Carnaval de Barranquilla will forever hold a special place in my heart. This is where I was introduced to the world of carnivals/carnavals and I think I’m hooked.
The Carnaval de Barranquilla takes place over 4 days and is one of Colombia’s most important events and (apparently) one of the biggest carnivals in the world.
Be sure to plan ahead of time and go with a large group of fun friends for epic memories and Instagram-worthy pics.
I had an absolute ball of a time and I look forward to experiencing even more carnivals in different countries. Trinidad, I see you!
Seasoned carnival-goers, thanks for stopping by, this one isn’t written with you in mind, this is for first-timers like me who don’t know what to expect but want to be as prepared as possible.
I was unsure if I would get a visa so I tried to minimize my potential disappointment by not making any plans or even doing any research just in case it turned out that I couldn’t go. Are you holding yourself back from fully enjoying something because you’re not sure of the outcome? Enjoy away, I say, make those plans, coordinate those outfits and research where you’re going to have brunch while you’re there. Life is too short to live in fear of the unknown.
How To Get There
Obviously, for Africans, you will need a visa. I was travelling from the US Virgin Islands so we caught a flight to Atlanta and then another 5-hour Delta flight to Bogota where we stayed for a week and took an hour-long Avianca flight to Barranquilla a day before carnival began. From South Africa, there are no direct flights to Colombia so prepare for long flights and layovers.
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Hotel El Prado and some of our friends stayed at the Hotel Casa Colonial which looked super cute when we walked past. El Prado is an old hotel (built in the 1930s) and while the pool/bar area was well maintained, the rooms were rather disappointing. I would have chosen another place had I taken the time to do some research before our trip. We spent four nights at the hotel and on two of those nights, the hotel hosted HUGE pool parties much to the annoyance of my friends. I can sleep through anything so that didn’t bother me much.
Again, because I was unsure whether I would be going on this trip, I deliberately didn’t involve myself in the planning thereof but tickets cost about USD 65 (R1200/ZMW 1100) and can be purchased via Tuboleta. Our tickets were valid for the entire duration of the Carnaval.
We had tickets to all events; La Batalla de Flores (The Battle of Flowers), The Grand Parada (Grand Parade) which takes place on the second day, featuring another array of salsa, cumbia and folk music and finally the Death of Joselito which is essentially two parades – one with weeping performers wearing black or white and mourning the death of Joselito, and others representing the joy of a great party.
If you have tickets to the bleacher seats (locally called Palcos) keep in mind there is no designated seating. The bleacher seats are first-come, first-served and 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 normally in the shade.
The Main Event
The Carnaval is broken down into separate “festivals” per day; Batalla de Flores (Battle of the Flowers) is the main event which takes place on the opening Saturday of the Carnaval.
I was super excited about this! I had bought my traditional Zulu outfit months before and I was going to premiere it here. The outfit had me feeling like the socialite I know I was born to be; with people walking up to me asking for pics.
We left our hotels at about 10:30 am and could have walked to the street on which the event was, but we decided to take a cab. Cabs in Colombia are very cheap as the currency is not as strong as many others including the South African Rand.
After standing in line for about an hour and finally finding our way to our Palco, we settled in and found a good area at the top of the bleachers where our 10 people group strategically spread out to give ourselves a comfortable little “secluded” seating area.
A few minutes after we were all settled, the troupes began their parades. Man!!! It was like nothing I had seen before. The six + hour parade was headed by the Carnival Queen and consisted of elaborate floats (decked out trucks fitted with huge speakers), brilliantly decorated costumes, folkloric groups and other dancing groups.
It seemed to me like a mix between a huge street party, socially conscious march past and a Halloween party. There were parodies of notable people including Donald Trump, the Pope and Fidel Castrol and also more uncomfortably, the blackface I wrote about in my other article.
I had so much fun and screamed, danced and ululated the afternoon away.
Afterwards, we went to a party at a grocery store. Yes. You read that right. They had huge speakers outside the shop and we all danced in the streets and I felt like a celebrity because everyone wanted to take a pic with the “Morena” in the colourful outfit.
We also managed a J Balvin Concert on that night and I am still so impressed at how he came on stage a whole 10 minutes before he was supposed to and entertained us until the very respectable hour of midnight.
After The Main Event
Since we had tickets to the entire Carnaval, some of our friends went on Sunday as well as Monday but I only went on Saturday and Monday, taking Sunday off to explore local cuisine and walk around the city.
In hindsight, the Battala de Flores was the most fun event in Barranquilla and we could have had an equally fulfilling experience if we had only stayed until Sunday as opposed to spending 5 days there.
All in all, Barranquilla Carnaval de Barranquilla and the city itself was a great experience and I 100 per cent would recommend it.
Do you have any questions about the Barranquilla Carnaval? Please contact me and I’ll gladly answer them.