El Carnaval de Barranquilla is the best party I have been to in Colombia. I have been to most of the major festivals in Colombia: Feria de Cali (3 times), Festival de Blancos y Negros (once), Feria de Flores (4 times), and other smaller festivals, yet El Carnaval de Barranquilla is the best I have been to.
Carnavala de Barranquilla 2019 was awesome!
El Carnaval de Barranquilla
I went to Carnaval with a bunch of friends that live in Medellin including Joel Duncan.
El Carnval de Barranquilla is awesome because we have an amazing Colombian friend, Emil, who lets us crash at her pad in Barranquilla if we need to. We’ve been a bit disorganized in previous years, and have had to stay at her place. Of course, we buy groceries, cook, and buy Emil alcohol the whole time we are there.
This time around we booked flights and hotels a good 2 months before. So we were all set up.
Oh! Her family: her sister Stefania and her sister’s boyfriend Eric, her mother Nancy, her aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends are always in the spirit of Carnaval, and we all party together, they always know all the great spots. Being with them during Carnaval has become a tradition and it would not be the same any other way. We love you Emil!
Emil bought our palco (bleacher) tickets well in advance, so we had that covered.
The Carnaval de Barranquilla Parades
For me, all the parades are great. The biggest parade is the one on Saturday, La Batalla de las Flores. This parade has the iconic characters from past carnvals, floats and dance groups.
Music is a central part of the parades. From groups playing cumbia to floats blasting champeta, the atmosphere is one of dance and happiness.
How I maxed my enjoyment of the parades
Although I had a press pass, which pretty much gave me free rein to walk in the parade, I also bought bleacher tickets. This is because all of my friends were there and that is where the aguardiente was.
The police do not really check for alcohol coming into the bleacher sections, so I recommend doing so. It is also possible to buy beer and food inside the bleacher areas at reasonable prices.
When you buy a bottle of aguardiente turn it upside-down, smack it hard to pop the top. If the top pops and the guaro fizzes a bit then the probability that the aguardiente has not been tampered with is higher.
Get in Costume
Another great thing is to get into costume. The Carnaval de Barranquilla parades are full of ridiculous characters where pretty much anything flies. You can find masks, wigs, costumes all over town. Alcohol + costumes = awesome time.
Some popular costumes and their histories
As you may know, I am a history nerd. I saw many characters in the parade and of course I had to run home and find out their names and history. Here are some of the more prolific characters.
You will see this guy everywhere during el Carnaval de Barranquilla. I asked many locals what the Marimonda is and most costeños either do not know or they have varying stories. In my research I found out that the Marimonda costume was created at the beginning of the 20th century by a poor Barranquillero. Mainly to make the high society feel uncomfortable while he danced around like a spider monkey, poking fun at them.
It is said that the Marimonda embodies the Costeños spirit of making fun of everyone and being happy at all situations.
The most prominent features of the costume are on the mask. The big elephant like ears and nose and puffy eyes like those of the Colombian Spider Monkey make the mask unique and unforgettable.
The long nose takes a phallic shape as a sexual innuendo, but it really is supposed to represent the Colombian Spider Monkey’s long tail.
Today the Marimonda is an essential piece of the Carnaval de Barranquilla and you’ll find masks all over the city.
La Negrita Puloy
This is a woman (sometimes a drag queen) that represents the black female, escaped slaves of the slave trade era in Colombia. She wears a red dress with white poke-a-dots, a bow in her Afro, and carries an umbrella or a fan.
Since these women are meant to represent black African slave women, and since Colombians are way more lax when it comes to being politically correct, these women wear black spandex body suites under the dress to exaggerate the black skin color. Some will even have masks that exaggerate the big red lips and beautiful long eyelashes.
This is a cute, simple, cheap costume that girls can pick up pretty much anywhere during Carnaval.
El Son De Negros
This character is one of my favorites and one of the most bizarre. This character is only represented by males (children and men).
They paint their whole bodies black, put on red lipstick, wear flowery red hats and carry a machete.
They represent the African slaves that were brought over and sold/traded by the Spaniards. Particularly the slaves that were bought and sold in Santa Lucia (Altantico, near Cartagena next to el canal del duque.)
They dance in a really weird way, gyrating their whole body all while making really weird faces: sticking out their tongue, opening their eyes wide, blinking really hard. They pretty much look like their on crack! But it’s awesome and it’s probably one of the most unique characters in the carnaval.
You can buy or make the flowery hats.
My favorite group/characters from this years Carnaval de Barranquilla where the Mapale dancers. Mapale is a traditional dance taken from Afro-Colombian history. You can really see its African roots when you watch them. I followed this group of dancers around for a while. The name of the group is Las Perlas del Caribe and they are amazing.
Let’s see if you can see the dancer I fell in love with…
There are a ton of different characters ranging from pop culture icons like el Pibe Valderrama to amazing historical characters like the Golden Mohecan King.
Shade and Deodorant
It can get pretty sunny especially if your bleacher section is facing the sun as ours was. This year I found a guy selling Colombian hats for only $5,000 and another guy selling sun glasses for $4,000 (I always haggle with street vendors, but with those prices I did not need to.) The thing I spent the most money on was sunblock.
Deodorant! If you are Colombian you are probably reading this and asking yourself why I am reminding people to bring deodorant. Colombians are usually very hygienic and carry deodorant and a toothbrush wherever they go. But for those foreigners that are backpacking, the bleachers get packed, hot, and muggy; no one likes to sit next to a stink bug.
Carnavladas y Ruedas
During the day the best thing to do is go to the parades, make friends with the people in your bleacher section, drink till you don’t care about the heat, and dance!
At night the best thing to do is to go the Carnavaladas and Ruedas. These are free concerts that go on throughout the city. I always make sure to make friends with locals, for they know about all the cool stuff going on around the city.
Even if I didn’t have local friends I would just hop on a taxi and tell the guy to take to the carnavalada or la rueda. Taxis on the coast don’t have meters so make sure to determine the price before you take off. I haggle everything, so whatever price the taxi tells me I always reduce by $3,000. If they guys says no I just say alright and walk away. They usually whistle me back and say okay when I do that.
There is always a big concert on the Saturday night of the Carnaval de Barranquilla, this year Carlos Vives was headlining. I didn’t go because I went to the big concert in 2013 and I went to the Super Concerto during La Feria de Cali last year too and those concerts pretty much suck.
The music is good, and they sell bottles of aguardiente and Rum inside (marked up 50% – 100%), but it’s hard to meet new people in an arena, and it’s hard to just go up to a girl and ask her to dance while she’s sitting in her assigned area.
So from now on I’m just going to stay away from those big concerts.
Forever a Cranavalero
If Medellin didn’t exist I would probably live somewhere on the coast. I mean technically I’m a costeño; I’m from the coast of California. So I’m pretty relaxed by nature, and I like to dance and party. I feel at home at the Carnaval de Barranquilla.
It has become tradition for me and my friends to go to Carnaval every year. It’s a week of awesome drunkenness and dancing. We come home with awesome stories (stories that I did not share in this blog post due to their graphic nature and explicitness, haha.)
I’m already making plans for next years Carnaval de Barranquilla and Emil has already bought our Palco (bleacher) tickets. If you’re going to go next year, hit me up, we’ll party!
2019 Carnaval Pictures:
By Joel Duncan
2014 Carnaval Pictures:
About the writer – Andrew Macia
Hello, my name is Andrew Macia and I am the founder of the Medellin Buzz. I am an advanced level English teacher here in Medellin, and I also have a website development, and marketing company which I run from home.
My idea with the Medellin Buzz is to push those who are learning English and to integrate native speakers with non-native speakers.
I love living in Medellin and I love Colombia. I want to give back to the community and this is the best way I know how. Let’s practice English and Spanish and have a great time!
About the Medellin Buzz
The Medellin Buzz is lighthearted resource for English as a Second Language learners in Medellin, Colombia to practice with. The Medellin Buzz is written in a way that is easy to understand (B2 – C1 level). If you do not understand something feel free to make comments below.
I did the carnaval a few years ago in Brazil and it was madness. We have a bachelor party coming up next year and we were thinking about Colombia, that would a great time to come for some epic parties.