Whilst those of us here at See Colombia Towers have been forced to spend the weekend getting some serious mileage out of our already fairly battered umbrellas, those with the foresight to flee the capital for the coast over the last few days will have been able to enjoy the delights of one of Latin America’s biggest festivals: the Carnaval de Barranquilla. Taking place between March 1st-4th, Barranquilla’s carnaval celebrations are second in size only to Rio de Janeiro’s, and promise a truly memorable trip to any fans of rumba, colourful costumes, and general hip-shaking good times. Barranquilla is certainly a hidden gem of Colombian travel; perhaps less glamorous than Cartagena and without Santa Marta’s proximity to Tayrona National Park, the city can often be overlooked on a Colombian itinerary. This is a real shame, as the infectious enthusiasm of the city’s inhabitants, their love of dancing and celebration, and the musical heritage of the city, make Barranquilla a wonderful place to enjoy the best elements of the Colombian costeno experience.
However, it is Carnaval which is, quite rightly, the main reason for people to visit Barranquilla. The city’s Carnaval is so important to the country’s cultural heritage that in 2003 UNESCO saw fit to declare it one of their ‘Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ (which all sounds terribly dramatic and impressive, if perhaps a bit wordy!). However, in all seriousness, this honour is richly deserved, as Barranquilla is transformed over carnaval season into the the fiesta capital of Colombia, with a wealth of parades and parties, guaranteed to transform even the most staunch non-dancer into a salsa-ing, hip-shaking Shakira. If only for a few days. The city practically shuts down over carnaval period, as residents and visitors alike take to the streets to celebrate a tradition dating back as far as the 19th Century. Traditional Spanish, African and Indigenous dances are performed, and Colombian musical styles such as cumbia and tambores are danced frenetically all throughout the day and night. Put simply, Carnaval is the perfect place to experience the enthusiasm and passion of Colombia and its people.
The motto of Barranquilla’s Carnaval is the clear and accurate slogan: ‘Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza,’ or, ‘He who lives it, is he who enjoys it.’ I think we can all agree with that sentiment, for Barranquilla and for Colombia. So, if you’re reading this as you pull on your sequinned costume and prepare for a third straight day of Colombian Carnaval good-times, as you were! If not, don’t be sad, just get planning your visit to Barranquilla for 2015!