It was finally here. The much anticipated Carnaval in Barranquilla. We were back in the city where we had met more than a month prior. Dani had traveled around Colombia and I had volunteered with La Agencia Travelers for five weeks. And now we were heading to Carnaval in Barranquilla. We had rented a flat via AirBnB for four nights (Saturday-Wednesday) in the Villa Carolina neighborhood. A friend I had met in Honduras was meeting us there, and friends of friends were joining. We were ready to experience the alleged second largest carnival after Rio.
We knew Berlinastur bus line was not taking reservations, but they had a bus leaving every 20 minutes. We wanted to drop our bags at the flat by noon, and unsure of space on the bus and traffic, we decided to meet at the Santa Marta bus terminal around 7am. As soon as we arrived someone approached us about Barranquilla and we were ushered into a micro bus that was nearly full. It was 12.000 COP compared to the 20.000 COP of other bus lines. We were on our way and made it to Barranquilla in under two hours. We got a taxi to the flat, which was 15.000 COP. Expensive, but that would be common during this weekend.
After the five of us had arrived, we dropped our bags and headed to the Batalla de Flores. We walked the length of the parade. You can purchase bleacher style seat tickets for all three days, or just single day tickets in the palcos. The cost for the day was 50.000 COP. You can also purchase single chairs, which we did the next day for much less. The first night we ended near Cra. 53 and Calle 45 at Fiesta PostBatalla de Flores where there was a street party with everyone still in body paint and costumes.
Day 2 (Sunday) we went early and paid 5.000 COP for chairs in the front row for the Gran Parada de Tradicion y Folclor. Based on how they had the parade sectioned off, we wished we had found a way to cross the street and sit on the other side for better photos. But we had one of the best days of Carnaval. Another friend of a friend had joined and we now had a group of people from six different countries. We quickly made friends with the group of Colombians behind us after they sprayed foam on us and spent the next several hours enjoying the parade and drinking with them. That night, we went to La Troja which is an open air area for culture and music. We danced the night away, had flour thrown on us and threw flour on others, and drank more beer and aguadiente.
Day 3 was similar to Day 2. We went to the Gran Parada de Comparsas. We decided to go near where the parade started and found a place to sit just on the curb. This was great for taking photos. You could even ask the performers to stop and take photos with you. The colors of the outfits and styles of dance were so different from group to group. Each day the parades lasted for a few hours. We enjoyed La Troja so much that we went back. Entry each night was 10.000 COP but this included three beers. Food inside was fairly inexpensive, and you didn’t have to pay to use the bathroom. We had purchased body paint and made friends with many Colombians that day/night that wanted to be painted.
We had been warned about pickpockets and one of the women in our group had her bum bag unclipped from her waist. Thankfully she was quick enough to grab it right back from the person. Sadly, that kind of stuff is going to happen in large crowds like that. What I will remember most is how friendly and welcoming everyone was. We sat on a ledge in front of some homes to rest, and the family that lives there brought the five of us beers. They stopped a taxi for a few of us that were heading to the flat and got the price for us so we would not get overcharged. The family behind us at the parade the second day never allowed us to have an empty hand. A beer was always placed into it. One person was gifted a hat, and I was gifted a necklace.
If you have the opportunity, GO! Arrive on Friday. This will allow you to take in the full parade on Saturday and get to know the city the day before. There are activities already happening that night as well. Take your own alcohol when you go out. You can buy it if you prefer, but we simply carried some cans of beer and water bottles pre-mixed with rum/coke. Negotiate pricing for the seats and taxis. The 5.000 COP chairs started at 20.000. Spray the foam, throw the flour, dance, and get festive! Dress up, paint yourself, find some glitter, and have fun!