Compared to Rio’s Carnival, Barranquilla’s is practically unheard of outside of Colombia. Few people are aware that the otherwise fairly nondescript Caribbean port city is home to the world’s second largest carnival celebration. If you fancy being the carnival hipster and heading somewhere little-known, then choose Barranquilla over Rio.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Barranquilla over Rio is the fact that, unlike in the Brazilian city, in Colombia, you will be one of relatively few foreign tourists. Naturally, since Colombian has become popular with travellers, the numbers have gone up, but it’s a fraction compared to Rio.
The lack of hordes of foreigners means that you are far more likely to meet locals and enjoy a truly authentic Carnival experience in Barranquilla than in Rio. Colombians are famously friendly to visitors, and you will stand out in the crowd: prepare to accept numerous drinks and dances from total strangers at Barranquilla Carnival.
Barranquilla may not be very well-known, but it’s located right between the traveller hubs of Cartagena and Santa Marta, making it conveniently located on most people’s travelling route, and easily accessed by plane from Europe and the USA. So there’s no need to dramatically alter your plans to travel on the Caribbean coast to attend Barranquilla Carnival.
Although prices naturally go up during Carnival season in Barranquilla, it’s still cheap compared to the much more established and touristic Rio offering – parades often don’t require a ticket and even those that do have very cheap options on sale. Plus, hotels and hostels are relatively affordable compared to Rio.
Barranquilla, as a city built on a foundation of African, Indigenous, European, and Middle-Eastern cultures, is a real cultural and musical melting-pot, and this is reflected in its carnival. With dances, music, and costumes inspired by myriad different styles and cultures, it’s a really delightful mixture.
There’s not much more that needs to be said about this: carnival is a big party, and Colombians really know how to party! Prepare yourself, it’s going to be massive!
Most parades at Carnival are free and are really worth visiting – the mix of costumes, dancing, and people having fun is truly intoxicating, and you can hardly say you’ve partied in Colombia until you’ve experienced a parade at Barranquilla Carnival.
However, in spite of all the riotous fun of the Carnival, the best parties to experience in Barranquilla are the local ones taking places in neighbourhoods throughout the city for the entirety of the celebrations. Naturally, these are free and great fun, so try to make some local friends and head out to a local party…
The picos of Barranquilla are the stuff of legend – giant speaker systems customized with paint-jobs, logos, names, and with their own famous reputations in the city – and they are out in force during Carnival. With DJs who seem to delight in trying to out-do each other in terms of both noise and bangin’ tunes, make sure you attend at least one party with a pico during Carnival.
In the weeks leading up to the Carnival, there are plenty of parties, celebrations, and events known as pre-Carnival, when the King and Queen are selected and the city prepares for its biggest event. So you can either extend your Carnival experience for another week or two, or you can still enjoy some Carnival time even if you can’t enjoy the main event.
Colombians are notoriously welcoming and friendly, and people from the coast are perhaps the friendliest of all. And people from Barranquilla might just be the friendliest of the coastal folk. It’s a recipe for fun!
UNESCO named the Barranquilla Carnival as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity back in 2008, so it’s not just us who are recommending it to you! If UNESCO reckons it’s that good, then it must be right!?
We know what you’re thinking: where can I get one of those!? Barranquilla Carnival is the place…
You will be exhausted after Carnival if you do it right, but the good news is that there are some truly stunning beaches within a few hours of the city so you can enjoy some post-Carnival relaxation in the paradise that is the Colombian Caribbean. Either the picturesque islands near Cartagena or the wild jungle beaches around Santa Marta would make great options.