This travel guide refers to Barranquilla carnival only. Although Barranquilla is a bustling industrial city in North Colombia (2 hours by bus from Santa Marta), there is not much to see or do here with minimal focus on catering for tourists. Because of this, Barranquilla is only put on the backpacker map when Barranquilla carnival is on, which is always four days before Ash Wednesday.
As the second largest carnival in South America, after the infamous Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. It is a four day festival full of colour, music, dancing, elaborate costumes, electric parades and wild street parties.
Barranquilla is located on the Caribbean coast of Colombia and easily reached from Santa Marta or Cartagena, both only a 2 hour drive away. Barranquilla’s bus terminal is located south of the city, about a 30 minute drive away from the town centre. Popular bus services include:
As well as regular buses to and from Cartagena and Santa Marta, there are many other buses connecting it with a number of towns and cities, including but not limited to:
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Barter when buying your bus tickets. Quite often you can travel at 40% lower than the price they first tell you.
Barranquilla's airport is Ernesto Cortissoz International Airport, which has direct flights to and from Quito, Panama City and Miami. Domestic flights go to and from: Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Bucaramanga, Monteria, San Andreas, Cucuta and Uribia.
You can take a taxi to the centre of town from the airport which should cost no more than COL$30,000 (€8 / $10). There is a taxi rank directly outside of the arrival hall.
- Buses are plentiful and run from many of the neighbouring suburbs to the centre of Barranquilla. You will see the bus stands on the sides of the street, make sure you wave them down in plenty of time, they whizz around fairly quickly!
- UBER is popular in Barranquilla. Use the app on your phone but plan ahead, the taxi drivers don't always show up!
- You can flag a license taxi down on the street really easily, but make sure you negotiate a fare before you get in - they don’t use meters in Barranquilla!
As Colombia’s biggest celebration of folklore, Barranquilla Carnival dates back at least 100 years (although no one is quite sure when it started). The official festivities last for 4 days, but people usually start celebrating 1 week beforehand. It is a sight like no other, with UNESCO labeling it as a “Masterpiece of Oral and intangible Heritage of Humanity”. The main streets in the centre of town fill with electric music, parades and dancing; mixing Spanish, African Congo and indigenous influences into a whirlwind of colour and artistic delights.
Run down of what you can expect:
Starts with a huge parade down the main street, Via 40 (use maps.me to find your way to the street). La Battalla de Flores (The Battle of Flowers) which is the carnival’s most important event lasting 6 hours, headlined by the carnival King and Queen. There is lots of music, dancing, weird and wonderful parade floats, fire breathers and much more.
The La Battalla de Flores on day 1 is followed by La Gran Parada (The Grand Parade), where dance groups compete against one another, the streets fill with salsa and folk music and carnival goers take to the streets in weird masks and disguises. Get ready to be covered in foam and flour, a tradition of the Carnival. I advise getting involved but beware, gringos are definitely a target for the Colombians, but in a happy and playful way. It is SO much fun!
The Orchestra Festival, dominated by Caribbean and Latin American music, brings with it lots and lots of street parties and more foam and flour throwing!
Death of Joselito, a mythical character who symbolises the end of carnival. This is probably the least celebrated day of Barranquilla carnival, with less people turning out to see this sombre parade. Most locals will say not to bother with this day, but I think it is worth seeing a rather different side of the carnival.
Tickets for Barranquilla
It is not necessary to buy tickets for Barranquilla carnival. If you did want to, you can buy tickets via tuboleta. Tickets guarantee you a place in the stands that overlook the carnival parades giving you a wonderful view of the processions below. There is also bathrooms nearby and easy access to food and drinks. However, the tickets can be expensive and you cannot buy a single day ticket, you have to buy one for the 4 days, costing in excess of COL$245,000 (€70 / $80).
If you are on a shoestring budget, I would suggest forgoing buying tickets, as I did, and just buying a spot under some covered stalls along the parade barriers. Here you will get some much needed shade, a seat and a good view of the parade, if not a little obscured as you are at ground level. Turn up early to get a seat in the front row. If you walk close to the main street, Via 40, you can't miss the multiple stalls trying to sell their seats. and have a walk around. When you find a shelter you like, be prepared to barter ALOT. Seats should cost no more than COL$20-30,000 (€5-8 / $7-10).
The biggest cost is investing in an awesome carnival outfit. Think bright colours, masks, sequins, feathers and flowers. If you don’t like to plan ahead, there is an awesome market between Carrera 46, Calle 72 and 74 to pick up some festival accessories.
If you are visiting Barranquilla during Carnival ~ BOOK AHEAD ~ otherwise it becomes super expensive! We booked one week before and ended up staying with a family 30 minutes drive from the centre. This was a relatively cheap option, but it meant we had to get taxis everywhere, and when taxi drivers know they are your only hope of getting home, the fare quickly increases!
There are no hostels as such in Barranquilla, so book through booking.com and make sure you stay around the main street where the carnival parades are, Via 40. A good alternative is an Air BNB or a home stay.
Caribbean Blue Inn; Cra 43, number 93-33; Phone number: +573188902649
This homestay only takes bookings for Barranquilla carnival.
For two people we paid COL$85,000 (€25 / $28) each, and we had a lovely twin room ensuite with breakfast included. Perfect for our pre-carnival game! It is a family run guest house, incredibly welcoming, safe and secure. It is a little way out of the centre, but if you are looking for cheap, nice and safe, it is perfect. To get to and from this guesthouse, taxis/UBER are advise. It will take 20 minutes and cost between COL$25,000-35,000 (€7-10 / $8-11). You can also take a bus but be aware, they stop early evening at around 6pm.
- Get dressed up!
- Remember your money belt for those important valuables!
- Head to the parades early, around 10am.
- Don’t buy a ticket if you are on a tight budget or only staying for one day
- Take toilet paper and hand sanitiser
- Take plenty of water
- Max out on the sunscreen and take a hat - also, buy a handheld fan, they are very much needed in the heat.
- Get involved in the street parties: buy foam and flour and dance Cumbia (the courtship dance practiced among African communities on the Caribbean Coast)
- Dance until your legs begin to shake
- Be careful at night - the street parties are dangerous, especially with regards to thefts. Be careful of your belongings, I would strongly advise leaving your phone at home - three of the guys I was with got their phones stolen.
- Take snacks / food / own alcohol (I advise buy some local Aguardiente!)