Dance and music on the Caribbean coast, it is Carnival
A report from the Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia
I have been living in Colombia for almost 3 years and have not been able to attend the famous Carnival in Barranquilla. Colleagues who were on holidays in Colombia, had already raved about it. This year it was finally time, after I had exchanged with the organizers and the tourism authority by telephone. One downside though was that my AIRBNB host canceled my reservation 3 weeks prior to arrival. A hotel booking cost me then unfortunately three times.
The Carnival in Barranquilla https://www.carnavaldebarranquilla.org adorns itself with the statement that it is the largest carnival in the world after Rio. Its origin dates back to the 19th century. However, little is known about the exact genesis. It is certainly one of the biggest and most important events in Colombia. Today, the festival begins with the Pre-Carnival, which includes, among other things, the coronation of the Queen and starts mid-January. For those planning their Colombia holidays now, the pre-carnival takes a long time, so be sure to check the dates.
– flag raising
– Reading of the decree
– Dance Festival and Coronation of Momo (Queen’s counterpart)
– Feast of carnival groups
– Dance Festival of Dances and Cumbia
– Guacherna Estercita Forero
– Coronation of the Children’s Queen and the Children’s King
– Children’s Carnival Parade
– Coronation of the Queen
– Street dance and night of the orchestra
– Battle of Flowers, King Momo’s procession, Comedy Meet, Street Dance and Night of the Orchestra
– Grand Parade of Traditions and Folklore, Comedy Meet, Litany Meetings, Election and Coronation of the People’s Queen, Street Dance
– Big parade of extras, festival of orchestras, Comedy Meet
– Joselito goes with the ashes, meeting the litany
I already arrived on Thursday to see all the activities up close. Arrived in Barranquilla, I visited the house of the carnival and got my welcome pack and all the tickets. The house serves as the center of the carnival and houses its administration, exhibitions and an interactive space. The weather was Caribbean warm (33 degrees Celsius) with a blue sky. However, with a good breeze, it did not feel overly hot. After that we continued to the hotel, where I resented my check-in. I do not want to go into detail, maybe someone will find my comment in Tripadvisor 😉
In the afternoon I had a meeting with the Tourism Director, which was very enlightening. Jaime and Efrain told me a lot about Barranquilla, its history and development. Many events take place during the year and it is diligently built on all sorts of infrastructure. It was also stressed that Barranquilla is extremely tolerant and a kind of paradise for gays. On the Carnival itself there was also a tribune for gays. Dear same-sex couples who read my blog, destinations like Barranquilla, Cali, Bogota and others welcome you, your holidays in Colombia you can always book with me 😉
In the evening, I was picked up to attend the coronation of the Carnival Queen. The event took place on a military site and the stage was quite big. The coronation was actually a dance show of over 90 minutes, with a variety of costumes, dances, themes and fireworks. I thought it was great! Also for the physical well being one did not have to be worried. Food and drinks were served to the seat, with the Colombians drinking quite a bit.
After breakfast, my driver was ready for the city tour. I met Christian, who was managing director of a company in Germany and he is currently on holidays in Colombia. I then gave him tips on how to travel Colombia. Barranquilla is not a historic city and does not offer much to see. Interesting was the 5 km long river walk way, which arises on the banks of the Rio Magdalena. There are also nature trails for bird watching outside the city. In the evening we went to a street party in the south of the city. It is free and a big stage is the center. Music is played everywhere on the street and, of course, a lot of food and drinks are offered. Accordingly, people celebrate very extravagant. In addition, visitors are sprayed with foam and misted with Maizena, so that you have a white face afterwards. With a bit of luck you will not be splashed with water or beer. This ritual is part of the tradition and is not as bad as it sounds. In Barranquilla, during the carnival, parties take place throughout the city. I was also late in bed.
Saturday was the first day of the carnival (see above). Our driver picked us up already at 9 o’clock in the morning and we were shortly before 10 o’clock on the tribune number 12. Also there is food and drink served. Andrea, my contact person at the carnival company, explained to me that the seat numbers were not respected and therefore we had to be there early. Although we were almost the first, the tribune then filled up pretty quickly. At 12 o’clock the parade started and the police showed motorcycle acrobatics. Then came costumed groups, decorated cars and loud music. The whole procession seemed a bit chaotic and there was a lot of drinking inside and outside. The party is very colorful and the mood is Colombian extraterrestrial! To my astonishment, my neighbors were two lawyers from Russia. They told me in English that holidays in Colombia were great and that they were still traveling to Medellin.
At 6 pm, the parade was not over yet, we headed towards the end of the parade and visited a corner, where seemingly all tireless carnival participants danced. The music boomed and the mood was extremely exuberant. Of course, water, foam and Maizena were also not missing. The mood was so good, I almost danced my feet sore. The other foreign visitors were carried away and were excited. It was interesting that Andrea organized enough elves, so that none of the tourists got lost. Anyway, we were accompanied at every turn. Many of the foreigners had laid their Colombia holidays extra for the occasion in February.
Also this evening it was late again, because the mood was so good that I did not want to go home. But the carnival had just begun.
Luckily we were picked up later today. At about 11 o’clock we were back on our usual grandstand and noticeably fewer people were present. Sunday should be the quietest day. Andrea told me that we were on one of the most expensive tribunes and on Saturday only the wealthy residents come here. The tickets for the following days would be mostly given away, as the families used the free time to travel to Cartagena, Santa Marta or Miami.
The parade was very ordered and it was hardly drunk alcohol. Today, the carnival groups were evaluated, so the Colombians were extremely restrained and disciplined on the way.
We remained until about 4 pm. Then we set off to another Miss election, the Queen of the People had to be elected. As always, we came in the VIP style over the back entrance to the festival area and had seats at the front. About 30 candidates, one from each district of Barranquilla, vied for the crown. It was danced again and the costumes were definitely exchanged 10 times. It was the first time I watched a Colombian who does not seem to have the rhythm in her blood. A premiere in 3 years. In any case, the choreography was well recorded and after a few special pieces were chosen, a semi-final and then a final, the Queen of Carnivals came to visit and the Children’s Carnival Queen finally had her appearance, then the show was over with the coronation. We were also at the end, it was only 10 o’clock in the evening but the last days had taken their toll. I just wanted to go to bed, where I arrived at midnight.
Today, the driver arrived at 1pm and I took the opportunity to work and go to the gym. Back on the same tribune in the same places, there was much more going on today. The visitors were wilder and very drinkable. The parade was much more exciting again. The costumes were more exotic and feather dresses were in the foreground. So there was a lot of skin to see today. The ushers had trouble clearing the stairs and passages and finally gave up. The pack was simply too exuberant after a while. Like every day, I stood a bit off and took pictures.
After 5 pm we set off for the next event. The fight of the orchestra was on the program. When we arrived, music was already playing and the event was already well attended. In our zone, we had seats at the front, but it was still pretty empty. We should sit in the area of the officials, VIP’s (we also belonged to VIP’s) and the Carnival Queen and Entourage. Then people including bodyguards came and one seemed to be more important than the other.
When Valeria, the Queen of the Carnival, finally arrived, everyone was totally nervous. Everyone wanted to take a selfie with the girl. It kind of reminded me of the hysteria of the 90s, when bands like Take That and so on made the world unsafe.
The main attraction, however, was the competition of bands on stage. Every 15 minutes they showed their best shows and songs. Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, Vallenato and other music styles were played. Sometimes there were some 20 people on stage, orchestra, singers and dancers and it was one of the best and most varied shows I have ever seen. It tore me along and I spent most of my time dancing, like the rest of the audience.
The competition was supposed to last the whole night, but I had to stretch my weapons at 11pm. The last few days had taken their toll and my need for rest was immense.
On Tuesday there was the farewell of Joselito, a small parade in the afternoon to end the carnival. On Wednesday, then the return flight to my home, to Bogota.
The Carnival of Barranquilla is a great celebration. But to last a whole week, you should arrive with full batteries. The organization is very good and the variety of occasions leaves nothing to be desired. Holidays in Colombia can be done all year round. Combining these with a visit to the Carnival of Barranquilla is certainly a smart option.
Pelecanus. Travel Colombia.
February de 2018
Blog Frank Spitzer