In cities around the world, Carnival revelers party from mid-February through Ash Wednesday. As this year’s festivities wind down, here are ten excellent Carnival parties you can live through vicariously – or plan a trip for next year.
1. New Orleans, Louisiana: Without a doubt the most recognizable carnival celebration in the United States, New Orleans reels in nearly one-million rowdy revelers, bead-tossers, and masked marchers each year. Although Mardi Gras is most famous for its beads, booze, and, erm, exposed flesh, the festivities date back to the 18th century when the city was first settled by the French. While parades are scattered throughout February, the real party begins the weekend before Fat Tuesday, when the city’s population doubles.
2. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Brazil holds the most celebrated carnival in the world. Dancing practically becomes the main mode of transportation, as two million bare-chested Brazilians and tourists invade Rio’s streets and the famed Sambodromo to witness the biggest party in the world – including masquerade balls in the Copacabana Palace, the Samba school parade, and the Banda de Ipanema street parade, which attracts 20,000 people. Ticket prices to some events can reach up to $3000, but it’s completely free to spend the day dancing in the streets.
3. Venice, Italy: Venice hosted its first-ever carnival celebration in 1162 after the victory of the Serenissima Repubblica against the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven. And boy, we’re glad they won. Here, about three-million partygoers cover their bodies in cloaks and a traditional, white or gilded bauta mask, and slither through the narrow, canal-bisected streets.
4. Cologne, Germany: “Kölle Alaaf!” scream the locals before planting a friendly kiss on your lips. Oddly, Carnival here begins eleven minutes past eleven on the eleventh day of the eleventh month (November). Unlike most Carnival celebrations, Cologne takes a laid back, romantic approach to the holiday. The craziness begins on Thursday, when local women scour the streets and cut men’s ties. The festival ends on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) with parades, parties, heavy drinking, and kisses at the Alter Markt.
5. Oruro, Bolivia: Named one of UNESCO’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Bolivia’s festivities revolve around the Dance of Llama Llama to honor the Uru god Tiw. Meshing Inca and colonial traditions, La Diablada stomps through the streets doing the Dance of Devils, leering into the eyes of thousands of spectators. To extinguish the fire from the devils’ dance, carnival ends with Dia del Agua (“The Day of Water”), at which a massive water-bomb fight takes over the town. Watch out because tourists are generally subjected to the most splashes.
6. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival is a multicultural masterpiece that combines elements from Amerindian, European, African, Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern traditions. Talent competitions like the Calypso Monarch hypnotize the nation, with the winner honored as a cultural icon. As steel-pan drums undulate with the ocean waves, stick fighting and limbo contests endlessly entertain tourists and locals alike.
7. Binche, Belgium: What do you get when you cross a dodgeball fight with oranges and a UNESCO Heritage site? The answer would be carnival in Binche, Belgium. Events begin seven weeks before the primary celebration, which takes place on Fat (Shrove) Tuesday. Binche’s festivities begin with a parade of “Gilles,” or traditional carnival revelers. The Gilles soldier through the streets wearing spooky orange, green-eyed masks and shaking sticks in order to ward off evil spirits. As the parade continues, spectators are often pelted with oranges – but are not allowed to retaliate – as a gift to celebrate the coming summer.
8. Mazatlan, Mexico: What began in 1898 as a carnival of confetti and streamers has since transformed into Mexico’s largest carnival celebration. Combining a massive fiesta – think mariachi bands and excellent street food – with Catholic imagery and a hint of Mesoamerican tradition, carnival here is a wild extravaganza. Revelers break confetti-filled hollow eggs, honoring carnival tradition. Music echoes through the streets, acknowledging a Mexico from centuries ago.
9. Montevideo, Uruguay: Eclipsed by Rio’s celebration, Uruguay’s festival similarly pays homage to its Spanish and African roots. Laced with humor and parody, street performances called murgas satirize Uruguay’s class divides – or, more likely, those of neighboring Argentina. Joining the murgas in the street are dance parades by comparsas who shimmy to traditional candombe music.
10. Jacmel, Haiti: Although Haiti doesn’t seem like an ideal locale to visit for carnival, its eclectic history, with French, Creole, African, Caribbean, and voodoo traditions, guarantees a cultural experience unlike any other in the world. Kanaval, as Haitians refer to it, began in 1804 and originally consisted of sexual dances, profane performances, and counter-culture music. Still today, these performances play an integral role in Kanaval celebrations that urge partakers to lage ko’w (let go of yourself) and gouye (move your hips).
See our full slideshow of the world’s best carnivals.