are amazing! It takes months and months of preparation to create these masterpieces and the amount of detail that goes into these outfits is unbelievable. In fact, all these colorful and shiny costumes are completely handmade by thousands of artisans.

    The costumes are crafted by bordaderos, who usually learn the trade from their families, with these artistic skills being handed from generation to generation. The costumes have become so elaborate, detailed and bulky that one costume can take a full month to create. The masks are made by carreteros, who are welding specialists that run small shops in Oruro.

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    Weather During Oruro Carnival

    What is the weather like during Oruro Carnival? Oruro City has a pleasant mild climate. However, its high altitude can mean that there can be a remarkable difference in the temperature between day and night. The lowest average temperature in Oruro during February is 2.0°C (35.6°F). The average high temperature is around (59°F). Oruro also tends to receive a lot of rain during February. So, it’s best to pack warm clothes and a waterproof rain jacket.

    Things to do in Oruro

    Bolivia National Park

    Oruro is a stunning city with lots of natural beauty and historical monuments. There is also delicious local cuisine. The city has an incredible marketplace which is great to do some shopping. It is also a very modern city with nice bars, restaurants and cinemas. In Altiplano which is the area surrounding Oruro there are numerous archaeological sites.

    Here are the Top Tourist attractions in Oruro:

    • Sajama National Park: Located Northwest of Oruro, Bolivia, it features the majestic snow-covered Sajama Mountain, thermal water, the altoandinas lagoons, and andinism routes.
    • Sanctuary of Socavon: This religious temple is home to many of the carnival celebrations and is a sacred place of devotion for the locals of Oruro.
    • Lighthouse of Conchupata: Enjoy panoramic views over the city of Oruro from this national monument. It was where the current Bolivian national emblem was hoisted for the first time 1851.
    • San Miguel de la Rancheria Church: This is one of the oldest churches in the city of Oruro and houses many sacred paintings and sculptors that are extremely valuable.
    • La Portada del Beaterio: Sculpted in stone, this is a pilgrimage center devoted to its founder, Sister Nazaria March. It has a small museum and convent with its founder’s belongings.
    • Yarvicoya Church: This is a remarkable example of the mestizo Baroque art. Situated a few kilometers outside Oruro. This church has been declared a national monument.
    • San Jose mine: Silver, tin and lead were extracted from these tunnels and were very important for the Bolivian economy. Located only 5km from downtown Oruro, it has been exploited for over two hundred years.
    • Capachos and Obrajes: The waters and spas here are a big hit with tourists who come for their heat and medicinal properties.

    Here are some of fun tours in Bolivia:

    How to get to Oruro?

    oruro carnival

    • By Plane: You can fly directly to Oruro with domestic flights to Oruro’s Aeropuerto Juan Mendoza which is located 5km east of the city centre. Boliviana de Aviacion flies daily to Cochambamba a 30 minute flight and then continues on to Santa Cruz 2.5 hours aww. Most international flights go to La Paz which has a major international airport.
    • By Land: There are several bus companies that connect Oruro with different Bolivian cities. If your flight lands in lap Paz you can get to Oruro which would take around 4 hours by bus.
      • La Paz to Oruro, 229 Km, 3 – 4 hrs
      • Cochabamba to Oruro, 210 Km, 4 – 5 hrs
      • Potosi to Oruro, 310 Km, 5 – 6 hrs
      • Santa Cruz to Oruro, 683 Km, 18 – 20 hrs
      • Uyuni to Oruro, 314 Km, 7 hrs
    • By Train: One of the most comfortable ways to travel to or from Oruro City is by train!. There are two different trains that go from Oruro towards Uyuni, Atocha, Villazon and Tupiza. The most comfortable train is the Expreso del Sur which departs at 3:30pm on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Wara Wara is the other option and this departs on Sundays and Wednesdays.

    How to Get Around in Oruro?

    oruro carnival

    The best way to get around carnival is to walk. There is so much going on and so many people out and about that it is actually just easier to walk around. Of course, if your accommodation is not too close to the parades there is local transport and plenty of taxis.

    Oruro Carnival Basic Information

    • Emergency: 911
    • Electricity: 220V
    • Money Exchange: Bolivian Boliviano
    • ATMs: Visa, Maestro and Mastercard. Cash is always needed though.
    • Internet: There are internet cafes everywhere, some hotels will offer WIFI
    • Bus Terminal 5279535
    • Train station 5274605
    • Oruro Hospital 5240920
    • Red cross 5275948
    • Police 110
    • Fire fighters 119
    • General Hospital 5277408
    • SAR BOLIVIA 132

    Carnivaland recommends tours, events and accommodation based on our extensive experience and knowledge of them. We may earn affiliate commission from affiliate links in this article. Read more about our policy.

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