The carnival season brings lights, parades and hedonistic rituals that disrupt daily norms. This long-awaited season is now upon us, and you will not want to miss the opportunity to participate in what is perhaps the best carnival celebration in the world.
Now is the time to choose! Considered a rite of passage from darkness to light, from winter to summer, and as a celebration of fertility, the carnival festival has been part of humanity’s folklore for centuries. And while the origins of carnival are still in doubt, its ability to create exciting and unforgettable experiences for all leaves no doubt.
Civitatis has prepared a list with the 8 best carnivals in the world. Pack your best costume and hit the streets for a few days of pure joy.
Mardi Gras – New Orleans, LA, USA
Mardi Gras has its roots in the European traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries within the House of Bourbon. Long gone are the days when Mardi Gras was a carnival celebration for the privileged few. Today it is a melting pot of people of all ages taking to the streets in ever-increasing numbers.
As for the outfit, anything goes. Don’t be shy when it comes to sporting the most obscure and peculiar carnival costume. Bring a backpack with you to carry everything, including the beads and glasses that are thrown from the decorated boats that go through the parade.
Venice Carnival – Venice, Italy
A golden veteran of the list, the Venice carnival has its roots, it is said, in the celebration of the Republic of Venice’s victory over the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162. The festivities have evolved quite a bit since then, but the tradition of wearing masks remains a central component. These porcelain masks have become synonymous with carnival celebrations around the world.
They are also said to have been used originally as a revolt against the class hierarchy in the 13th century. Choose a mask from a variety of options, such as the Bauta, the Colombina , or the Medico della Peste, then take to the streets and canals for a unique experience in Venice.
Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife – Tenerife, Canary Islands
Tenerife hosts countless festivals throughout the year, but none come close to its famous carnival celebration. Considered the second most popular carnival festival in the world after the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival has been conquering the Canary Island capital for centuries with its showers of color.
The city is transformed into one big colorful party for 15 days of pure extravaganza, including a gala party to elect the carnival queen, carnival costumes, satirical marches and bohemian parades. While in Tenerife, try the local food, and if you are passing through other Spanish territories, take the opportunity to do the same.
Cologne Carnival – Cologne, Germany
Although the Cologne Carnival season (affectionately called the “fifth season”) officially starts earlier, the main event actually takes place in February. Start enjoying Cologne’ s Carnival festivities with the Women’s Carnival, when the city’s residents bring their party costumes to work, followed by masquerade balls and parties in the evening.
The carnival celebration is most festive and exciting during weekends, and reaches its peak during the Rose Monday parade (also known as Carnival Monday). The march through Südstadt (the southern part of Cologne) includes a variety of floats made from items such as boxes of chocolates and sweets, among others, that delight the masses.
Rio Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The flagship among the world’s many carnivals is surely the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro. The carnival festival, which has its origins in 1723, attracts more than two million people a day. The more than 200 blocos and samba schools occupy the streets of the Marvelous City until late at night.
Try to grab one of the contested tickets to the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí to watch the world’s most famous parades or, if you prefer something more relaxed, join one of the blocos that occupy the metropolis’ neighborhoods. But Carnival in Brazil is not just Rio: check out some of the best carnivals in Brazil.
Oruro Carnival – Oruro, Bolivia
What was once an indigenous celebration is now a festival with strong ties to religious symbolism in the form of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Tio Supay (God of the underworld). These two icons provide the backdrop for the festival, which includes the ritual known as the “dance of the demons,” La Diablada, representing the triumph of good against evil.
With themed parades of a wide variety of folk myths, legends and curious traditions, this carnival is one that can upset the norms of daily life. Take a break from the revelry by spending a few more days in Bolivia, with salt deserts, lakes and enchanting landscapes at your disposal.
Binche Carnival – Binche, Belgium
In 2003, UNESCO classified the Binche carnival festival as a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity,” a testament to its unique personality. It is true that Belgium hosts several carnivals around the same time, but Binche stands out for its obscure performers (known as Gilles), events where oranges are thrown (a sign of good luck) and other curious practices.
There are disagreements about the origin of this carnival festival. One of the most popular theories holds that one of the 14th-century Gilles was of Inca origin and wore a disguise whose exotic appearance gained popularity among the inhabitants. This explains the huge feathered hats worn by today’s Gilles-or maybe not.
Nice Carnival – Nice, France
Six carnival parades, 17 floats and thousands of dancers and musicians from around the world: the Nice Carnival is a lively and vibrant festival, rich in cultural heritage. Don’t miss the Battle of the Flowers (Bataille de Fleurs) either.
The elegant parade brings together countless flower caravans in the streets, creating an enchanting landscape for onlookers. Those who catch bouquets thrown from cars have guaranteed luck in life!