While Rio de Janeiro is preparing for it’s world famous carnival and the tourist hordes that come with it, I thought I’d shed some light on alternative carnivals in South America - one’s you’ve probably never even heard of.
1. Boi Bumba, Parintins, Brazil
June 26-28, 2009 (& annually)
Boi Bumba is an annual carnival held at the end of June in Brazil’s Northern state of Amazonas (that’s the state with swathes of virgin rainforest). It’s a frenetic three day indigenous-influenced carnival full of amazing costumes, traditional Brazilian music and drumming and manic dancing. There’s a strong mythological influence to the carnival as competing teams act out a legendary story featuring a beautiful girl and a bull. Boi Bumba is, essentially, as massive party in the rainforest. Parintins is downriver from Manaus, about halfway towards Santarem - catch a flight with Rico from Manaus, or alternatively take the long, slow journey by boat from Manaus.
2. Gualeguaychu Carnival, Gualeguaychu, Argentina
Held every Saturday from January until early March.
The Gualeguaychu carnival is probably Argentina’s most famous carnival, and has been a tradition for this small seaside town near Buenos Aires for over 100 years. However, there is still very few tourists in sight - most of the 150,000 visitors who come for the carnival every year are Argentinians. Costumes are flamboyant as the Argentinians dress up as all manner of characters ranging from witches to warriors to shamans to queens to ogres. The incessant music is infectious and everyone up for a wild time.
3. Carnival of Black and Whites, Pasto, Colombia
This is the oldest carnival in South America, commemorating a free day off work that African slaves demanded in 1607. The slaves subsequently unleashed all of their happiness in the form of this carnival, which continues to this day. The costumes, music and dance are African influenced and frenetic, and the carnival has now become one of Colombia’s most famous.
For further advice and tips about carnivals in South America, see the previous article about alternatives to Rio’s February carnival (for example, what’s it like in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador or Bolivia at that time?) or see the past post about the Rio Carnival.