21 Stunning Images From Colombia’s Barranquilla Carnival

Published February 29, 2016
Updated August 3, 2018

Inside the world's second largest carnival, the Barranquilla Carnival in Colombia, a fantastic madhouse of dance and partying.

While carnival revelers’ eyes usually turn to Rio de Janeiro in February, the Colombian city of Barranquilla simultaneously hosts its own carnival, the second-largest in the world and an increasingly popular alternative to its Brazilian counterparts.

In this exuberant celebration of Colombian and costeño traditions, masquerade parades follow street dances, popular gatherings, and theatrical performances. Join the Barranquilla Carnival with these 21 photos showcasing the colors and electric atmosphere of this four-day extravaganza with a Colombian twist:

Man Dancing
An appropriate representation of the event’s official slogan, “Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza” (“Who lives it, enjoys it”).

Posing Couple
Dating back to the 19th century, the Carnaval de Barranquilla takes place in the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday.

Africano Children
The festivities are believed to be rooted in the ceremonies of ancient Colombian indigenous populations, the traditions of European colonialists, and the occasional musical celebrations of 18th-century African slaves.

Dancing Women Collage
As such, the festival is a celebration of the diversity of the Colombian population and its cultural influences.

Group Women Dancers
In 2002, the National Congress of Colombia recognized the carnival as a Cultural Masterpiece of the Nation.

Dancing Woman
UNESCO also listed the event as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.

Float Parade
A few days before the Carnival begins, the city crowns its King Momo and Queen to preside over the festivities. The revelries are then kicked off by the Batalla de Flores (Battle of the Flowers) float parade.

Young Girls Dancing
The Carnival Queen has usually been involved in pageants since childhood and has demonstrated her carnival spirit over the years.

Dance Troop
The Sunday and Monday of the carnival see local dance troops perform in spectacular parades.

Woman Closeup
The parades are a feast of colorful and elaborate costumes, including ornate headgear.

Dancing With Aguardiente
Ladies dancing while balancing bottles of aguardiente, the local alcohol, on their heads.

The parades feature recurrent traditional characters, such as the marimonda, a grotesque creature with a long nose, large ears, and outrageously colored clothes.

Africano Costume
The Africano is another typical figure of the Barranquilla tradition, introduced to the carnival in 1971.

Monocuco Costume
Traditionally, the disguise of the Monocuco (above) was used by rich citizens to hide their identity in order to fully enjoy all aspects of the carnival (including its libertine side) without being recognized.

Venetian Costume
Other costumes borrow from the Venetian tradition and take on a more sinister, Halloween-esque turn.

Death Costume
Death is one of the Carnival’s prominent tropes, and is represented in many different forms.

Night Party
The party carries on well into the night, with drama performances, improvised street dances, and friendly corn flour battles.

Traditional Dancing
An important function of the Carnival is to showcase the popular dances integral to Colombian culture, including Cumbia, Garabato, Chandé, Fandango, etc.

Barranquilla Carnival 2016 Dancing Cumbia
Among those, Cumbia — performed by the woman featured above — holds a special place as a costeña dance form that originated from the Barranquilla region.

Cumbia Troop
The Cumbia dance mimics a couple courting and focuses on the delicate movements of the woman’s hips to the sound of a drum and flute.

Barranquilla Carnival 2016 Joselito Carnaval Death
The Carnival concludes with the metaphorical death of Joselito Carnaval, one of the revellers, on Tuesday. Funeral processions are organized to mourn the tragic end of this eager participant killed by his own excesses.

All photos by Camille Poiré.

If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of the most bizarre parades in the world. Finally, check out the glamorous and gruesome history of the masquerade ball.

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John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.