Barranquilla Carnaval – Barranquilla, Colombia


Route Quebrada Valencia, Colombia – Barranquilla, Colombia (90)
Distance 145Km
Travel Time 3 hours
Road Conditions Good tarmac
Weather Hot, part extremely windy
Terrain Hilly coastline, tropical
Food and Petrol Barranquilla
Accommodation Friends in Barranquilla

The ride from Quebrada Valencia to Barranquilla is interesting indeed. The good road heads out of the jungle and deteriorates a bit with works around Santa Marta. Then it’s a long flat ride near the sea, through some pretty rough looking areas. Between Cienaga and Barranquilla the road goes across a bay on a narrow strip of land. This is the windiest place we have ever driven! (And it’s always windy.) The wind is so strong, we have to lean the bike 45 degrees into it just to keep going straight and not fall over. It’s dangerous! There are areas where we’re protected by mounds and vegetation on the road-side, but where there are gaps in these walls, the wind comes through again and hits you with a fearsome force. It’s about 50 kilometres all in all – enjoy and take care.




After that it’s a slow ride across a long bridge over the majestic Rio Madeira into the city of Barranquilla. From up here you can see the city and the big ships in the river, quite an exciting view I think.


The first thing about riding in Colombian cities is that it’s really easy to get to an address. All streets are built on a grid pattern. Running one way are the Carreras (like “avenue”), all numbered sequentially in a direction, and perpendicular to these run the Calles (like “street”), which are also numbered in sequence. At each intersection there is a marker indicating the location you’re at, “K” indicating the Carrera number and “C” indicating the Calle. Thus if I entered Barranquilla and find myself at intersection Carrera 14 / Calle 17 and I need to get to K44 / C41, I know I just need to go North 30 blocks and 24 blocks West.




We get to our friend Garrett at about 9PM, meet his girl friend Brenda and house mate Emilse. It’s great to meet again after so many months. The next few days are bound to be a hit.


The Barranquilla Carnaval is about to kick off tomorrow and it’s renowned to be the world’s biggest carvaval outside of the world famous Rio de Janeiro Carnaval. Some say it’s even better because it’s smaller and less commercialized. The first thing Garret does is equip us with a stick each, it’s a purpose-built, painted cane with a wrist strap on one end, similar to a horse whip. “You use this to poke people with,” he explains. “Barranquilla is awesome, there’s not may places in the world I can think of where you can get away poking someone you don’t know with a stick…”




Barranquilla is a large modern city, expensive, not really much of a backpackers destination, but it has some pretty parts and an array of places to eat, drink and have a good time. It’s a port town at the mouth of the Rio Madeira, which runs all the way through the country, and used to be a huge commercial route in the past. It’s a good option to stock up on any specific equipment you might need before moving on to the more rural parts. On every street corner there is a little tienda selling groceries and liquor. Every other street has a panaderia (bakery) selling breads, cakes and pizza by the slice. You can eat well here.




And at this time, is HOT! Walking through the streets during the middle of the day is a scorching business. Surfaces reflect white in the heat. Having said that, many of the older houses – such as the one we’re staying in – are built in a manner that gives maximum cooling and air circulation, so inside in the shade it’s quite pleasant. It’s hard to believe that in a few months the city will be practically under water: when the rain season hits, streets here get flooded, there are even road signs in various areas warning of fords, for want of a better word, ahead.




Carnaval is a blast! It’s a feast for the eyes! The vibe is indescribable. During the four of carnaval days, there are a number of processions taking different routes through the city, with people dressed up in costumes, marching bands playing, dance groups, performers, beauty queens and other queens. It’s a magnificent wash of colour and sound.


The costumes are amazing! Large dance groups wearing skin-tight leotards (not covering very much) with big feathery protrusions, jiggling their wobbly bits around frantically. Which reminds me, I think Colombia must have the most beautiful women in all South America (so far anyway). But watch out at carnaval, the one you’re eyeing out may be a bit more masculine than you thought 😉 Other groups sneak by like animals, dressed as fawns or other creatures from fantasy books.



Probably the most beautiful of all, in my opinion, are the groups wearing the traditional dress of their particular area in the country. Men wear their region’s sombrero (like a straw cowboy hat with a specific pattern) and suits, moving side by side with their dance partners, stunning women dressed in wide, wavy dresses, ribbons in their dark hair, beautiful like flowers in a meadow. Some of the men walk ahead and behind each group, playing their traditional music, and at every other place they all stop walking and another dance begins. Spectacular! If there is anything you should try to be part of in South America…

And throughout the day the rum is flowing. Did I mention the rum in Colombia?


In various places along the road there are grand-stands and spectator areas where people can sit in the shade and watch the parade. These are either small marquises that’ll cost you a few thousand pesos or large grand-stands for which I imagine people pay a small fortune. I prefer to stand and move with the flow – or even better, join in the parade if possible! One cool thing about Barranquilla Carnaval is that you can actually join in the parade. You just have to ask around and find a group in your neighbourhood that is participating, they’ll kit you out in their costume and off you go. Put some comfy shoes on because you’ll be dancing all day long!



On the first day we’re meant to join with a parade group but we don’t manage to meet up with them. Instead we just move around with the parade in various places as they go, taking photographs like mad. The vibe is friendly, festive. People seem to find it amusing that us foreigners are moving along with the party. Everywhere people call out to us, “Hey gringo,” many of them wanting to ask where we’re from and take photos with us. Everybody’s up for a joke and a laugh. People are spraying each other with foam canons and putting chalk in each other’s faces.


And then there’s all the above, by groups purely of children. And strewn throughout are a number of small groups or “solo artists”, dressed as political figures, monsters, whatever you care to imagine, making their own contribution to the spectacle.



This theme seems to transcend the Carnaval though. Colombians have a very playful attitude. It’s all about talking shit, having fun and being cool around here. Oh, and of course, the music, the dancing! As a foreigner, everyone wants to talk to you. Walking through the streets we’d hear people call out to us, “hey gringo, gringo….” In other Latin American countries people would rarely address you as “gringo”, but only use that word for you amongst themselves, because it’s actually a derogatory term.


After the parades end in the evening, the party moves elsewhere. You don;t have to walk far to find a place where the music is up high and people are drinking and dancing like there’s no tomorrow. The beer flows, interspersed with excellent Colombian rum and – a big one in Colombia – the inexpensive anis seed liquor named Aguardiente. Chalk flies, sticks are being poked, foam is aimed in all directions – it’s madness! I’d never been accustomed to drinking rum neat, but here I certainly got the taste for it, and boy do they have some good rum here.



All in all it’s four days of rum induced hedonistic mayhem. Music, dance, drink, food and an abundance of good spirit emanating from all. Definitely something to experience at least once in your life.