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What you need to know about Barranquilla Carnival

Barranquilla is Colombia’s largest and fourth most populated city. The city’s prime location in the northern Caribbean Coast region has placed it as the nation's largest and main port for river and maritime transportation.

As the main industrial, shopping, educational and cultural center of the Caribbean Region of Colombia, Barranquilla has been nicknamed ‘La Puerta de Oro de Colombia’, Spanish for Colombia’s Golden Gate, and is one of the most modern cities in the Caribbean and South America. This parade is the oldest carried out the tradition of the Barranquilla Carnival and is considered the main event taking place during this period.

Home to the Carnaval de Barranquilla’, a four-day carnival held every year since 1888, Barranquilla is the birthplace of one of Colombia’s most important folkloric and cultural celebrations and the second biggest carnival

in the world, trumped only by the carnival in Rio de Janeiro. The Carnival’s beloved slogan, true to the spirit of this major regional celebration, is: “Those who live it are those who enjoy it” (Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza). During the carnival celebrations, locals and foreigners alike join in on the collective joy, drinking and dancing that takes over Barranquilla during Carnival.  

Hotels like the Park Inn by Radisson Diamond Barranquilla are the ideal home base for your trip to Barranquilla during Carnival, located in the heart of vibrant Barranquilla on Street 84, this hotel location is an exciting downtown shopping destination with several surrounding nightlife and fine dining venues. It is also an ideal location with easy access to the exciting events of the Carnival festival and other famous local sights and attractions.  

Day One 

The carnival kick-off parade is one of the most anticipated events of the Carnival celebration – La Batalla de Flores (the Battle of the Flowers).   

This main event is a grand parade consisting of 16 floats and 22 musical cars with live orchestras, 80 folkloric groups, headed by the Carnival queen, cumbia groups and other dancing groups in over 200 disguises.

The floats seen during La Batalla de Flores parade are floats sponsored by companies who wish to support and showcase the traditions and traditional crafts of the Barranquilla Carnival. For two months before the Carnival, volunteers, family members, workers, artists are proud to participate in the preparation of these enormous works of art.  

La Batalla de Flores was first organized in 1903 by general Heriberto Arturo Vengoechea to celebrate the end of the War of a Thousand Days. When it first started, it paraded down the old “Camellón Abello“, now known as Paseo de Bolívar, however, since 1992, the parade takes place along Via 40. It is the first of the three parades that take place during the four days of the carnival.    

Day Two  

Sunday is the second day of Carnival, the day of the La Gran Parada, otherwise known in English as the Great Parade. This parade brings together representative folk groups from throughout the country who wish to showcase the diverse and rich traditions that have made Colombia’s culture so distinguished and the Barranquilla Carnival the great, multicultural celebration worthy of being deemed a world heritage site.  

This year, more than 90 traditional folk groups, cumbia groups, and other traditional dance groups participated in the parade. Since there are no floats in this parade, this is the day that features the greatest performances of cumbia and other traditional dances. On this day, the winners of the Congo of Gold in that category are often chosen.  

Day Three 

Monday, the third day of Carnival is famous for its Orchestra Festival which hosts Caribbean and Latin bands. On this day, the two most important events carried out are the Great Fantasy Parade and the Orchestra Festival.   

The Great Fantasy parade features innovating choreography that combines some of the most traditional local music, such as cumbia, porro, mapalé and merecumbé, to international rhythms, such as samba, salsa, reggaeton, champeta and electronic music. Over the years, this parade has become one of the most attended events of the carnival.  

Created in 1969, the Orchestra Festival is a concert in which several national and international musical ensembles participate and compete for the Congo de Oro, a set of coveted awards in six different musical categories awarded at the end of the festival.   

Day Four 

Tuesday signals the end of the carnival and this final celebration is known as ‘Joselito se va con las cenizas’.  

The carnival comes to an end with the symbolic burial of Joselito Carnaval. Joselito is a made-up character that is said to personify the joy of the carnival. Every year, this character “resuscitates” at the beginning of the celebration to then “die” on the last day of the Carnival, worn out and drunk.  

Funny burials are carried out throughout the city where locals play-acting mourn the death of this fictional character. During Joselito’s burial, a dummy or a real person is transported in a coffin and paraded down a street decorated with flowers and surrounded by crying widows (which are often men disguised as women) and other similar characters.   

Since 1999, The Barranquilla Carnival Foundation also carries out a contest awarding the best portrayal of Joselito’s burial, to encourage more groups to join in on this celebration.  

There are many theories regarding the origins of the carnival. The most common belief is that the carnival is a welcoming celebration of spring, birth and renewal. Though the celebration is now primarily represented by a mixture of European, African and Indian traditions, dances and music, it originated from a combination of pagan ceremonies, catholic beliefs and ethnic diversity.    

Having grown exponentially over the years, the Carnival of Barranquilla was declared a National Cultural Heritage by the Congress of Colombia in 2001 and recognized by UNESCO in 2003.  Every year, the Carnival starts on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. This year, the Carnival of Barranquilla was held from February 22nd to February 25th. 

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