Brazil is known around the world for its Carnival celebrations, but a little further north, Venezuela throws its own pre-Lenten parties that are unlike anywhere else. Each region of Venezuela hosts its own type of festival, and some of the smallest towns throw the biggest parties. For Venezuelans, this is the most anticipated time of the year, even more so than Christmas and Holy Week.
Carnival takes place sometime in February or early March, depending on the date of Easter. Carnival celebrations can last a week or even longer, but the festivities usually culminate on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins in the Catholic Church, which falls on February 25, 2020.
Traditionally, it's a Catholic celebration to indulge in a big feast before having to fast during Lent, a custom brought to the Americas by Spanish colonizers. Today, the event is more of a huge party featuring parades, concerts, costumes, and copious eating and drinking. Venezuela is a predominantly Catholic country and Carnival still has a strong religious connection, but today, everyone takes part, whether they celebrate Lent or not.
Carnival in El Callao
El Callao, a small mining town founded in 1853, hosts Venezuela's largest Carnival, which lasts four days. El Callao sits in the eastern part of the country, about a four-hour drive from Ciudad Bolívar. The population is only about 20,000 people, but during Carnival, it surges with tourists who arrive to take part in the revelry.
Because of the town's mining history, it's a melting pot of cultures from immigrants who arrived generations ago to work in the mines. So it's not surprising that the locals combine Venezuelan traditions with those of Trinidad, the West Indies, and the French Antilles to throw a Carnival without equal. African culture in El Callao also plays a significant role due to slaves brought by European explorers during the colonial era, and you'll see this African influence in beautiful elaborate outfits and in the Afro-Caribbean calypso music played on the streets.
There are many different types of Carnival characters roaming the streets of El Callao during the week. You'll see madamas, which are dancers dressed in vibrant African headscarves and robes and are the leaders of the town's parade. The medio-pintos are covered in black body paint and smudge their paint on partygoers who don't give them a donation (but all in good fun). Yet others dress up in terrifying red and black devil costumes and whimsically maintain order during the parade using their prop whips.
El Callao's festival is truly unlike any other Carnival in the world, and it has been recognized by UNESCO as an event of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Carnival 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 Carnival, and now it's one of the largest and liveliest in the country. The four-day party attracts more than 400,000 people.
The festivities begin a few days before Shrove Tuesday with the grito de Carnaval, or the "Carnival cry," which is a massive street party throughout Carúpano. The streets are filled with the sounds of steel drums and salsa music, multi-colored dresses, decorated floats during the annual parade, and practically free-flowing rum. Attendees can vote not only on the Carnival queen but also a younger mini-queen and a gay queen, who together help lead the celebrations.
On the final night, there is a spectacular fireworks show over the water that brings the festivities to a satisfying end.
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