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Barranquilla Carnival, the carnival to rival Rio | © Louis Vest/Flickr
Barranquilla Carnival, the carnival to rival Rio | © Louis Vest/Flickr

The Ultimate Guide to Barranquilla Carnival

Picture of Taran Volckhausen
Updated: 15 February 2017

Carnival in Barranquilla is one of the top folkloric festivals to catch in Colombia, and happens each year several days before Ash Wednesday. It’s similar to the Rio de Janiero Carnival, but with a Caribbean twist. During the four-day extravaganza, the coastal city’s streets fill up with colorful outfits, Latin rhythms and boisterous crowds of wild and sexy dancers. Here is Culture Trip’s ultimate guide on what to do while you’re there.

La Batalla de Flores (The Battle of Flowers)

Taking place on the opening Saturday of the Carnival, the Battle of the Flowers is the celebration’s biggest and most anticipated act of the event. It’s a six-hour parade where spectators are entertained by elaborate floats, brilliantly decorated costumes and earsplitting cumbia music. A Carnival Queen presides over this parade and participants include a wide cast of characters such as the Monkey King and other masked animals from the jungle. In addition, the acts will often parody all sorts of famous celebrities and politicians, from President Juan Manuel Santos to Pope Francis. Although catching this event may require purchasing a ticket, the Battle of Flowers is a must-see for those who want to appreciate Caribbean-Colombian folk heritage in its most vibrant expression.

Insider tip: wear clothes you don’t mind getting messy because you’ll likely get hit with plenty of sticky foam and flour during the course of the day.

Gran Parada (Grand Parade)

The Grand Parade takes place on Sunday, the second day of the festival. This parade is a bit smaller than the Battle of Flowers, probably because some partiers haven’t woken up yet from the night before. Spectators of this event will enjoy a seemingly endless succession of traditional, salsa, cumbia and folklore dancers before heading back out into the streets to continue the party.

Insider tip: wear sun protection and drink lots of water because it’s easy to overheat from direct exposure to the fierce tropical sun.

Parties in streets

While it’s true that the parades are where visitors catch the most impressive displays, it’s on the streets where they’ll likely have the most fun. Like other prominent Carnival festivals around the world, Barranquilla’s Carnival feels less like a structured event and more like a city-wide block party. Attendees won’t need a plan to have fun — just cold beer and a good attitude. Colombians have a legendary stamina for partying, so it’s not uncommon for revelers to start in the afternoon and keep going until 5AM the next day.

“Chiva” (Colombian Party Bus)

While Chivas are a traditional form of Colombian transportation, today the vibrantly painted large vehicles are most commonly spotted roaming the streets, filled with loud music and boisterous merrymakers drunkenly singing along to their favorite songs. Chivas generally feature a few seats and a small dance floor and poles in the middle where the occupants attempt to keep their balance. Luckily, there’s also a cage around the outside that keeps the partiers in as they lean out to shout and sing at passersby on the street.

Death of Joselito Carnival

The death of Joselito Carnival marks the end of the festival in Barranquilla. At this event, hundreds of performers will symbolically weep and wail their way past the audience as they mourn the passing of little Joselito. The character represents joy, celebration and, most importantly, a good party. However, as do all parties, Carnival in Barranquilla must come to an end as the city’s residents prepare to take the party and repent in the upcoming six weeks of Lent for the many sins they have probably just committed.