Carnival | Barranquilla, Colombia

image: Etienne LeCocq

Beware pickpockets and loose women!

As friendly and fun-loving as a group of people who throw the second-largest annual party in the world, (after Rio) Barranquilleros aren’t without a few manzanas podridas.

The scam is easy: set up an enormous party full of scantily-clad beautiful women, loud live music, huge crowds and colourfully-costumed teams of dancers doing ethnic things for four days. Throw in a little booze, a good-natured tarring and feathering with foam and flour, and candy-from-a-baby: where did that camera go?

Dos cervezas, por favor

After donating your valuables to the local criminal element, another problem arises: how’s your espagnol?

Barranquilla has tremendous ethnic and cultural diversity. Over its 500-year history  the port city has harboured all sorts: African, European, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Shakira. Cultural identities stuck, language didn’t. This place, an industrial city 51 weeks out of the year, functions in Spanish.

Don’t worry. UNESCO wouldn’t have named Carnival Barranquilla a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity if the people weren’t nice, right?

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Tips and tricks

Batten down the hatches. Keep the money in a closed pocket, or in two separate places. Don’t put the money somewhere disgusting; would you want to touch money dug out of a sweaty bra?

Keep it simple. Expect to be sprayed with foam and flour. Dress for the weather: days will be hot (in 30+C) and the nights not much cooler. If air con is a must, check with the hotel before you book.

If you’re in the cheap seats, get to the bleachers early to lay claim to a spot with shade.

Make friends with the folks around you. You’ll be standing together all day, might as well get to know one another. You’d be amazed how far you can get with smiling and nodding.


Spider monkeys and salsa

Colombians have a saying about Carnival in Barranquilla. It’s ‘the place where spider monkeys take you dancing and never let you go.’

This year’s Carnaval celebration kicks off the 2nd of March, and doesn’t quit until Fat Tuesday, the 5th.

Parades start early in the afternoon and stretch until evening. The Batalla de Flores (Battle of the Flowers) opens Carnaval celebrations with a 6-hour event: floats serious and satirical, wild costumes and folk performers, all accompanied by music, music, music. If you’re one of those too loud/too old types, don’t come to Carnaval de Barranquilla.

Carnaval 2019