After living in Barranquilla for 2.5 years and having celebrated three Carnival seasons here, I can honestly tell you it is the biggest, most popular event that happens here. It is not only the second largest Carnival celebration in the world after that in Rio de Janeiro, but also probably the biggest public and street celebration in Colombia (don’t quote me on that, though) and definitely the most exciting event that happens in Barranquilla. So, if you are lucky enough to be in Barranquilla during Carnival season, what should you do?
First of all, you should make sure you go to pre-Carnival events to get yourself pumped up for the official Carnival celebrations. While Carnival is celebrated officially for only four days, the pre-Carnival season officially begins in mid-January, and even before then you will see the city come alive with Carnival themed decorations, music, and more.
Some of the most popular pre-Carnival events include some smaller parades such as la Guacherna and el Garabato, two parades that happen in the three weeks leading up to Carnival. These parades happen in smaller areas of the city, and they give you a glimpse of a few traditional dances and snippets of traditional Carnival music.
Other popular events include the crowning of the Carnival Queen, children’s Carnival parades, dance presentations, and Carnival Queen appearances around the city.
During pre-Carnival season you will also hear about Ruedas de Cumbia (Cumbia wheels) happening in popular neighborhoods, especially Barrio Abajo. Cumbia wheels are exactly that—groups of people who form circles while they dance the cumbia, an extremely traditional Colombian dance.
The purpose of any pre-Carnival event is to get you hyped up for the actual Carnival celebration. So, enjoy as many as you can take! Here, you can see a good chunk of the pre-Carnival events, but things like the cumbia wheel celebrations will not be on there. You will have to talk to locals to find out about those: http://www.carnavaldebarranquilla.org/carnaval-2014/programacion-del-carnaval-de-barranquilla-2014.html
Happening at the same time as pre-Carnival events is something known as the Carnival of the Arts, which celebrates the artistic diversity and life of the city that also plays a part in the grand Carnival celebration. You can find the official schedule of the Carnival of the Arts here: http://www.fundacionlacueva.org/index_main.php
Once you’ve had your fill of pre-Carnival events, you should make sure you get tickets to official Carnival events, whether it to be the parades, concerts, or other events around the city.
The most traditional and best-known Carnival events are the official Carnival parades. There are four of them, one happening each day of Carnival, and each one offering you the chance to see different dances, hear different music, and get to know different aspects of coastal Colombian culture. You can find information at the official Carnival parades here: http://www.carnavaldebarranquilla.org/carnaval-2014/programacion-del-carnaval-de-barranquilla-2014.html. Know that you will need tickets to go to the parades, but that if you do not purchase them in advance, you will still likely be able to buy some tickets on the street close to where the parades run.
Outside of the parades, you will also find that there are a hefty number of concerts happening all over the city during the official four days of Carnival. You can find out about some on the internet, but others you will have to find out about via posters plastered all over the city. Two particularly popular concerts are that of the Festival de la Cerveza (the Beer Festival) that happens on the Saturday of Carnival, and the official Carnival concert that generally happens on Saturday evening or Sunday evening of Carnival. Both of these events are wildly popular, so make sure you get your tickets early.
Whatever you decide to do, enjoy the Carnival spirit and have fun!
Paige M. Poole
About the author
“Paige M. Poole is an Alabamian and traveler at heart who has settled, for now, in Barranquilla, Colombia, and earns her living as an English professor at the Instituto de Idiomas (Language Institute) at la Universidad del Norte (University of the North). When not teaching English, she enjoys blogging, traveling, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with her partner and two cats, Milo and Sophie. You can see more of Paige’s traveling experiences in her personal blog www.trotamunda.wordpress.com
- Beyond Rio: Party and experience multi-cultural Colombian carnivals and festivals (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Three Reasons You Should Visit Barranquilla (www.uncovercolombia.com)
- Main Cities on the Colombian Caribbean Coast Part I (www.uncovercolombia.com)