I found this year that a lot of my friends decided to adopt the popular UK tradition of Dry January—this radical idea of not consuming any alcohol for the entire month of January! I don’t know about you, but that phrase doesn’t quite work too well in my vocab or lifestyle as I’m recovering from the holiday stress and working on getting rid of those holiday bills. But if you did stay true to those die-hard New Year’s resolutions, why not #treatyourself a bit. Carnival is just around the corner, and every corner of the world is ready to kick off the celebrations.
What was originally a pagan festival meant to enjoy those last morsels of food before the winter supply ran out has gained religious connotations to intersect with the Christian calendar. Carnival today is celebrated in all kinds of ways—from religious, to spiritual, to festive, to just straight up cray. Here’s what you can look forward to at some of the world’s most marvelous celebrations that kick off during the weekend leading up to Mardi Gras on February 13.
With 300,000 expected visitors, up 20% from last year, hotels and restaurants are planning to be at full capacity. With a focus on both traditional folklore and the modern, Colombia’s iconic celebration is said to be the second largest in the world after Rio’s. The parades are almost never ending—with themes ranging from the “Battle of the Flowers” to the closing “Death of Carnival” parade. A bit harsh of a name considering we just have to wait 365 days until the next one! And if you can’t make it for Carnival, the party never really stops. Our fave Barranquilla native, Shakira, perhaps says it best—her hips don’t lie because “en Barranquilla se baila así.”
With one of the largest indigenous populations of all of Latin America, Oruro’s Carnival prides itself on celebrating Bolivian and Andean indigenous traditions. The dances and parades highlight the battles of good versus evil—and the symbols come from both Christian traditions as well as the indigenous gods Tio Supay (God of the Underworld) and Pachama (Mother Earth). You’ll just have to be a bit cautious if you join in the revelry at Oruro’s 10,000 plus feet above sea level.
While this might not be the first Carnival spot to come to mind, the Cono Sur countries really hold their own and go all out for the celebrations. Murga (Spanish) and candombe (African) dance traditions fuse for a uniquely Uruguayan experience. You’ll start noticing these in the tablados (pre-Carnival performances) about 10 days before the traditional start of Carnival and the festivities continue for a full 40 days through March—making it one of the longest Carnival celebrations in the world. Performances aren’t as streamlined or overcrowded as in places like Rio, so you’re more likely to catch one of the street side rehearsals as the preparations are occurring. And if you’re not able to catch a flight to Uruguay during Carnival season, you can check out Montevideo’s Carnival Museum which is open all year round.
La Vega, Dominican Republic
The Carnival Vegano is the island’s biggest—attracting large crowds to this lesser known state of the Dominican Republic. While it’s not as long as the festivities in Uruguay, there are weekly celebrations every Sunday, which coincide closely with Dominican Independence Day on February 27. Dating back to the 1500s, costumes range from the traditional to cutting edge and culturally relevant. You’d be hard pressed not to find heavily sequined dancers and performers donning shiny Dominican flags. The Califé show pokes fun at the biggest celebrities and most controversial politicians of the day. You could argue that this is one of the more humorous and playful celebrations, where children search for hidden candy and partygoers pretend to steal their neighbors chicken and farm animals.
These celebrations are as diverse as its population and landscape—seaside port towns like Veracruz and Mazatlán highlight Mexico’s culture for visitors from around the world, while Oaxaca puts the focus on indigenous longstanding Mexican traditions. What is universal across celebrations is the ritual of the “Quema del Mal Humor”—“Burning of the Bad Mood.” Just in case you didn’t get that fresh start you needed at the beginning of the year, Carnival gives you another chance to cast off that negative energy. And as all celebrations must finally come to an end, you’ll see that Mexico marks the finale with a bang—burning the Juan Carnival figurine which represents the conclusion of the revelry and Carnival celebrations in all their glory.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
What more can be said here? While for some, this can be an overcrowded nightmare, for others it’s a must to check off on the bucket list. The party has become much more than just a Carnival celebration, where you can see some of the world’s best samba performers as they compete for the eyes of the audience.