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Barranquilla Carnival 2020, Colombia
February 22 - February 25
The sensational Barranquilla Carnival held in February in Colombia is the world’s second biggest fiesta with magnificent street parades, traditional dancers, lots of local food and the South American country’s joyous cumbia music.
Colombia’s culture is most pronounced at its many regional festivals, but perhaps never as much as during its Carnaval de Barranquilla, as it is known in Spanish. The world’s second biggest carnival, this authentic Caribbean fiesta is less commercial than its more famous counterpart in Rio de Janeiro but no less exuberant. Over the course of four days the Colombian port city of Barranquilla turns topsy-turvy with parties, music, dance and colour, doing justice to the Carnival’s motto Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza, or “Those who live it are those who enjoy it”.
Half of the world’s inhabited continents are represented in the mix of cultures that form the Barranquilla Carnival. Even though officially it marks the Christian tradition of holding celebrations before the weeks of Lent, the Barranquilla Carnival has been heavily influenced by the music, dance and culture of the 18th-century African slaves and the indigenous people. This blend of Catholic beliefs, pagan ceremonies and Indian traditions forms the Carnival’s essence, creating a colourful cultural fusion that enchants and attracts every year many thousands of regional and international visitors.
Interested in Carnivals? Go to our page of Carnivals around the world from Notting Hill to Rio and Nice to Rotterdam.
Because of its status as one of Colombia’s most important folkloric celebrations, together with Colombia’s Feria de Cali, Unesco added the Carnaval de Barranquilla in 2003 to its list of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
What to expect at the Barranquilla Carnival
Expect an explosion of colour with hundreds of folk groups in their dazzling costumes, international artists and live bands, loud Latin American music, the throwing of cornflour, and of course lots of rum and aguardiente or “firewater” at this must-see fiesta. As the Carnaval de Barranquilla hasn’t been discovered yet by huge tourist crowds like at the Rio Carnival, you will be in for a more authentic experience where foreign visitors and welcoming locals mix and party together.
Make sure you are dressed up – the more colourful and extravagant the better – so you blend in with the local revellers. It’s a good idea to bring a hat, sunscreen and enough water to stay hydrated while, as always in big crowds, keeping an eye on your valuables.
Barranquilla Carnival events
Some important events happen in the days before the official start of the Carnival, such as La Guacherna, a famous night parade that takes place on the Friday before the Carnival; the Coronación Reina del Carnaval or the Carnaval Queen’s coronation on the Thursday before the Carnival; the Gay Parade; and the Desfile del Carnaval de Los Niños or the children’s parade. But the main events are:
Saturday 22: this is the Barranquilla Carnival’s official kickoff with de Batalla de Flores or Battle of the Flowers, a six-hour-long magnificent parade with floats which is the oldest, biggest and most anticipated one during the entire Barranquilla Carnival.
Sunday 23: the Gran Parada de Tradición y Folklore or Great Parade of Tradition and Folklore with hundreds of dancing and traditional folkloric groups showing off their moves to all kinds of local tunes such as cumbia, porro, mapalé and merecumbé. There are no floats this time.
Monday 24: this day sees two major events, the enormous Festival de Orquestas or Orchestras Festival where national and international orchestras compete in different genres for the coveted Congo De Oro award; and the Gran Parade de Comparsas, known as the Great Fantasy Parade where local and traditional tunes mix with more international styles such as salsa, samba, reggaeton and electronic music, while the floats and costumes show off their more innovative designs.
Tuesday 25: the Barranquilla Carnival traditionally concludes with comical funerals of Joselito Carnaval, a mythical figure representing the joy of the festival. It is said he passes out on the last day, drunken and tired, only to resuscitate again the next year.
Cumbia and Marimonda at the Barranquilla Carnival
There are perhaps two most defining elements of the Colombian Carnaval de Barranquilla. One is the cumbia, a complex but elegant and rhythmical local music and dance style that mixes Spanish music with African slave music, and which has become one of Colombia’s and Latin America’s most popular music genres.
Cartagena, another Colombian port city, is not far from Barranquilla. Read Mike East’s Things to Do in Cartagena: from Dawn to Dusk.
The second one is the Marimonda character, the only carnival character that originated in Barranquilla and of which the local barranquilleros are very proud. He’s portrayed with a long nose, elephant ears and dressed in bright, conflicting colours. With his whimsical dances he represents the defiant and comical spirit of the barranquilleros.
Origin of the Barranquilla Carnival
Although the Carnival’s origins are unknown, the most popular theory is that it’s a celebration of renewal and birth to welcome the spring season. It is believed that it exists since more than three centuries and that it once marked a holiday for the African slave communities.
The first important date in its history is the crowning of Carnival King Momo in 1888 who became the Carnival’s main character, while 1899 saw the appointment of the first Carnival President.
During the 1900s many carnival traditions were established such as the first Battle of the Flowers in 1903 and the first Carnival Queen in 1918. The Great Parade was introduced in 1967 while 1969 saw the addition of the orchestra and music competitions. In 2002 the Colombian government gave the Barranquilla Carnival the status of National Cultural Heritage while a year later Unesco followed suit.
Barranquilla Carnival dates 2020
The Carnival takes place annually during the four days before Ash Wednesday, which in 2020 fall on 22, 23, 24 and 25 February.
Where does the Barranquilla Carnival 2020 take place
Most of the city shuts down during the four days of the Carnival and the main venues are: Via 40, where the Battle of the Flowers, the Great Parade and the Great Fantasy Parade begin at 1pm; 17 Road for the King Momo Parade; 44 Road for the La Guacherna night parade; and Romelio Martinez Stadium for the Orchestras Festival and the crowning of the Carnival Queen.
Verbenas are open spaces with free access for dancing, eating and other festivities. The most popular include: A Pleno Sol in the La Unión barrio or neighbourhood, El Bambú in the Olaya barrio and Polvorín in the San José barrio.
Most of the parades are free but for better and more comfortable viewing it’s recommended to buy a ticket to sit in the shaded box seats (“palcos”) area. Ask your hotel to help you buy a ticket.
Carnaval de Barranquilla photo gallery
Where to stay during the Barranquilla Carnival 2020
Make sure you book well in advance for this event. Enter your dates in our flight and hotel comparison engine to search hundreds of sites for the best deals:
For more information and updates about the Barranquilla Carnival 2020
Browse the Carnival’s Spanish-only official website. If your Spanish is rusty or quite dead, there’s still a lot of information to be picked up in its Google-translated English version with a bit of skill.
For more information and ideas on Colombia travel, visit the official Colombia tourism website.
All images courtesy of the Carnaval de Barranquilla unless mentioned otherwise.