I did it! I survived my first Colombian Carnival in Barranquilla in 2018. And I had a fantastic time.
So, in this article, I’ll share the 13 things I learned during my first Carnival in Barranquilla (Carnaval de Barranquilla) in hopes of offering suggestions and helpful tips for your future trip.
Barranquilla is Colombia’s fourth largest city with a population of about 1.2 million. It’s located on the north side of Colombia along the Caribbean coast.
As you may know, locals from the region of Antioquia (including Medellín) are known as Paisas and those from the coast are referred to as Costeños. Furthermore, people from the city of Barranquilla refer to themselves as Barranquilleros.
Like many people from other cities in Colombia, Barranquilleros are extremely proud of their city. We previously provided a Medellín vs Barranquilla comparison – which is the better city to live in.
Barranquilla is a quick 1 hour and 20-minute plane ride from Medellin. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can take a bus from Medellín to Barranquilla. However, it is not for the faint hearted. The bus ride is approximately 12 – 14 hours.
Location of Barranquilla
I have lived in Medellín for almost a full year and have attended many of the major, must see events and attractions in Colombia.
Attending Carnival in Barranquilla was an absolute highlight of my time here in Colombia. I was impressed by the seamless experience and permanently have this year’s Carnival song (Mami Ya Pa Que) stuck in my head.
Note that in January before Carnival in Barranquilla this year, this website published a Guide to Carnaval de Barranquilla 2018 with several insider tips that were helpful for my trip.
Arrival in Barranquilla
My friends and I decided to take a flight from Medellín’s José María Córdova (MDE) airport into Barranquilla’s Ernesto Cortissoz International airport (BAQ).
The liquor brand Aguardiente is often a sponsor of large events in Colombia and Carnival in Barranquilla was no exception. Upon exiting the luggage area, we were greeted with Cumbia music and a shot of Aguardiente.
This is not normal at Colombian airports, unfortunately. But, it certainly got us in the mood and kicked off Carnival in Barranquilla on a positive note.
We were able to get a taxi quickly as we exited the airport. Negotiate with the person controlling the taxi line and make sure you always agree on a fare up front.
Unlike Medellín, there are no meters in the taxis in Barranquilla. We settled upon 30,000 pesos (approximately $10 USD) to get from the airport to our Airbnb apartment. Our ride was 35 minutes.
Here are the 13 tips I can provide now that I’ve experienced Carnival in Barranquilla first hand:
1. Book Ahead – I’m Glad We Booked Ahead!
It’s no surprise that with major festivals such as Feria De Las Flores or Carnival, things book quickly. Even though I booked my flight 3 months ahead of time, I still paid $220 dollars.
On a normal weekend, flights range around $100 dollars. When a friend of mine attempted to book just a few weeks before Carnival, the prices had increased even further and he had to take a bus.
This rule also holds true for accommodations. Most hotels and Airbnb apartments book quickly. We rented a place for eight people at a rate of $350 US Dollars per night. On a normal weekend, this same apartment rents for $100 a night. I can’t blame them for taking advantage of the celebration, but the sooner you can book, the better.
2. Spanish Sounds Different on the Coast
I thought I had this Spanish thing down until I arrived on the coast. Costeños have a very different accent than the Paisas in Medellín. However, even if your Spanish is abysmal, it is still appreciated if you put in the effort and attempt to speak it.
3. The Locals in Barranquilla Are Welcoming
Much like Medellín, I immediately felt welcomed by the locals. Being foreigners seems to only encourage locals to ask us more questions about where we were from, how long we were in town for and what we thought of their city.
They genuinely wanted to know about us and provide a warm welcome. And I very much appreciated it.
4. Bring, Wear and Buy Festive Attire
Wondering what to wear?
The good news: anything goes in Barranquilla. You’ll find the most colorful, barely there, costumes, paint and everything in between.
Now is the time to break out the true summer attire you haven’t been able to wear in Medellín. As a woman, I find Medellín to be more traditional in terms of dress. But in Barranquilla, feel free to break out the dresses and shorts.
Additional flair is also encouraged. We bought a few floral arrangements for our hair and removable henna tattoos I hadn’t worn since high school.
You’ll also find many groups of friends or families wearing matching t-shirts or costumes. Now is your time to have fun and be silly.
If you’re interested in buying attire once you arrive, we visited a great local market on Carrera 46 – between Calle 74 and 72. Don’t forget – everything is negotiable.
5. Bring Sun Protection
The sun is strong! Don’t take this lightly. Sun protection includes sunscreen – but don’t forget the sunglasses and sun hats (many which are available for sale on the streets).
6. Buy Tickets for the Parade
As I mentioned in tip #1, book ahead as much as possible. Although I followed my own rule when it came to booking flights and accommodations,
I did not follow this rule when it came to parade tickets. However, I found it easy to buy and find tickets last minute.
The parades were one of the highlights of Carnival and it’s worth the price. There are three days of parades. And Saturday is the rowdiest day.
However, when buying tickets off the street, almost everything we found included tickets for all 3 days (Saturday, Sunday and Monday).
On Saturday morning, we walked near the parade route on via 40. We showed up early (around 10:00am) and the parade didn’t start until 1:00pm.
We quickly found many people selling tickets, and although we paid a bit of a premium, we were able to secure 3-day passes for $60 USD.
If you don’t plan to attend the parade Sunday or Monday, it is possible to resell your ticket – but don’t expect more than $5 USD per day for it.
The seller of the tickets offered to walk us into the parade to ensure us they were legit tickets. I highly recommend you ask the same if you buy tickets off the street.
Buying a ticket for the parade is worth it. There’s not much space to see the parade otherwise. With the tickets, you have full access to the bleachers than are 90 percent protected from the sun.
In addition, we received some fun, free swag from companies that sponsored the event. This include items such as a light backpack and an ice-cold towel to keep us cool.
We also had easy access to servers who brought us beer, bottles of rum and food at a moment’s notice. When I’ve attended other festivals or parade in the past, mostly outside of Colombia, I found the food and beverages to be the biggest rip off because consumers are completely price gauged.
It was not the case in Barranquilla. Price lists for the items were clearly marked on the server’s T-shirts. eers were available for about $1 USD (3,000 pesos) and various food items ranged from $5 – $7 USD (15,000 – 20,000 pesos).
7. If You’re a Vegetarian, Come Prepared!
Because Barranquilla is located on the coast, I expected a bit more seafood and fish options.
Unfortunately, both inside and directly outside of the parade did not provide many vegetarian or non-meat options. If you are a vegetarian, come prepared with granola bars, nuts and whatever your heart desires.
If you are looking for a restaurant recommendation that accommodates all cuisine requests, I highly recommend Varadeo.
The colorful décor, fresh fish and pitchers of Mojitos at Varadeo made it a perfect spot for a relaxing Sunday afternoon lunch.
8. Bring Hand Sanitizer and Toilet Paper
Get ready to use a lot of interesting bathrooms. Bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer as a backup plan.
9. Bring Several Changes of Clothing
As the parade continued into the late afternoon, things started to get rowdy and messy. Cans of foam are available for purchase for 6,000 pesos. And the more people drink, the more liberal they become with it.
In addition, many people will purchase baby powder and throw it on you for no reason at all. It’s all in good fun though, and I ended up buying my own can of foam, and returning the favor.
No one is safe.
10. Enjoy the street parties
The party does not end after the parade! As you exit the parade, you’ll pour right into the main street where the festivities really begin.
Personally, hanging out in the street after Saturday’s parade was my favorite part. No need to plan! Just go with the flow and walk around. You’ll run into a party without even trying.
11. Be Prepared to Dance Cumbia
If Cali is known for its salsa, then the coast is known for its cumbia. Cumbia began as a courtship dance practiced among the African population on the Caribbean coasts of Colombia.
It later mixed with European instruments, steps and musical characteristics. By the 1940s, cumbia began spreading from the coast to other parts of Colombia alongside other forms of music.
The speakers are on every corner, in every store and restaurant, will be on maximum volume all day. I found cumbia much easier to learn than salsa, so practice a few moves before you arrive in Barranquilla.
12. Be Aware
I felt very safe and welcomed in Barranquilla, however, I did hear about a few acquaintances who had their cell phones stolen. And I brought a fanny pack and money belt to ensure my items were safe.
I suggest always coming prepared with a backpack or purse that zippers, and I often keep my extra cash and phone in an additional internal pocket.
You’ll likely want to capture the festivities with photos or videos, and I felt safe doing so, but just be aware of where your belongings are at all times.
13. Extend your trip – Visit Nearby Santa Marta or Cartagena
This is one thing I didn’t do, but wish I had. Colombia has more public holidays than any other country in South America (coming in hot at 18 per year).
The Monday and Tuesday after the weekend of Carnival are public holidays in Barranquilla (but not in the rest of Colombia). Utilize these extra days off to enjoy Barranquilla or visit nearby Santa Marta or Cartagena – other popular coastal towns.
Both are reachable by bus or van within 1 – 2 hours. The beaches and scenery within both towns will be a welcomed break after a hectic Carnival in Barranquilla weekend.
The Bottom Line: Carnival in Barranquilla
Overall, Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia has been one of the highlights of my time here in Colombia.
I hope you take these tips into considering as you are planning your own fun Carnival in Barranquilla adventure in 2019, and for the many years to come!
Sign up for the Free Medellin Guru Newsletter – You can see all of the previous Medellin Guru weekly email newsletters and sign up here.