Photo: Michele Mariani
It’s time to get festive, because Carnival season is upon us! While Rio may get most of the world’s (well-deserved) attention and Mardi Gras is the place to be in the northern hemisphere, there’s a raucous Carnival taking place on Colombia’s Caribbean coast as well. For four days out of the year, the Atlantic port city of Barranquilla, perhaps best-known internationally as the hometown of famous colombianas Shakira and Sofia Vergara, turns into the national party capital as it celebrates its own unique take on Carnival. It’s a must-see cultural experience if you’re in the country at the right time.
Photo: Foto by Rudy Huhold, courtesy of EMBRATUR
The annual rivalry between the football teams from the universities of Georgia and Florida may bill itself as the World’s Largest Cocktail Party, but anyone who knows anything about Carnival in Brazil would only laugh at such sentiments. There is no party on Earth that rivals Carnival in Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, where millions of revelers fill the streets for days on end. Exultant mayhem is the only way to describe it – and it must be experienced to be believed.
Photo: Carlos Adampol Galindo
From Italy to the Caribbean and even the United States (Mardi Gras), Carnival is celebrated in practically every region of the world with Catholic roots. The celebration traditionally falls in the days preceding Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent, a period of 40 days where practicing Catholics typically abstain from parties and rich foods, while engaging in fasting and other activities viewed as pious. Historians believe this is where Carnival came into play.
In the days leading up to Lent, all those rich foods – including the stockpiles of alcohol – needed to be spent and what better way than throwing a huge block party to get rid of it all (it’s like eating a box of brownies smothered in ice cream before starting a new diet).
When thinking of Carnival in South America, the first vision that likely comes to mind is scantily clad women costumed in elaborately ornate headpieces Samba-ing their way through Rio de Janiero. While true for Brazil, the Portuguese-speaking nation isn’t the only place to get a piece of the Carnival action; Peru has a few parties all its own.
Photo: Ana Carina Lauriano
It’s no short order to escape the tourists in Rio de Janeiro. The city easily finds itself near the top of almost everyone’s to-visit list. And as one of the most beautiful and exotic urban landscapes on the planet, rightfully so. According to figures from Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism, over 9.2 million tourists disembarked in Brazil in 2012 – and almost every single one planted their toes into Rio’s remarkable city sands.
The allure of the Cidade Maravilhosa is, in fact, too powerful to ignore for some, who find themselves back on their favorite air travel search site a few months down the line, frantically playing with dates and routes to find the most economic way in which they can return to lap up even more sun, sand and samba. Those folks have already visited Rio’s 5-star attractions – Christ the Redeemer, Pão de Açúcar, Copacobana, Ipanema, Santa Teresa etc. – and are looking to escape fellow nomads and go a little more local. The good news is it’s not an impossible wish, but you’ll need to be committed to the effort. Here are a few places in Brazil’s most visited city where you can (maybe!) escape most fellow foreigners …
Photo: Bridget Gleeson
Time to play catch-up: I’ve just arrived back to Buenos Aires after weeks of travel in Mexico, Peru, and the USA. Here’s my to-do list for the hot weeks of summer ahead (well, the cultural events, at least, I doubt anyone’s interested in hearing about getting my air-conditioner fixed or trying to get invited to a friend’s swimming pool.) Art, film, telescopes, acrobats, let’s do this.
Photo: Mario Carvajal
A holiday isn’t really a holiday in Colombia without special food, and the Christmas/New Year’s season is no exception. Bakeries and restaurants seem to pull out all the stops when the end of the year rolls around, offering seasonal specialty plates, brightly-colored pastries and cookies and all manner of festive cocktails. The Christmas season revolves heavily around family life, offering endless opportunities for cooking and feeding large groups of people, and residents have risen to the challenge with some truly delicious creations. Much of the holiday food will be familiar to other celebrating Christmas and the December holidays around the world: turkey, pork, rice and potatoes are staples of many Christmas Eve meals across the country. However, there are also a handful of plates that are unique to Colombia and the Andean region. For most Colombians, a Christmas without these dishes wouldn’t taste like Christmas at all.
Rio de Janeiro needs no excuse to throw a party. In fact, the word for “party,” (festa) might just be one of the first words in Portuguese you master on a visit to the most beautiful city in the Southern Hemisphere, right after caipirinha, cerveja (beer) and ressaca (hangover)!
Seriously, though, New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro – known as Reveillon – is second only to Carnival in all stops being thrown out by the cariocas, as residents of Rio are known. Here’s what to expect:
Photo: Ilan Greenfield
In many countries, the northern hemisphere version of Christmas has virtually erased the more traditional ways of celebrating the original holiday. Santa Claus has certainly taken the world by storm.
Ecuador has also fallen prey to the icons of globalized ‘X-mas’ – reindeers, elves, Grinches and all (which, of course, hardly make sense in a tropical, sunny, Andean, season-less country), including the insanity that prevails at all neighborhood malls. On the flip side, however, one can still experience the Passing of the Child parade on December 24, a ritual that dates back to colonial times.
Photo: I.D. R.J.
Like any other event with the potential to involve sparkly objects, the holiday season (and Christmas in particular) is serious business in Colombia. People start putting up their decorations in mid-October, even before stores have sold out of Halloween costumes. In fact, some houses and even businesses across the country simply leave the lights up all year, dimming them during the off-season but leaving them ready at a moment’s notice to illuminate for the holidays. Though Santa Claus is less of a familiar face here than in some other countries, there are plenty of other holiday traditions that keep December warm, cozy and full of good cheer:
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