There are celebrations for all walks of life-ranging from wild street parties to fiestas that are more low key. Keep reading for some of the fun places in Ecuador and South America, where you can celebrate Carnival while rubbing elbows with the locals.
Starting on the weekend before Lent and continuing until Fat Tuesday, Ecuador’s Carnival celebrations are in full swing. All of the major cities including Quito and Cuenca have celebrations that include people throwing water balloons, spraying foam, and letting go.
The holiday in Ecuador is a mix of the traditional, it’s held before Lent to let loose before diving into Easter week, and also has roots in the culture and festivals of the indigenous people of Ecuador. Celebrations involve local communities gathering together in traditional dress to perform dances that preserve their heritage.
Carnival in Quito changed its tune in 2013 when the city decided that in lieu of the water and flour that rained down from balconies on those passing by underneath, the holiday would have a more traditional tone.
Parades featuring costumed dancers represent the different cultures of the country-threading a route through the historic center while national dance troupes and bands blend tradition and celebration. Each year there is a different program, and it’s well worth coming out to see the spectacle.
Montanita is the surf capital of Ecuador and from December until June its high season for wave riders. One of the rites of each new year is Carnival.
People take to the streets for fun water and foam fights-the town takes to the airwaves before the weekend to remind people that rowdiness is welcome, but anything other than water and foam will get you in trouble.
Live music, parades, beach costumes, and an annual international surf competition take center stage. Come ready to get wet, stay up late, and wake up early to watch surfers from far and wide take on the waves.
Carnival in Ambato takes a different direction than the rest of the country. Each year the town holds the Festival of Flowers and Fruit-a celebration that marks Ambato’s rebuilding after a devastating earthquake that destroyed the town.
The proceedings include people from the neighboring communities participating in parades in vibrant costumes, floats decorated with a plethora of flowers and fruits that span the rainbow, and locals gathering in the streets for dancing until late in the evenings. Different plazas across town host dancers, bands, and artisans from the area. It’s the city’s biggest party-expect Andean hospitality, pride, and flair.
Guaranda hosts the country’s wildest Carnival celebration-a city-wide water fight that holds no bars and takes no prisoners.
The formal proceeding can last six days. People flood into the streets in costume, parades, and bands are daily fixtures and making the most out of the time before Lent has never been so vibrant.
Guaranda is known for its local drink, Blue Bird-a high octane aguardiente that fuels the party. Taita Carnaval, Father Carnival, plays host to the festivities, while huasitúpacs-trickers roam the crowds with Blue Bird in hand, insisting that you take a drink before moving on.
Expect huge crowds, multi-colored costumes that differ according to the community, and a wild party that involves water, flour, eggs, and foam around every corner. Don’t wear your best clothes, leave the camera at home, and leave expectations of staying dry at the door.
Riobamba is a city that takes Carnival to heart. Each year there is a new program-international and national bands are invited, and thousands of participants from the surrounding communities come dressed in finery. Dancing in parades alongside festive floats, this is a party that brings onlookers to their feet and puts a new sound in the air.
Vilcabama is a small hamlet in the very south of Ecuador, it’s a laid back town where shops and restaurants open when the owners are up for it, locals lounge around the main square daily, and time moves differently than the rest of the world. All of these changes during Carnival. People from the hillsides and the neighboring city of Loja come together in the central streets for parades, food, and foam fights that aren’t as rowdy as the bigger cities, but make an impression for those who attend. If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind celebration that pulls out all the stops; make a reservation early as hostels and hotels fill up and there isn’t a lot of other places to go outside of taking the bus back to Loja.
Other Carnival celebrations in South America
Aside from the major cities of Lima and Cusco, Cajamarca’s Carnival takes the holiday to another level. A normally sleepy mountain town in the North of Peru, the city comes to life when Carnival rolls around. Building and parade routes are decorated, and the main festivities take place around the large Plazas de Armas. Different community groups wear bright, festive costumes and dance throughout the weekend while onlookers cheer them on.
Rio’s Carnival festival set the standard for those across the continent. The fiesta sees thousands of participants dressed in flamboyant costumes and masks take part in samba parades where floats dazzle and the music sets the beat for the night’s fun. Millions of people take to the streets for hundreds of block parties across town-the city alive with sound, color, and movement.