One of the Biggest Carnaval Celebrations Is Back and Going All Out

Pent up energy results in one of the most epic parties in the world.

On a given day, Barranquilla is an energetic fiesta of color. Colombia’s fourth largest city and home to two million-plus, the city’s spark is as omnipresent as the warm Caribbean breeze that rushes nonstop through its thoroughfares. Drums from cumbia, porro and gaita tunes radiate from hole-in-the-wall watering holes. Buildings with bright blues and orange pop amid preserved decades-old residences. And modern glass monuments—like the neon-infused Ventana al Mundo (Window to the World) and the soccer-honoring statue Aleta del Tiburón (Shark Fin)—add that much more intrigue to its river-adjacent skyline.

Take that energy, multiply it by a gazillion and add 300,000 domestic and international visitors to the mix, and you have Barranquilla’s annual Carnaval. Dating back to 1888 and recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Humanity’s Intangible and Oral Heritage, the four-day fest is the second largest Carnaval in the world, only behind Rio’s spectacle. It’s a utopian-esque time for people of all backgrounds to come together to party right before Holy Week, with mask, float-filled parades, and high-paced, rump-shaking street concerts.

After pivoting to a virtual experience in 2021 due to COVID and with so much pent-up energy, count on the in-person Carnaval 2022 being the wildest yet. The bulk of the action falls between March 26 and 29, with nearly 20 city-sanctioned events at its core. Carnaval presents an opportunity to experience a party and city like no other; here’s how to make the most of it all.

Or rather: the mask under the mask. | oscar garces/Shutterstock

Bring your vaccination card (and have a mask handy, too)

To attend Carnaval-sanctioned events, COVID-19 full vaccination is required for those older than 12. Regarding masks, Colombians have navigated a roller coaster of COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates. As of March 1, 2022, the Colombian government lifted mask requirements in open-air spaces for departments with a vaccination rate of more than 70%. Atlántico – the department that Barranquilla is the capital of – has a vaccination rate of more than 90%, meaning masks are not required for the outdoor Carnaval components. However, it can’t hurt to have a mask for any indoor excursions that arise during your Barranquilla adventure – inside, you will need it.

Throw on your most colorful ensemble. | mcamposespana/Shutterstock

Snag your tickets for parades, concerts and... a flower battle

You’ll want to get tickets for all official Carnaval events in advance. An annual staple is the Batalla de Flores (Battle of the Flowers) parade. This year’s parade features 15 floats with thousands of dancers surrounding them. The parade dates to the early 1900s as a celebration to mark the end of Colombia’s Thousand Days’ War. You’ll see that the colorful costumery is not just reserved for parade participants—make sure to wear your wildest garb to fit in. Post-parade and each night starting at 5 pm, the area on Carrera 50 near the Plaza de la Aduana complex morphs into a Baila la Calle experience, where orchestral and tambó concerts stretch into the night and, living up to its name (and as Wyclef Jean says in a Shakira song), everyone dances in the streets.

Museo del Carnaval BAQ
It’s like the ultimate how-to-party guide. | Museo del Carnaval BAQ

Experience the Carnaval magic under one roof

With so many characters swirling by during Carnaval, it can be hard to grasp the meaning behind it all. Hit the Museo del Carnaval de Barranquilla—you can’t miss it, as it’s draped in vertical stripes of all colors—for an interactive and colorful history lesson. The museum has three total levels. Make sure to check out the second floor, a collection of dozens of extravagant dresses donned by each year’s Carnaval Queen.

For even more Carnaval and Barranquilla history, consider booking a city-wide tour. Caribia Tours has a number of options spanning music, culture, and gastronomy year-round.

Cervecería Tresquince
Even the kegs are colorful here. | Cervecería Tresquince

Explore Barranquilla’s bar scene for craft brews and high-paced salsa

Fun fact: Colombia’s staple beer, Aguila, was born in Barranquilla in 1913. You’ll likely want a few of the crisp pilsners to loosen up your hips before dancing the night away at Barranquilla’s salsa institution, La Troja. With popping yellow signage declaring Patrimonio Cultural y Musical (Cultural and Musical Heritage) and walls of albums that the on-site DJ blasts, your senses can’t avoid this place.

For a more chill vibe, check out rising craft brewery Tresquince in a small warehouse three blocks east of the Plaza de la Aduana complex. Its IPAs—often infused with Colombian fruits—are as flavorful as the games of dominos you can play with locals inside.

Narcobollo Delivery Colombia
Eggy goodness inside. | Narcobollo Delivery Colombia

Let arepas de huevo fuel your adventure

No trip to Barranquilla is complete without chowing down on an ultra-crispy arepa de huevo... or, maybe, ten. Whether slugging through yellow taxi traffic on the Carrera 51B artery or strolling through the mansion-draped Alto Prado neighborhood, there is no shortage of corner market options bearing these fried morsels in a street-side display. The best are obvious to spot: freshly deep fried, medium brown in hue and with a visible mound on one side from where the cook snuck a cracked egg in it mid-fry.

For the best in town, hit the Cucayo at the Caimán del Río market along the Magdalena River or the unassuming cafeteria-style Narcobollo restaurant, where folks line up for mammoth bowls of sancocho (a thick soup with root vegetables and meat) and gooey deditos de queso (cheese sticks) around the clock.

And don’t forget the Colombian coffee. | @eldiario_cafe

Start your day with coffee and end at the most vibrant restaurant in town

To get your Carnaval buzz going in the morning, head to El Diario in Alto Prado for Colombian coffee concoctions. It’s the new hotspot in Barranquilla to get a perfectly timed espresso shot, V60 pour over coffee, and even a corozo juice—a tangy, cherry-like beverage made from the small red-meets-purple fruit grown only in Colombia’s Caribbean region.

For a memorable dinner and cultural experience balled in one, book a reservation at Restaurante La Cueva in the El Recreo neighborhood. Dating back to the mid-1950s, this is where Barranquilla’s most boisterous personalities and intellectuals—from artist Orlando Rivera to One Hundred Years of Solitude author Gabriel García Marquez—gathered and partied hard. Today, the spot is a living museum, serving up Caribbean-infused delicacies and nightly musical performances spanning salsa to Cuban jams.

Hotel El Prado
Return to stately elegance at Hotel El Prado. | Hotel El Prado

Rejuvenate at Barranquilla’s top hotels

Completed in 1930, Hotel El Prado is widely considered the first tourist hotel in all of Latin America. Today, it is a Colombian cultural heritage site and gleaming with stately five-star elegance, a red tile roof, yellow arched balconies, and blue central pool that’s surrounded by towering palm trees.

For a slightly less federal and more contemporary vibe, Hotel Movich Buró 51 is a stellar option. It has a rooftop pool with panoramic city views, an expansive breakfast buffet (unlimited arepas de huevo on select days, anyone?), and a multicolor sculpture of a horse’s head greeting you in its lobby.

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Jesse Scott is a contributor for Thrillist.