When you think of carnival in South America the usual first thought is of the famous Rio carnival but it's certainly not the only option. The second biggest extravaganza is found in the Colombian coastal city of Barranquilla, which is also the birthplace of the hip gyrating songstress, Shakira.
Where else can one get down and have a good time during carnival which falls on the few days leading up to Ash Wednesday every year?
Carnaval de Gualeguaychú
One of the most well known in Argentina is found in Gualeguaychu in the province of Entre Rios, a few hours drive from Buenos Aires. Rio may have the Sambódromo but Gualeguaychú has the Corsódromo, which holds up to 40,000 people. This carnival does not just last for 4 days – it’s Argentina’s largest and longest summer celebration, it starts on the first weekend in January and carries on right through to the first of March.
Quebrada de Humahuaca
Perhaps one of Argentina’s most colourful carnivals can be found in the Jujuy province in the very north of the country. Here Catholic traditions are mixed with indigenous celebrations and result in somewhat of a unique event.
Carnival in Uruguay is heavily influenced by its African slave heritage. From 1750 many slaves arrived there from different parts of Africa and longed for their music, culture and land. Musical street gatherings helped them to overcome this loneliness and longing. They would get together in Uruguay’s poorest neighbourhoods and remember their life and drums back home and hence candombe (drum based rhythm and dance) was born and evolved into what we now call carnival. The main place to celebrate is Montevideo where carnival is lasts for 40 days, one of the longest in the world!
Vina del Mar is the place to go in Chile for carnival. About 2 hours west of Santiago it annually turns itself into something of a mecca for music lovers. Taking place at the end of February each year it attracts huge crowds and is broadcast around Chile.
Here you will find indigenous culture and traditions mixed with those brought over by the Spanish conquistadors. Getting wet is a big feature that dates back to the 1800s. Parades happen across Peru during carnival and different places add their own elements. Floats, colourful costumes, masks of traditional characters along with dancing is the order of the day. Carnival hotspots in Peru include Cajamarca, Puno and Ayacucho.
Again the throwing of water and spraying of coloured foam are the main ways of revelry. Children (and sometimes adults) roam the streets armed with water pistols and bombs ready to drench anyone who crosses their path!
In Quito you will find many art and culture events taking place during this period and lots of wonderful displays of indigenous dress and music. Also folklore, traditions and characters along with the beat of native music - it is quite a celebration and a spectacle to be seen and enjoyed.
Towns and cities all over Ecuador celebrate carnival with parades, cultural events and parties. Some of the bigger celebrations are found in Ambato, Guaranda and Riobamba. Also heading to the beach is a popular choice among Ecuadorians, the surfing resort of Montanita especially so for the younger generation.
Carnival in Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast is all about salsa music, rumbas and having a lot of fun. In fact there is even a rule to enforce that everyone must party as hard as possible and enjoy themselves to the max, a rule that is happily followed! There is a huge parade with amazing and exotic costumes, spectacular floats and of course loud music and each year it seems to surpass itself in lavishness.
The Battle of the Flowers which happens on the opening day of the carnival is considered by many locals to be their favourite part. It dates back to 1903 after the end of civil conflict so it is celebration of peace and love with a competition featuring a 5 hour parade of floats, dancing and costumes.
Wherever you are in South America during carnival time you will find a way to celebrate. It's a wonderful time to visit as people are even more happier than usual! And afterwards as a way of recovering from all the festivities a stay on one of the continent's finest hacienda or estancia will be in order...
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