Top destinations to get your Carnival on
While Rio may grab the headlines with its flesh-baring, samba-shaking parades and New Orleans is renowned for getting down and dirty with its wanton display of pre-Lenten debauchery, there’s plenty of places around the globe where you can get your glitter on and truss up your tail feathers for the Carnival season. Traditionally a time to let loose before the 40-day fast or abstinence of Lent kicks in (just before Ash Wednesday – March 5 this year), fiestas happen in South America, Central America, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Here’s our fave alternative places to party before the Easter bunny arrives.
Sound the steel drums; the rum-soaked Trinidad Carnival takes place annually on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday with heaps of fetes, concerts and parties starting the week prior. It’s the biggest carnival in the Caribbean and takes over the entire country. Think Trini-born rapper Nicki Minaj’s tribute in her ‘Pound the Alarm’ video and then times that by a thousand. J’Ouvert is the no-holds-barred, 3am festival opener when revellers hit the streets covered in mud, body paint or even chocolate! Save your sparkly and skimpy costume for the main event - the Parade of the Bands in the capital, Port of Spain, where the mas bands (masquerade bands) and masqueraders whine (dance) alongside sound-system trucks blaring live calypso music to the Savannah stage. Bring sunscreen!
Over on the Spanish island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, some 322 kilometres off the northwest coast of Africa, the islanders sure like to party with around 300 festivals annually. The biggest of these is the 15-day Santa Cruz Carnival when around 250,000 costumed masqueraders hit the capital, although carnivals also happen all around Tenerife. The event kicks off with the crowning of the Carnival Queen on the Wednesday before Ash Wednesday and continues with the official Coso or Grand Procession of floats, bands, dancing troupes and street entertainers on Shrove Tuesday. Lent doesn’t stop the party though, there’s the mock burial called Enterrio de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine) with cross-dressing mourners and more parades on the following weekend!
Cape Verde Mardi Gras
Also in Africa, Cape Verde is an island archipelago off the west coast and a former Portuguese colony where one of the lasting traditions is a colourful annual carnival. Also known as the São Vicente Creole Carnival, the Cape Verde Mardi Gras taps Brazil for its shared Portuguese history for its pre-Lenten fiesta in the usually quiet town of Mindelo on São Vicente Island. Expect massive fireworks, eye-catching costumes, buff bodies, samba shaking and plenty of fun in the sun. There’s a procession on the Monday before Lent and Shrove Tuesday is a public holiday where everyone gets to sleep off their excesses and then regroup for a smaller and more family friendly parade in the dusky afternoon.
Recife and Olinda Carnivals
For a more authentic Carnival in Brazil, seek out the pre-Lenten celebrations of Recife and Olinda. The neighbouring cities in the northeast of Brazil put on separate events during the carnival season, which are influenced by their indigenous and African heritage. The Recife Carnival reportedly has the biggest bloco (parade) in the world – Galo de Madrugada (Rooster of the Dawn) - which opens the celebrations on the Saturday before Lent with over 1.5 million people flocking to the streets for the all-inclusive samba display where everyone is expected to take part and you’ll hear a mishmash of music styles. In Olinda, it’s all about the costumes from the sexy to satirical and papier-mâché puppets called bonecas that march through the streets. It’s all over on Fat Tuesday, before Lent.
There’s no grinding, whining and definitely no skin on display at the Carnival of Venice, in the Italian city of canals. In fact, the enduring symbols of the Carnevale di Venezia are the elaborate masks (mascheras) donned traditionally to hide the identities of the revellers. Carnival-goers wear exquisitely detailed costumes and half or full masks – some with distinct Venetian styles. The 10-day carnival itself runs until the stroke of midnight on Shrove Tuesday with events including dance and music extravaganzas in Piazza San Marco and live music in Venice’s other squares, decorated gondolas on the canals, plus heaps of grand masquerade balls for the highrollers. Dress to impress!
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