I went to Carnaval (Carnival) in Barranquilla, Colombia which they say is the second biggest Carnaval after the one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They definitely know how to host a party. This isn’t just a weekend deal, it actually starts January 1st with events every weekend until the end of February.
They start it off small with some small parades and concerts every weekend starting in January. The Queen (Reyna) is crowned and she attends a lot of the events/parties and such. In the schools and clubs, everyone, from kids to adults, practices their dances and routines for the big parades (defiles) that occur in February.
The largest, most famous parade happens on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. It’s called the Batalla de los Flores (Battle of Flowers) and happens along a long street called Via 40.
There is also a parade the next day, called the Gran Parada, which doesn’t have as much energy, but is still fun.
To truly enjoy the parades, I recommend getting tickets for covered seating (palcos). There are several different sponsors for the palcos, and each has its own price and location. You can’t move from palco to palco because they are separated by fences. Once you are in yours, you sit down and stay there. There are Porta Potties within each palco. They also sell food and drinks. Beers are like $2 each. If you don’t have a palco, you have to stand under the sun. It’s hot. They sell the tickets as a three day package. Monday has a small parade too.
Tuboleto sells tickets online and it’s a known Colombian vendor.
If you just want to go one day, you can just go directly to the parade grounds on Via 40 and there are plenty of scalpers for palco tickets. Just make sure you read the ticket well and don’t get scammed like I did.
Baile de la Calle
This is a crazy street party that happens Friday-Sunday of the weekend before Ash Wednesday. It’s on carrera 50 and they close off the street to cars for a few blocks. It’s a mixed crowd of familys and partiers. You have young and old here, though it’s not for young kids. Starts at 5 pm and goes super late. They have several stages set up with bands and it gets loud. There are vendors selling drinks and food everywhere. Definitely a must do.
You can get tickets on Tuboleto.
This another opportunity to party in the streets. La Troja is a super casual bar during most of the year. During Carnaval though, they close down the block and fence it off to host a giant outdoor party. It’s super loud with a mix of Latin music blasting until 3 or 4 am. It costs about $10 to get in, but you get 3 small beers with that price. There are tables everywhere and it’s first come first served. There are waitresses too, but they don’t come that often. You can order at the bar. There are also a few outdoor vendors cooking on grills. There are indoor bathrooms and Porta Potties too. Get there early (before 10 pm) or you might not get in at all. They shut it down if it gets to capacity.