A report from the Carnival in Barranquilla, Colombia

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My name is Frank and I run a travel agency based in Bogota, Colombia. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please write them in our comments section. Thank you and have a great trip to Colombia!

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 still have not been able to participate in the famous Carnival in Barranquilla. Many of my Colleagues who have gone on holiday in Colombia have been raving about carnival Colombia for years. This year it was finally time, after I a bit of coordination 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. Unfortunately, a hotel booking then cost me three times the price.

The Carnival in Barranquilla prides itself on being the largest carnival in the world after Rio. It dates back to the 19th century; however, little is known about its exact origins. It is certainly one of the biggest and most important events in Colombia. Today, the festival begins in mid-January with Pre-Carnival, which includes the iconic coronation of the Queen. For those planning their trip now, the pre-carnival takes a long time, so be sure to check the dates.

Pre-carnival:

– 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

Carnival:

– 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

Thursday: Arrival in Barranquilla

I arrived on Thursday to get a good look at all of the activities for myself. I visited the House of the Carnival to pick up my welcome pack, which included all of my tickets. s. The house serves as the central point of the carnival and thus houses its administration, exhibitions, and an interactive space. The weather was Caribbean warm (33 degrees Celsius) with a blue sky. With a good breeze, however, it did not feel overly hot. After that, I continued on to my hotel, where I resented my check-in. I do not want to go into details, but maybe someone will find my comment in Tripadvisor 😉

In the afternoon I had a meeting with the Tourism Directors, which was very enlightening. Jaime and Efrain told me a lot about Barranquilla, its history, and recent development. Barranquilla hosts many events throughout the year. They also stressed to me how that Barranquilla is an extremely tolerant and a kind of paradise for the LGBTQ community. During the Carnival festivities, there was even a tribune to the LGBTQ community. Dear same-sex couples who may be reading my blog, destinations like Barranquilla, Cali, Bogota and others are extremely welcoming, and if you need some help planning your trip, you can always book with me 😉

In the evening, I was picked for 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, if you are worried about your wellbeing, aka your hunger, the show provided excellent food and drinks, of which the Colombians drank quite a bit.

Friday: Nature out of the city and party inside it

After breakfast, my driver picked me up for my city tour. I met up with Christian, who is the managing director of a company in Germany and who was currently on holidays of his own. I gave him a few tips on how to travel Colombia.

Barranquilla is not a historic city and thus does not offer much to see. I did enjoy the 5-km river walk, which runs along 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 on the south side of the city. It was free to enter, and the party included a big stage in the center with performers, music throughout the streets and, of course, a lot of food and drinks. Accordingly, people celebrate very extravagantly. In addition, visitors are sprayed with foam and misted with Maizena, so be prepared to 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. Thus, it was a late night full of authentic Colombian partying that lasted for the entire week!

Saturday: Carnival begins!

Saturday was the first official day of Carnival (see above). Our driver picked us up at 9 o’clock in the morning, and we arrived at the tribune number 12 just a little before 10 o’clock. There are lots of food options in the area. Andrea, my contact person at the Carnival company, explained to me that the seat numbers were not respected and therefore we had to arrive early. Although we were almost the first to arrive, the tribune filled up pretty quickly. At 12 o’clock the parade started and the police entered with motorcycle acrobatics. Next came the costumed groups, decorated cars, and loud music. The whole procession seemed a bit chaotic, which was not helped by the drinking inside and outside the stadium. The party is very colorful and the mood is very Colombian! To my astonishment, my neighbors were two lawyers from Russia. They told me, in English, that they were enjoying the party and that their next stop was Medellin.

At 6 pm, the parade was still going strong, but we headed towards the end of the parade, where we found a corner of seemingly tireless carnival participants dancing. The music boomed and the mood was extremely exuberant. Of course, there was no shortage of water, foam, and Maizena. The mood was so incredible, and I danced until my feet were sore.

Andrea did a great job organizing our group, as she always ensured that there enough elves so that none of us got lost. We were accompanied at every turn. Many of the foreigners had extended their holidays to attend Carnival in February.

We had another late evening, and because the mood was so great, I did not want to stop partying. But the carnival had just begun.

Sunday: Beauty contest and music

Luckily, we were picked up later in the day. At about 11 o’clock we were back at our spot from the previous day, with noticeably fewer people around us. Sunday is the e quietest day. Andrea told me that we were on one of the most expensive tribunes and that the wealthier residents only came on Saturday. The tickets for the following days would be mostly given away, as the families used their free time to travel to Cartagena, Santa Marta, or Miami.

The parade was very well organized, and today there was noticeably less drinking. . Since the Carnival groups were being evaluated, Colombians were extremely restrained and disciplined.

We stayed here until about 4 pm. Then we set off to another pagent, as the Queen of the People had to be elected. In typical fashion, we arrived in style through the back entrance and over to our seats in the front. About 30 candidates, one from each district of Barranquilla, vied for the crown. The women danced and had several costume changes. It was the first time I had seen a Colombian who did not seem to have rhythm in her blood. In any case, the choreography was well designed and after a few special pieces were chosen for the semi-finals and the finals, the Queen of Carnival was announced. Next came the Children’s Carnival Queen.

The show ended at around 10pm, and while the party was not over, I opted to go to bed early, as the last couple of days had taken their toll.

Monday: Exotic costumes and the queens of Carnival

Today the driver arrived at 1pm, and I took the opportunity to get some work done and then hit the gym. We returned to the tribune to find that there was a lot going on today. The visitors were wilder than yesterday and certainly drinking more. The parade was also much more exciting, with an excess of exotic costumes and feather dresses. And a lot more skin.

The ushers had trouble clearing the stairs and passage ways, and in the end, they gave up. The pack was simply too wild. Like every day, I stood a bit off and took pictures.

At 5 pm we set off for the next event. The battle of the bands was on the program. When we arrived, music was already playing, and the event was seemed to be well attended. We had seats in the front, but our areas were still rather empty, as we were sitting in the VIP area with the area’s officials and the Carnival Queen and her entourage.

When Valeria, the Queen of the Carnival, finally arrived, everyone was extremely 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 battle of the bands on stage. Every 15 minutes a new band arrived, showing their songs. They played Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue, Vallenato, and other music styles. Sometimes there were some 20 people on stage, including instrumentalists, singers, and dancers. It was certainly one of the best and most varied shows I have ever seen, and I spent most of my time dancing along with the rest of the audience.

The competition was supposed to last the whole night, but I had to turn in at 11pm. I was exhausted.

Tuesday/Wednesday: End of Carnival

On Tuesday there was the farewell of Joselito, which was a small parade in the afternoon to end the Carnival. On Wednesday, I returned to Bogota.

The Carnival of Barranquilla is a great celebration. If you want to last the whole week, make sure you are well rested and arrive with a full bout of energy. The organization was very good and provided a e variety of opportunities that left nothing to be desired. . While traveling Colombia can be done throughout the year, it is certainly worth considering aligning your trip with the Barranquilla Carnival.

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