If you're planning to visit Venezuela, a trip during carnaval, or carnival, is the perfect opportunity to see how the country celebrates. For Venezuelans, this is the most anticipated time of the year, even more than Christmas and Holy Week. For more than 150 years, this holiday has been a dedicated time for families to gather and let loose.
A word of caution: Carnaval goers like to celebrate by shooting water guns and throwing water balloons.
Some balloons may have been frozen, which can be painful if they hit you. If you see a balloon coming your way, try to dodge it.
Origin of Carnaval
Carnaval was brought to Venezuela by Spain during Colonial times. It is mainly a Catholic tradition where families get together for a big feast to finish off all the rich food before the start of Lent. Carnaval takes place 40 days before Easter Sunday, which usually falls in February or March. Festivities start the Saturday before Ash Wednesday.
Carnaval in El Callao
El Callao, a small mining town founded in 1853, hosts Venezuela's largest carnaval, which lasts four days. Here the locals combine Venezuelan traditions with those of Trinidad, the West Indies, and the French Antilles. African culture in El Callao also plays a part due to Africans being brought by European explorers during the Colonial era. You'll see this African influence in beautiful elaborate outfits and in the Afro-Caribbean calypso music from Trinidad and Tobago.
There are many different types of carnaval costumes here. You'll see madamas, which are dancers dressed in African headscarves and robes who represent the town's unmarried women. There are also scary red-and-black devil costumes. Traditonal costumes are of the royal court: kings, queens, courtiers, and jesters.
Modern costumes include movie and cartoon characters.
Carnaval in Carúpano
Carúpano, a port city on the Caribbean coast, was founded in 1647 and became a center for cacao production. Around 1873, Carúpano began celebrating carnaval, and now it's one of the largest and liveliest in the country. The four-day party attracts more than 400,000 people.
Water games used to be popular but were eradicated due to the violence that arose. Now the celebration focuses on parades, floats, old cars, steel drums, salsa music, orchestras, colorful costumes, and the Diablo Luis character (a dancing devil). After a carnaval queen, mini-queen (young girl), and gay queen are elected, they are the stars of a parade that also include "fireflies," men dressed in feminine costumes who dance and sing. The festival begins with the "Carnival Cry" and comes to an end on Tuesday night with a spectacular fireworks display.
Travel to different countries can be dangerous at times. Before traveling, check whether the U.S. State Department has issued any travel advisories for your destination.
You can also enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which allows you to register your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
By enrolling, you will receive safety alerts and be easier to reach by the embassy during an emergency.