Get Your Dancing Shoes! Carnival is Here!

Carnival kicked off this weekend, which means it’s time to let loose before Lent rolls around. Not that you have to be Catholic to indulge in a little church-sanctioned debauchery. Hedonists of all stripes can party at celebrations all across Latin America. Just pick your destination.

Barranquilla, Colombia

The hometown of Shakira and Sofia Vergara sure does knows how to have a good time. There's even a salsa song called "Barranquillero Arrebatao" that pays homage to the dancing skills and contagious spirit of locals. These characteristics are best displayed during carnival, when people of all ages move to a blend of Afro-indigenous rhythms. Popular characters include the caped Congo demonstrating African war dances and the long-nosed Marimonda, who ridicule the rich.

Cádiz, Spain

Forget the feathers and flash you’ll find elsewhere. This relaxed coastal city throws a celebration that emphasizes satire and parody above all else. Roaming the street corners, stairways and squares, you’ll find costumed troupes called chirigotas singing witty tunes that poke fun at politicians, celebrities and everyone in between. Another hard-to-miss group are the coros (or choirs), which dress in elaborate gear to pay homage to locals. The fun finishes with the Burial of the Sardine, as mock mourners grieve the end of Carnival.

Mazatlán, Mexico

Each year, a different king and queen preside over the festivities of this family-friendly fiesta while clowns and stiltwalkers entertain the kiddies. Locals look forward to the grand parade, which runs parallel to the Pacific Coastline and moves to the beat of traditional Sinaloense bands. The highlight of the week is the “Batalla Naval,” when several ships battle it out using fireworks instead of bullets.

Oruro, Bolivia

Religion takes center stage at this bash dedicated to the Virgin del Sovacon (Virgin of the Mineshaft) and rooted in Andean traditions. One of the most iconic dances is the Diablada, with participants dressed as monstrous devils and demons and evil Spanish conquistadors as they parade around the city. The procession ends with the enactment of two medieval mystery plays depicting the Archangel Michael as he brings down the devil and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Salvador da Bahia, Brazil

Rio’s carnival may be the world’s most famous, but most of its parades are contained inside the 70,000-person Sambadromo stadium, with ticket prices starting at a steep $110. Not so in Salvador da Bahia, where free street parties erupt at every turn, as trio elétricos (semitrailers loaded with mega-watt sound systems and bands) cruise on by. The theme this year is percussion, so expect the drumming groups known as Afro Bloco to amp it up!