Normally, Barranquilla is not one of the places that I would have hit up on this trip, except to pop in and get a quick glimpse of this Shakira statue in her hometown (Love her!
But, if one of the biggest parties in the world is happening just a few kilometers from where I am, I’m going to make sure to be there.
I think everyone traveling Colombia at this time had the same feeling. I actually didn’t even know about Barranquilla’s Carnaval until I was already here for a few weeks, but it claims to be the second biggest one in the world after Rio De Janeiro. By the time I got wind of it it was already so close to Carnaval time that all the accommodations were either sold out or outrageously expensive. So I was planning on just going in for a day trip until I had the grand fortune of meeting a very cool Canadian couple in Providencia (Shout out to Darren and Tara!) who were smart enough to plan ahead and book a room in Barranquilla for the main dates of Carnaval, and generously offered to let me crash with them so I could get in on the party. As if that wasn’t amazing of them enough, they also handpicked this amazing costume for me:
Great friends, right?
Barranquilla starts gearing up for Carnaval forty days before Holy Week. The culmination is the 4 days before Ash Wednesday, when the city floods with foreigners and Colombians alike who come from all over to live it up during 4 days of parades, music, dancing and partying in the street. We arrived on Friday night to make sure we were there for the big kickoff of Barranquilla’s Carnaval, the “Batalla de los Flores” (Battle of the Flowers), the most important and anticipated event of Carnaval and definitely the highlight for us as well.
The Characters of Carnaval
The Battle of the Flowers is the oldest tradition of Barranquilla’s Carnaval. Apparently it originated as a game where two groups of people would face off throwing flowers and confetti at each other for a stretch of a few miles, and make peace at the end. Now the tradition lives on as the biggest parade of Carnaval, showcasing enormous, elaborate floats, a crazy cast of characters, the Queen of Carnaval (one is crowned every year), international singers and celebrities, acrobats, dancers… you get the idea right? The flowers have been replaced with huge cans of foam. They are being sold every where and strangers playfully bombard each other with foam in the streets in the light-hearted spirit of Carnaval.
I’ve been to Carnaval a few times while I was living in Spain, in the Canary Islands and Cadiz, and it’s always a good time. I don’t think there is a happier party in the world. This year’s Carnaval was made particularly special by the Colombian people, who as I have mentioned are constantly giving their all to ensure that us tourists are having the best possible experience and getting the best possible impression of their country. Carnaval was no exception to that rule. We bought seats to watch the “Batalla de los Flores” parade but we didn’t even use them, since the Colombians around us allowed us to pass forward to get a front row seat at their parade, acknowledging that it must be something very special for us gringos. t didn’t stop there; they showered us with alcohol and snacks, took pictures with us, and were constantly checking to make sure we were having a good time. One lady even gave me her phone number, telling me she was a local and she wanted me to call her if I needed anything while I was in Barranquilla. She was serious about that.
A million new friends at Carnaval
The Queen of Carnaval
The Batalla de los Flores went on for hours and hours, and apparently as soon as that parade ends another one begins on the other side of the city, but we of course did not make it to that one, because after drinking beers since 11 am a nap was in order if we wanted to make it to the evening festivities.
Thank you Mr. Beer Man, for being so nice and attentive and never letting us go dry
El Africano is a popular costume at Barranquilla’s Carnaval
By night there were street parties and concerts all over the city. Apparently Shaggy even made an appearance this year. We ate some amazing “street meat” and walked around taking in the spectacle of it all. The same kind of alegria and Colombian hospitality extended into the night. Colombians were constantly coming up to talk and dance with us and make sure that we were having fun. That has been a consistent thing throughout my entire experience in this country: the genuine concern that the Colombian people have for their tourists. They are the key factor in what makes this country so special to travel. Carnaval was just another shining example. It was a festival of pure happiness.
Everyone is so happy at Carnaval
Even though Carnaval continued on for 3 more days, we sat the Sunday out by the hotel pool, and Monday I had to take off for Casa en en Agua, but one day of Carnaval was plenty for us. I’ll always regard it as the happiest festival I’ve been to in my life. As with traveling Colombia in general, it is the people here that made it.