Carnival time is fast approaching, and while Rio and Venice tend to steal the limelight we thought we’d compile some lesser-known but equally fun carnivals around the globe.
So don’t follow the crowds… well, actually do follow the crowds (it is a carnival after all) but just be sure to look beyond the usual big shots as you celebrate festivals in 2014.
Just go with the floats at these five cool alternative carnivals…
1. Carnaval de Barranquilla, Colombia
1-4 March 2014
Carnaval de what? Surprisingly, not many people have heard of the Barranquilla Carnival, but worldwide it is only second in size to Rio de Janeiro (otherwise known as the best carnival in the world!). The big pull – it’s free, so makes for a brilliant budget alternative to those more expensive top carnivals!
Barranquilla lies at the mouth of the Magdalena River and has far fewer tourists than neighbouring towns Cartagena or Santa Marta (although they are great post-carnival destinations if you fancy recovering by the beach for a few days). In Barranquilla, you can really immerse yourself in local life as the friendly, happy residents make you feel most welcome in their city.
Both the Carnival Queen and King Momo are chosen months in advance and only those who have displayed the best festival spirit since childhood are in with a chance of winning these honored titles. The Battle of Flowers parade takes place on Carnival Saturday, on Sunday travellers can look forward to the Great Parade of Tradition, and on the final day live bands compete for the Gold Congo prize at the Orchestra’s Festival.
Head to El Norte, the northern part of town for the best nightlife. During carnival time, the whole city parties for 4-5 days, dancing the day and night away. If you don’t think you can keep up with the dancing (this is booty-shaking Shakira’s hometown after all), feast your eyes on the fantastical parades of colourful costumes and be awed by the Afro-Colombian folk dances accompanied by salsa and Cumbia music.
Interested in the Barranquilla Carnival but not sure where to stay? We have a number of hostels in Cartagena (the neighbouring town) available, with rooms for less than €10 a night. Check out the Hotel Villa Colonial for a great budget option.
2. Maslenitsa Festival, Russia
February 24 – March 2 2014
While the Maslenitsa festival has only recently been put back on the Russian holiday calendar, it’s celebrated in Moscow with full gusto! The name is rooted in the old Russian word ‘maslo’, meaning butter. With Lent just around the corner, full liberties are taken to enjoy both meat and dairy products, traditionally forbidden during Lent – so fill up on Russian pancakes, bilini topped with caviar, mushrooms, sour cream, jam and plenty of butter.
After you have loosened your belt a few notches, roll up your sleeves and join in with the merry fisticuffs. These somewhat bizarre and friendly group fistfights occur throughout the festival and celebrate Russian military history. Sadly, performing bears still have entertainment value at Russian festivals. Served copious amounts of Vodka, the bear is then forced to wrestle the tamer.
Be sure to check out what’s on at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, which promotes special events during Maslenitsa. Sledding, snowball fights, puppetry, singsongs and fireworks are all part and parcel of Maslenitsa celebrations so there is plenty to see and do. Although the festival welcomes the onset of spring, bonfires are traditionally erected for those of us still feeling the wintery chill!
For a cheap, clean and comfortable place to get some rest after a day out celebrating the Malestina Festival, stay at one of our numerous Moscow Hostels. Many hostels are offering great deals, including the popular Trans-Siberian Hostel.
3. Fasnacht Carnival, Switzerland
10-12 March 2014
Get yourself a carnival badge from one of the street vendors and start joining in with the local obscure and rather odd goings-on. Although Fasnacht takes place all over Switzerland, the best known carnival is in Basel – not just for the sampling of their famous flour soup, Melsuppe and the cheese and onion ramekins, Ziebele-und Käswaje.
The town really comes alive during Fasnacht, which is deeply rooted in local tradition, so be prepared to not fully understand the strange celebration of both merriment and melancholia, the haunting enactment of the a medieval dance of death, Totentanz, the Mummenschanz masquerade and the locals’ strong sense of irony.
There is no messing around at Fasnacht. Events kick off with the Morgenstreich procession at 4am on Monday morning and end – very early, or very late, depending on your previous night’s antics – at 4am on Thursday. Over 200 illuminated lanterns are painted with illustrations that poke fun at local subjects and are paraded through the street, accompanied by drummers and piccolo players.
As night draws near the townsfolk insist on curtains being closed, allowing no light to escape from nearby houses and detract from the wonderful glow of these magical lights. Other events include over 100 groups of Schnitzelbank singers touring the town’s restaurants and bars to recite witty verse.
The Basel dialect is notoriously hard to decipher, so a word of advice: not in keeping with traditional carnival spirit, painted faces, false noses and jester’s caps are frowned on.
4. Viareggio Carnival, Italy
4 February- 4 March 2014
Don’t fancy joining the squashed masquerading throng in St. Mark’s Square? Then head to the Italian seaside resort of Viareggio.
The carnival’s ‘best float award’ is taken very seriously and months beforehand, enormous puppets are created out of papier–mâché in large warehouses by the sea. Some of these paper giants sit on top of the floats and inside, a multitude of mechanisms, weights and operators keep the puppet balanced as people in costumes dance alongside. Look out for the typical Italian sweets called frittelle and chiacchiere that are handed out to the crowds.
Aside from the satirical digs at public figures and traditions, the carnival is one long practical joke as people brandish toy weapons, throw confetti and wear masks depicting public figures. Although the festivities run over four consecutive Sundays, the main shindig takes place on 21 February. While it is probably a bit nippy for a dip in the famous Italian azzurro, you can visit the hangar-like buildings to see the puppets for a cheap and cheerful 8 euros – if you don’t mind spoiling the surprise – and tickets for the carnival can be bought a few days in advance.
Enjoy the Carnival in style by staying at one of our Viareggio hostels. We have a number available including the Bed and Breakfast Sunrise which offers guests all the comfort of a hotel at hostel prices.
5. Thorrablot, Iceland
14 January – 14 February 2014
Some may find it hard to believe that morsels of putrefied shark, ram’s scrotum and jellied sheep’s head are worthy of being called a banquet. And yet, on 8 February, descendents of the Vikings take to their dinner tables to celebrate this stomach-churning gastronomy as they feast on what their ancestors once ate during the difficult midwinter!
The evening starts with a dinner and – not surprisingly after courses of sour milk, pickled seal flipper and rotting meat- ends with frightfully bad breath. A few shots of strong Icelandic schnapps later, the stories, dancing and games continue well into the early hours.
Booking a table is recommended due to restaurants creating a special menu for the culinary occasion.
Keen on the idea of trying putrefied shark followed by Icelandic schnapps but not sure on where to stay? Check out our hostels in Reykjavik for some great budget options, including the super cool KEX and Bus Hostel.