Carnaval de Barranquilla (Carnival of Barranquilla) in Colombia is the second largest carnival in the world, surpassed only by Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In 2018, Barranquilla’s carnival will be held on February 10 to 13. If you happen to be in Colombia during this time it’s considered by many to be a must-see event.
Barranquilla’s Carnival slogan is “quien lo vive, es quien lo goza“ – “those who live it are those who enjoy it.”
Much of Barranquilla shuts down during the four days of carnival. Enjoy the huge party in Barranquilla but read the insider tips in this article before you go. Note the above photo from Carnival is courtesy of Carnaval de Barranquilla.
Furthermore, if you are interested in seeing how living Barranquilla compares to Medellín, see our recent Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison.
History of Carnival in Barranquilla
Not much is known about exactly how and why carnival in Barranquilla began. The carnival reportedly originates from a combination of pagan ceremonies, catholic beliefs and ethnic diversity. Barranquilla is a location where European, African, and indigenous peoples and cultures converged.
So, carnival is a blending of various cultures and local traditions and permeates many aspects of the carnival, particularly the dances and musical genres. Carnival in Barranquilla was at first considered a holiday for slaves, and it grew over the years to be a major celebration of the region.
The first notable date in the Carnival’s history is 1888, when a figure known as King Momo emerged as a main character of Barranquilla’s Carnival.
King Momo is known as the son of the dream and of the night and presided over parties of the insane, which are celebrated in pueblos and cities. Momo became known as the “protector” of all those who indulged in merrymaking and the scandal of vice and excess.
In 1903, the first Battle of Flowers parade was held. And in 1918, the first Carnival Queen was elected.
In 2002, Carnival in Barranquilla was declared a Colombian National Culture Heritage. And in 2003, Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Carnaval de Barranquilla Schedule of Events
The Carnaval de Barranquilla events actually start before the official carnival start date of February 10. For example, on February 2 at 7 pm on Carrera 44 there is La Guacherna, which is a parade at night and is considered the most important pre-carnival event.
On February 4 at 1 pm on Carrera 53, is Desfile del Carnaval de Los Niños (Children’s carnival parade). And on February 8 at 8pm at the Naval School on Via 40 is the Coronación Reina del Carnaval (Coronation of the Queen of Carnival).
Barranquilla’s carnival is celebrated on the four days before Ash Wednesday. So, for 2018 this falls on Saturday February 10 to Tuesday February 13. The following are the main events:
February 10 – Batalla de Flores (Battle of Flowers) – 1 pm on Via 40. This parade takes place on the opening Saturday of carnival. Battle of Flowers is a six-hour parade headed by the Carnival Queen and consists of elaborate floats, brilliantly decorated costumes, folkloric groups and other dancing groups.
Floats are equipped with loudspeakers with some earsplitting music. You’ll also see some parody acts of many famous celebrities and politicians, typically including President Santos of Colombia and many others.
February 11 – Gran parada de Tradición y Folclore (Great Parade of Tradition and Folklore) – 1 pm on Via 40. This is another lengthy parade commonly called the “Great Parade” that includes traditional folkloric groups, cumbia groups and dancing groups with no floats. Each year well over 300 dancing groups participate in this parade.
February 12 – Gran parada de Comparsas (Great Parade of Groups) – 1 pm on Via 40. This parade is typically a more stylish and international version of the Great Parade. This has also been known as the “Great Fantasy Parade”.
This parade typically features more innovative choreographic mixtures, which range from the most traditional to the international by blending salsa, samba, reggaetón and electronic music with other local ones such as cumbia, mapalé and porro.
February 12 – Festival de Orquestas (Festival of Orchestras) – 3 pm at Plaza de la Paz. This is a concert that features many national and international groups. You’ll hear all types of music ranging from vallenato to salsa to merengue as well as urban music, which includes rap, hip hop and reggaetón. Participants compete for the coveted Congo de Oro award.
February 13 – Joselito se va con las Cenizas (Joselito Leaves With the Ashes) – 4 pm at Carrera 54 with Calle 58. The last day of carnival is marked by the death of “Joselito”. The burial of Joselito is carried out to symbolize the end of carnival. The “Joselito” character is meant to symbolize the joy of carnival. Thousands take to the streets with Joselitos, which are transported on coffins or stretchers.
The complete schedule of Carnaval de Barranquilla can be seen in the following graphic.
The full schedule and additional information can be found on the official Carnaval de Barranquilla website.
Seven Insider Tips for Carnaval de Barranquilla
1. Don’t wait to the last minute to make travel reservations. Occupancy is typically over 95 percent in Barranquilla for hotels, hostels and furnished apartment rentals during this time. Also, prices are much higher than the normal off-peak-season pricing. In addition, hotels and hostels are not the only option.
Locals try to earn some extra money during this time by renting out rooms. But be careful of renting rooms as some homes in Barranquilla don’t have air-conditioning. So, make sure a place has air-conditioning. Usually you can find some places available on Airbnb and Couchsurfing, even when booking relatively late.
2. Get tickets and go to the parades early. With so many people along the parade routes it can be difficult to find a good place to watch unless you have a ticket to one the box bleacher seats with the boxes known as palcos.
If you have tickets to the bleacher seats keep in mind there is no designating seating. The bleacher seats are first come, first serve and reportedly can be overbooked. So, go early to make sure you get a good seat. The back rows tend to fill up first as they are in the shade.
Some of the hotels in Barranquilla will have tickets available for sale even up to the day before carnival starts. Also, there will be sales of tickets on the street but watch out for fakes.
There are some public places along the parade route where you can rent plastic chairs or stand for free. But in my experience, the bleachers are much better places to watch the parades as they can have some shade.
3. Watch out for thieves. With all the tourists in Barranquilla, thieves are active in the city. Keep in mind that you are a tourist in a foreign city, which can make you a target. Take care not to flash your cellphones, cameras, jewelry or money around. And our Medellín safety tips for expats also apply in Barranquilla.
4. Use sunscreen and insect repellant. It’s hot in Barranquilla with a daily high temperature that ranges from 88.3 to 91.8 °F (31.3 to 33.2 °C) and sometimes it’s even hotter. Also, it doesn’t rain very often.
So, use sunscreen, hats and sunglasses and stay hydrated. In addition, Aedes aegypi mosquitos and other types of bugs can be a problem in Barranquilla. So, insect repellant is recommended.
5. Expect to get messy. It’s quite hot in Barranquilla. So, you’ll likely be sweating. And along the parade routes it’s quite possible you will get sprayed with espuma (foam) and doused in flour. And foreigners can be prime targets. So, don’t wear something nice.
6. Get dressed up. They sell brightly colored accessories and costumes throughout Barranquilla. So, you can get dressed up like the other carnival revelers to fit in. And pretty much nothing is off-limits.
7. Don’t go just to the parades. The parades on the main route, Via 40, are great but it can be pricy to get a good seat. There are several other events on the schedule above. In addition, on some other streets like Calle 70 and Calle 84 you can find street parties that start before sunset and go on until the next morning.
For additional suggestions and tips, see Stephanie’s article about 13 things she learned during her first Carnival in Barranquilla in 2018.
The Bottom Line: Carnaval de Barranquilla
I have been to Carnaval de Barranquilla twice in the past and it’s definitely worth going to. Don’t worry about getting messy, it’s part of the fun. And it’s a massive party worth experiencing at least once.
Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is the largest and best-known carnival. Barranquilla’s version isn’t as well known but it adds a nice Caribbean twist.
Here are some additional photos from Carnival de Barranquilla in 2015 taken by Yves Picq showing several of the elaborate and colorful costumes worn by several women.
Top Things to See and Do in Colombia
On the Medellin Guru website, we have been looking at some of the most beautiful places in Colombia in a series of top things to see and do in Colombia. This is due to many readers asking about several of these things to do in Colombia.
We have looked at 16 of the top things to see and do in Colombia:
- Cartagena – Oozing history, romance and sun-drenched beaches, the allure of historical Cartagena is hard to resist.
- Caño Cristales – the most beautiful river in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful river in the world by some people.
- Colombia’s Pacific coast – often overlooked by tourists visiting Colombia but offering untamed nature and undiscovered beauty that is off the beaten path for most foreign tourists.
- Las Lajas Sanctuary – the most beautiful church in Colombia, which has also been called the most beautiful church in the world.
- Parque Tayrona – known for its beautiful beaches and the world’s highest coastal mountain range.
- San Agustín Archaeological Park – the largest group of pre-Columbian monuments and megalithic statues in South America and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- San Jose del Guaviare – a hidden gem and eco-tourism location off the beaten path and offering wildlife watching, jungle trekking and delving into Colombia’s prehistoric past.
- Ciudad Perdida – the site of an ancient city in Colombia that is older than Machu Picchu in Peru.
- Salento and the Cocora Valley – Salento is a picturesque pueblo in Colombia’s coffee region and nearby Cocora Valley is one of the most striking landscapes found in Colombia.
- Popayán – a colonial gem in Colombia best known for its white buildings and churches, it’s a city off the beaten path for foreign tourists but is definitely worth visiting.
- Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados – a popular national park in Colombia located in the heart of the Colombian coffee region.
- Rio Claro Nature Reserve – located about three hours from Medellín, Rio Claro is the perfect place to unplug from hectic daily life and enjoy a picturesque crystal-clear river, canyon and tropical rainforest.
- Desierto de la Tatacoa – the second largest arid zone in Colombia is Tatacoa Desert, which has surreal desert landscapes and some of the best stargazing in Colombia.
- Carnival in Barranquilla – the second largest carnival in the world.
- Medellín’s Christmas lights – Medellín’s annual world-class Christmas lights known as Alumbrados Navideños.
- Medellín’s Feria de Las Flores – Medellín’s world-famous flower festival each year.
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