Once a year, many countries across Latin America participate in carnival, a tradition dating back centuries with a religious Catholic background. Although each festival is unique in its own way, they do have some aspects in common, like the many colors used for costumes, the contagious music and the joyous laughter. We know it can be hard to choose just one destination to engage in the carnival party, so to help you, we made a list of the best ones.
For many of us, one of the first things that comes to mind whenever we think of Brazil is their carnival. After all, it is “the biggest popular party in the world”, as they say. Celebrated in many small and big cities across the country, the Brazilian Carnival is certainly a top choice when deciding your next big getaway.
Lots of samba, creative choreography, colorful and extravagant costumes, plus months and months of practice combine to make the perfect party. In Rio de Janeiro, samba schools parade down the Sambadrome runway, a structure designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer. There, cariocas (Rio locals) and tourists from all around the world gather to watch the story being told through dance and music by each school.
Carnival in São Paulo isn’t short of excitement either. The city also celebrates in a big way, with its own parade in a Niemeyer-designed Sambadrome, as well as block parties with different themes all around. For almost a whole week, businesses, schools, and even the government stop their activities to take part in carnival festivities.
In the end, a samba school from each city takes home the prize and the champion title for the year, which makes way for more celebration. So, even though carnival usually goes on during a couple of days in the month of February, Brazilians start the festivities weeks before and continue on after. That’s why they say “the year only starts after carnival”.
In this Caribbean island, carnival represents one of the oldest and most popular traditions that is still practiced to this day. Every Sunday in February, the streets of Santo Domingo (the capital), Santiago, Puerto Plata and many other cities fill up with hundreds of people.They are eager to dance and enjoy the party along with the many traditional characters.
Undoubtedly, the most famous parade in the country happens in the city of La Vega, where different groups are responsible for taking the carnival to the people. Wearing colorful, elaborate masks that simulate the devil, and suits with small mirrors and bells attached, the Diablos Cojuelos embody the essence of the Dominican Carnival.
Check out the Diablos Cojuelos in action in this video by the Broncos Veganos group: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksCQYTnP59M
Aside from all the carnival joy, the Dominican Republic also celebrates its national independence on February 27th, which makes the last weekend of the month an even more special event. On that day, the president and the military join the festivities to honor the efforts of their founding fathers more than 100 years ago.
If what you’re looking for is non-stop celebration, the Uruguay Carnival is right for you. For 40 days, Montevideo hosts the longest-running carnival in the world, starting in January or early February and ending in March. The inaugural parade occurs at the 18 de Julio Avenue, which lights up with an array of colors from allegorical floats, costumes and the spectators.
Two main groups with different musical styles stand out: murga and candombe, the first representing the Spanish background of the country and the other the African. Candombe is also featured at the Llamadas parade a week later, when the black community of Uruguay celebrates its roots.
Brazil has also earned a spot in Montevideo’s carnival. Samba schools now compete the same way they do in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo, while a group of judges (some of them Brazilians) decides the year’s champion.
As you can see, many cultures and styles come together for one big festival in the country’s capital that you don’t want to miss. And if you want to learn more about the its history while you’re there, go ahead and visit the Carnival Museum.
Considered the second biggest in South America after Rio’s, El Carnaval de Barranquilla is a mix of history, bright colors, music and dance. For four days in February, the Colombian culture is celebrated through folkloric presentations that feature popular characters like María Moñitos and Rey Momo, the most traditional one, who safeguards the festivities.
The carnival starts off with a parade called Batalla de las Flores, where elaborate floats, dance and music groups, as well as other characters interact with spectators. More than one million of them are expected to take to the streets of Barranquilla each year. They join the party before Ash Wednesday comes along, when carnival ends.
Photo: Carnaval de Barranquilla
Cities like Mazatlán, Oaxaca and Mérida join in on the carnival fun and participate in a festival where people from all backgrounds come together to celebrate. Parades full of popular music and dances, delicious food, and traditional activities invade the streets.
It all starts with Quema del Mal Humor (Burning of the Ill Humor), where a prop of someone with a bad reputation in the community is set on fire, symbolizing turning worry and unhappiness to ashes. At the Veracruz Carnival in 2017, for example, Donald Trump’s border wall was burned.
After days of partying with fantasy floats, concerts, competitions, and of course lots of dancing, the carnival period comes to an end with the burial of Juan Carnaval. In Mexico, kids and adults alike enjoy this time of year, since it’s a family-friendly celebration.
Traveling to enjoy carnival? Talk with one of our experts and let us show you other fun activities you can do with our tours in Latin America!