Anyone who has experienced El Carnaval de Barranquilla for themselves will tell you, no Carnival celebration on earth can compare with this one. As our Carnival’s own motto puts it, “¡Quién lo vive, es quién lo goza!” or Who lives it enjoys it!
Every year, the entire city of Barranquilla in the northern part of Colombia, gets together to put on one of the most fabulous folkloric shows on earth.
The festivities officially start on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, but preparations begin long before, with all the locals working hard to design their own traditional costumes, build colorful parade floats, and prepare for music and dance performances.
When you travel to El Carnaval de Barranquilla, you feel engulfed in the party atmosphere from the moment you step off the plane. The whole city pretty much shuts down for Carnaval so you can enjoy your vacation with a whole city of over 1 million people who are also enjoying a well-deserved break!
Barranquilla Carnival History
In its official form, Barnaquilla’s Carnival dates back to the late 1800s, with the first President of the Carnival appointed in 1899 and the first “Batalla de las Flores” or Flower Battle parade taking place in 1903.
Unofficially, the roots of El Carnaval de Baranquilla stretch back even further into the past, to the time when Spanish conquistadors and colonists arrived in Colombia.
Here their European culture melded with colorful traditions from indigenous people and African slaves, creating a unique fusion that we now celebrate with costumes, music, and dance.
One of the signature dances of the Carnaval, La Cumbia, showcases this fusion of cultures especially well, telling the story of a couple courting to the music of a traditional drum and flute.
With so much richness and diversity in the Barranquilla Carnival history, it’s no surprise that this celebration became a UNESCO “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2003.
The carnival reunites cultural samples of about 50 small towns around Barranquilla and the Magdalena river which doesn’t run as a company but as a community affair.
The carnival grew spontaneously adding as the time passed acting, a space for designers to show their creativity, dances and comedy.
The last Tuesday of the carnival is the Pagan Party, and that day we celebrate by making faces or “muecas” and mourning the death of Joselito Carnaval.
Joselito was a horse carriage driver that pretended to have died on a Tuesday and his friends took him around town as a joke. Then three years later he really died on a Tuesday, and his drunk friends took him around town like they had done three years before. At the time this was a scandal, and later on this joke became the closure of the Barranquilla Carnaval.
Main Events of El Carnaval de Barranquilla
Before Carnival begins, we must have the Lectura del Bando, or the reading of a proclamation declaring that everyone MUST dance and have fun during the coming days. Then, we’re ready to experience the main events of Carnival:
La Batalla de Las Flores: Originally organized by a General to symbolize Colombia’s desire for peace and unity, this parade takes place on Saturday and consists of nearly 6 action-packed hours of floats, dancers, and costumed revelers.
Be on the lookout for traditional characters like the Carnival Queen, Rey Momo, María Monitas, and Hombre Caimán, as well as many people dressed as marimondas. The marimondas costume features a hood and a big nose, and locals take priding wearing it as the only Carnival costume to have originated in Colombia.
The Grand Parade: Held on Sunday, this parade doesn’t have floats, but instead has troop after troop of folk dancers wearing masks and disguises. The different dance groups compete against one another during the parade for the honor of participating in the Batalla de las Flores or Flowers’ Battle next year.
The Funeral of Joselito Carnaval: On the last day of Carnaval, we mourn the “death” of Joselito Carnaval, a traditional character who literally parties until he drops. When we say goodbye to Joselito, we also say goodbye to the joy of Carnaval and its earthly pleasures in preparation for the abstinences of Lent.
If You Visit for Carnival in Barranquilla
There’s still time to plan to travel to el Carnaval de Barranquilla! Just a few short hours by plane from Miami and you can be here.
When traveling to Barranquilla plan on bringing airy and cotton made clothes because the weather is hot and sticky, about 85 F or 32C.
But you do need to start planning soon—with thousands of visitors coming to the city tickets and accommodations will get harder to come by as the Carnival season approaches.