10 Best Places to Celebrate Carnival in South America

Here are 10 amazing places to celebrate carnival in South America. From Rio Carnival to the ancient Oruro Carnival.
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    Rio de Janeiro Carnival, Brazil

    rio de janeiro carnival

    What is carnival in Rio?

    Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the carnival of all carnivals. Carnival is synonymous with Rio. It’s a colourful, crazy, debaucherously wild celebration that is full of parties and parades. Rio Carnival is famous for its incredible over the top samba parades at the Sambadrome that feature thousands of performers and 20 meter high floats.

    Five million people hit the streets of Rio during carnival attending the wild street parties that take place all over the city. There are over 500 blocos occurring all over Rio during carnival. Some attract millions, others only a few hundred. Rio also hosts numerous masquerade balls and the most famous is the Magic Ball in the Copacabana Palace Hotel.

    Read more about Rio Carnival here

    Barranquilla Carnival, Colombia

    barranquilla carnival

    What is carnival in Barranquilla?

    Barranquilla Carnival is the biggest carnival in the world that takes place outside of Brazil. Barranquilla Carnival attracts about two million. Barranquilla Carnival takes place in Barranquilla, which is Colombia’s fourth largest city. It has even been recognised by UNESCO as being a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage.

    Barranquilla Carnival dates back centuries with many traditions coming from the native Indians who used to celebrate the end of winter and coming of spring. It is a pre-Lenten celebration that occurs for four days prior to Ash Wednesday. The most popular and oldest parade is the Battle of the Flowers which lasts for six hours, followed by all night parties.

    Read more about Barranquilla Carnival here

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    Carnaval de Oruro or Carnival Oruro, Bolivia

    carnival oruro

    What is carnival in Bolivia?

    Carnival in Oruro is Bolivia’s biggest tourist attraction and has centuries of history. The festival is a combination of Catholic and Pagan Traditions and has even been declared by UNESCO as being a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage of Humanity. It features a procession with around 30,000 dancers, 10,000 musicians and half a million attendees and goes for up to 20 hours.

    It is famous for its unique carnival devil-like character which performs the famous devil dance. There are lots of beautiful handmade costumes, music, dancing and offerings made to mother earth, a mine-shaft virgin and El Tio the uncle who is believed to look after local silver mines.

    Read more about Oruro Carnival here

    Salvador de Bahia Carnival, Brazil

    salvador de bahia carnival

    What is carnival in Salvador?

    Salvador Carnival is Brazil’s second biggest and second most famous carnival. Around 2 million people celebrate carnival in Salvador and it has officially been cited in the Guinness Book of Records as being the world’s biggest street party. For six days the parties go for more than 16 hours a day. To join a blocos you must purchase a ticket.

    There are no samba parades at Salvador’s Carnival. This carnival is all about the Trio Electricos, which are enormous moving stages that either have bands or DJs on top of them, that parade through the streets of Salvador. The Trio Electricos are followed by crowds of people who party, drink and dance the day away. Samba music is also not very predominant during this carnival with the main music being Axe.

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    Read more about Salvador Carnival here

    El Callao Carnival, Venezuela

    el callao carnival

    What is carnival in Venezuela?

    El Callao Carnival is a unique carnival celebration that attracts thousands of tourists from all over Venezuela every year. El Callao has even been recognised by UNESCO as being a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage. El Callao Carnival has lots of parades, parties, excess drinking, calypso music and live music concerts.

    A unique carnival character seen at this carnival is the medio-pintos who paint themselves black and go around asking for donations. People who don’t donate get also painted in charcoal and by the end of the night you can’t tell the difference between a medio pinto and the crowd. The carnival highlights its Afro-Antillean diversity seen in this town.

    Read more about the El Callao Carnival here

    Montevideo Carnival, Uruguay

    montevideo carnival

    What is carnival in Uruguay?

    Uruguay hosts the world’s longest pre-Lenten carnival celebration. Montevideo Carnival runs for 40 days and is filled with parades, song, dance, music, comedy and more. Because  of the hype surrounding Brazil’s carnivals not too many people know about Montevideo Carnival but it is a worthy carnival celebration.

    The two main attractions at Montevideo Carnival are the Llamadas which are very important Uruguayan traditions. A murga is a street performance that is full of comedy. They perform all over during carnival. The llamadas are popular drum parades that feature dancers and drum groups.

    Read more about the Montevideo Carnival here

    Encarnación, Paraguay

    encarnacion carnival

    What is carnival in Paraguay?

    Encarnación Carnival is the largest carnival celebration in Paraguay. It attracts around 250,000 people and is popular amongst younger people who like to stay out all night and party in fancy-dress. It is famous for its Brazilian style music that has a uniquely Paraguayan twist.

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    It has a unique tradition called Lanza nieves which means snow, and everyone sprays snow at each other. Snow is actually just shaving cream cans. So bring some shaving cream and be prepared to have lots of fun!

    Olinda Carnival, Brazil

    olinda carnival

    What is carnival in Olinda?

    Olinda Carnival occurs in the city of Olinda which is known as being a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunningly gorgeous and perfectly preserved colonial architecture. During Carnival the city transforms into one of Brazil’s best and most folkloric carnival celebrations. The streets are full with millions of people who come to participate in an all-day party.

    Unlike Salvador, Olinda Carnival is free and consists of lots of open-air street parties known as blocos. And unlike Rio carnival the main music at this carnival is Frevo. Frevo is an Afro Brazilian style of music. The carnival is the most traditional carnival in Brazil and is famous for a parade with a huge 2 meter tall puppets that parade through the streets and represent local saints and spirits.

    Read more about Olinda Carnival here

    Recife Carnival, Brazil

    recife carnival

    What is carnival in Recife?

    Recife is the sister city to Olinda as they sit only 7km away from each other so the carnivals are often intertwined and people will usually switch back and forth between the two celebrations. Olinda and Recife Carnival is often referred to as the third biggest carnival celebration in Brazil. Similar to Olinda Carnival, Frevo is a massive feature at carnival in Recife.

    Recife actually hosts the Desfile do Galo da Madrugada which translates to the Parade of the Rooster at Dawn. The parade begins on Saturday morning at 6am and is led by a huge rooster statue. The Rooster leads the parade and everyone joins in along the parade route, following the rooster. The Rooster parade ends up having over 2 million people join, making it officially the largest carnival parade in the world!

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    Read more about Recife Carnival here

    Gualeguaychú Carnival, Argentina

    gualeguaychu carnival

    What is carnival in Argentina?

    Gualeguaychú Carnival is the largest and most important Argentinian Carnival. It takes place in Gualeguaychú and features loads of parades and parties. It is famous for its dancers, beautiful costumers and elaborate floats.

    Every Saturday in January and February the city dresses up to put on the most spectacular parades which attracts thousands from all over the area.

    Read more about Gualeguaychú Carnival


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