A Guide To Oruro Carnival Bolivia

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, Boliva.

Saturday, 21st February 2020

Monday, 24th February 2020

Days to start

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What is 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.

Where is Oruro?

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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.

When is 2020 Oruro Carnival?

When is Carnival in Bolivia? Oruro Carnival main celebrations starts the Saturday prior to Ash Wednesday. The 2020 Oruro Carnival dates will begin on Saturday, 21st February and ends on Monday, 24th February.

How do they celebrate carnival in Oruro?

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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, beautiful handcrafts and plenty of partying.

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 which is how 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 away their land away and used the local people for labour. 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 national pride. More traditions became based on ancient Andean culture.

Why is the Oruro carnival celebrated?

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Oruro Carnival commemorates an ancient story about a miracle that occurred in one of the mineshafts and is still honoured 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.

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 honor 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 worshipping 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 Characters

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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

The Main Parade

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Carnival Saturday is the day of the Main Parade which can last for 20 hours! It covers a four-kilometre route. The parade features around 50 groups that are made up of 20,000 dancers, 150 bands and 10,000 musicians who all participate in the parade.

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 the high Andes like silver mining, agricultural cycles, or pagan and catholic religious themes.

The Famous Dance of the Devil – La Diabla

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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 one of the most famous performances of carnival it is a folk dance called a Diablada.

Diabla or Dance of the Devils that has remained unchanged since colonial times and it is one of the things that carnival in Oruro is famous for. La Diablada as they say in Spanish is an incredibly colourful spectacle filled with stunning costumed and masked devils, who preform amazing choregraphed routines, that essentially enact the victory of Archangel St Michael over Lucifer.

The dance is a representation of the Indigenous People converting to Christianity. It begins with the entrance of El Tio and sees several hundred dancing masked devils follow him.

The 2020 Oruro Carnival Program

To help you organise and plan your carnival celebration better here is the 2020 Oruro Carnival dates and events that will occur and events to help you plan your trip better:

Anata Andina 2020

  • Date: Thursday, 20th February 2020
  • Place: Carnival Parade Route
  • Time: 8:30 am.

The Andean population in Bolivia very much perceive reality as everything being one. Therefore, they live in harmony with the earth, cosmos, and other animals. Two days before carnival locals give thanks to Pachamama for providing them with agriculture production.

In a celebration known as the Anata Andina people all over Bolivia come to participate in this tradition, showing of their native customs.

Oruro Festival of Bands 2020

  • Date: Saturday, 15th February 2020
  • Place: Civic Plaza Oruro
  • Time: 9:00am

Oruro Carnival starts with a ceremony dedicated to the Virgin of the mineshaft where marching bands play to greet the Virgin. The bands feature traditional Bolivian folk music.

Day dedicated to El Tio & Challa

  • Date: Friday, 21st February 2020
  • Place: Oruro

Carnival Friday is dedicated to El Tio and the mine sites 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 been sprinkled all over workplaces, shops, businesses etc. A fireworks show is also put on.

Central Pilgrimage

  • Date: Saturday, 22nd February 2020
  • Place: Potosí Esq. Aroma
  • Time: 07:00 am

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

Carnival Sunday – Corso del Carnaval

  • Date: Sunday, 23rd February 2020
  • Place: Corner of Potosi Street and Aroma Avenue
  • Time: 06:30 am

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 colourful with lots of jubilant crowds.

Devil’s Monday – Day of the Devil and Moreno

  • Date: Monday, 24th February 2020
  • Place: Socavón Sanctuary

Monday starts with a mass and special blessing at the Socavon Virgin Sanctuary. On this carnival day sees the traditional ‘farewell to the Socavon Virgin dances’ put on. There are numerous choreographed performances put on by different dance groups all around the city.

Farewell of the Carnival of Oruro 2019

  • Date: Tuesday, 25th February 2020
  • Place: Various neighbourhoods 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

  • Date: Sunday 10th February 2020
  • Place: Various neighbourhoods 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

  • Date: Monday, 2nd March 2020
  • Place: Oruro City

The Monday that follows Ash Wednesday is the Dia del Agua (Day of the Water). On this day there is a massive water fight. Water balloons are thrown at passer-byers and water guns spray other people. It is done to symbolise good things to come!

It’s lots of fun but watch out as gringos are the main target! There are plastic ponchos available for purchase from street vendors.

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Where is the 2020 Carnival of Oruro Parade Route?

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The 2020 Oruro Carnival procession maintains the route of previous years. It will begin 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 then 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.

How to get to Oruro?

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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. To get a quote for a flight click here.

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?

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 to close to the parades there is local transport and plenty of taxis. 

Where to stay in Oruro?

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Oruro is a major Bolivian city and there are plenty of hotels in the city that cater to all levels of comfort and budget. But during carnival Oruro receives thousands of visitors so the prices are higher, and many hotels reach full occupancy, so its best to book early. Also, many families will rent out rooms in their homes during carnival.

Check out some accommodation deals here.

Things to do in Oruro

Oruro is a stunning city with lots of natural beauty and historical monuments. There is also a delicious local cuisine. The city has an incredible market place 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.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here. For organised tours for carnival check out Tour Radar. 

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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