The city comes to life with color during August’s famous Flower Fair....
Barranquilla – Every Day Is Carnaval
In this corner of the Colombian Caribbean, the colorful celebration held every February can be felt throughout the year. Thousands of visitors flock to the city, inspired by a party that never ends.
Participants and spectators alike exude the boundless joy that defines Carnaval.
“To experience it is to enjoy it!”
That’s the slogan of the Carnaval de Baranquilla, the most important celebration of its kind in Colombia, which was declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003. Every year, this endless party welcomes 1.5 million participants, who hail from all over the country and the world.
“Carnaval is a celebration that reflects the lifestyle of the people of Baranquilla: good-humored, full of energy and bursting with color,” says journalist and writer Alberto Salceco Ramos, a Baranquilla native and winner of the Rey de España Award. Along with his compatriots, he believes that his city truly lives and breathes the spirit of Carnaval.
Colorful costumes and streets bursting with cheer are two hallmarks of Carnaval.
Chosen for her beauty as well as her skill as a dancer, the queen kicks off the festivities. In the form of a decree, she urges everyone to enjoy themselves until their bodies can’t take any more: “I declare ‘La Arenosa’ (as the city is fondly known) to be an autonomous territory, completely free of strife and stress. As of this carefree date, I call for a folkloric curfew, raise your glasses at the city’s open bars to the sound of cumbia, porros, puyas, mapalés, gaitas and merecumbés.”
It seems that the queen’s declaration extends throughout the year. No matter when you visit, you’ll feel the celebratory spirit of Carnaval, thanks to the vibrant tropical atmosphere, the sultry heat and the exuberant local music playing everywhere you turn, inviting guests to shake their hips like the singer Shakira, one of the city’s most famous natives and a shining example of how a talent for dance is a Barranquilla birthright.
Carnaval lives on through the monthly activities calendar offered by the Fundación Carnaval de Barranquilla and through the folkloric groups that barely wait for the festivities to end before starting to work on the costumes and floats for the following year. “Here, you have to plan everything in advance, so that the next year is even more spectacular,” says Rubén González. This folk artist leads one of the traditional comparsas (the groups that perform for Carnaval), enlisting his neighbors in the organization of the annual presentation.
Carnaval is officially held for four days in February or March, always beginning on a Saturday and ending the day before Ash Wednesday. This year, Carnaval will be held February 18-21, but things start to heat up on January 20 with the pre-Carnaval festivities, which serve as a bridge from the end-of-year holiday celebrations.
The dancers execute daring pirouettes during the parade.
Nístar Romero, an expert on the Barranquilla Carnaval – the second most important in Latin America after the one in Rio de Janeiro – says that the celebration has become invaluable for tourism, an attraction that extends far beyond the four days of festivities. In fact, a specific strategy ensures that the event helps foster several high seasons throughout the year.
At the height of the celebration, hotels reach maximum occupancy, and flights to the city sell out. If you’re planning to attend Carnaval, you need to plan your trip in advance. If you can’t make it then, don’t worry: a concert featuring gaita music and tambora drumming, as well as Carnaval characters like the Marimonda, the Monocuco and the Rey Momo will make you feel like you’re there.
The people of Barranquilla stress that although the Carnaval culminates with the burial of “Joselito Carnaval” – a comic ritual symbolizing the end of the festivities in which hundreds of “widows” mourn the passing of a hard-partying man – the celebration never truly ends. The city’s colorful hotels, restaurants, discotheques, museums and public buildings keep the spirit of Carnaval alive through a constant stream of live shows. Year round, local folk-art shops sell costumes and keepsakes including wooden bull and tiger masks painted yellow, red, blue and black.
The cumbia dancers use the event to showcase their effortless grace.
The constant motion of Carnaval also continues in the city’s chivas, traditional vehicles that offer city tours complete with musical groups and outgoing, visually striking characters to delight tourists.
Carnaval is no longer just a local phenomenon; it has become a reason to celebrate throughout the country. The major cities of Colombia host allegorical displays, art exhibits, thematic parties at bars and restaurants and even weddings in which the bride and groom exchange vows in colorful attire, dancing and celebrating in true Carnaval spirit.
Long live Carnaval! In
During Carnaval, dancers flaunt elaborate outfits and extravagant makeup.
COLOMBIA’S GOLDEN GATE
Barranquilla, capital of the Departmento del Atlántico and the country’s first port, features a wide variety of tourist, cultural and culinary attractions, making it an ideal place to discover the Colombian coast. A three-hour drive from Cartagena de Indias (45 minutes by plane) and 90 minutes from Santa Marta, Barranquilla is a modern city, boasting lovely Republican-era architecture and preserving the roots and identity of its people despite becoming one of the country’s most important commercial hubs. No wonder the city is known as “Colombia’s Golden Gate.”
SEVEN OUTINGS IN THE CITY AND NEARBY
1. Castillo de San Antonio de Salgar: This cliff-top Spanish fortress once served as customs office and still offers a terrific view of the Río Magdalena. Near the Muelle de Puerto Colombia, an attraction in its own right, 20 minutes from Barranquilla.
2. Centro histórico: The Old Quarter is home to Plaza de Bolívar and the Cathedral, with a modernist design by Italian architect Angelo Mazzoni.
3. Zoológico: More than 500 animals from 140 species, including elephants, lions, fish, birds, manatees, reptiles and primates.Calle 77 No. 68 – 40 www.zoobaq.org
3. Museo del Caribe: This museum is dedicated to promoting the natural, cultural and historic heritage of the Colombian Caribbean.Calle 36 No.46-66, Centro http://culturacaribe.org/Parque_Cultural_del_Caribe
4. Puente Pumarejo: Stretching nearly 5,000 feet, the longest bridge in the country spans the Río Magdalena and connects to the Isla de Salamanca.
6. Beaches: There are no beaches in Barranquilla, but you can find them in the towns of Salgar, Sabanilla and Puerto Colombia, all within 15 minutes of the city.
7. Bocas de Ceniza: The Río Magdalena meets the Atlantic Ocean at this natural attraction.
WHERE TO STAY
$$$ Hotel Estelar: The newest and most sophisticated hotel in the city, located in the exclusive Country Club district.www.hotelesestelar.com
$$$ Hotel El Prado: The city’s most classic and elegant hotel, located in a 1930s manor house.www.hotelelpradosa.com
$$$ Sonesta Hotel Barranquilla: All the amenities you’d expect from this international chain.http://en.ghlhoteles.com
WHERE TO EAT
Beitkuuseb: Signature cuisine with Middle Eastern influences.Carrera 52 No 76-126, Barrio El Prado Tel. 57-5-368-9944
El Testamento: Traditional coastal cuisine, including fish, coconut rice and sancocho trifásico (a soup made with pork, beef and chicken).Carrera 46 No. 94-43 Tel. 57-5-373-6986 www.eltestamento.com.co
Tiendecita barranquillera: The best in fried regional fare: arepas de huevo, carimañolas (yucca stuffed with local cheese or ground beef) and chicharrones (pork cracklings).Calle 44 No. 62-44 Tel. 57-5-351-9305
Carnaval de Barranquilla 2012
Secretaría de Cultura, Patrimonio y Turismo
Welcome to the land of coffee, of vallenato, of notable literature and of the loveliest Spanish in...