South American Carnival Season

Noisy, colourful and raw, the Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is probably the most known for its samba schools and its thousands of visitors. But what many do not realise is that all of South America is adorned with their finest colours under the sound of drums throughout the carnival month of February. Being considered a great social liberation in South America, carnival is specific to each country, region and city. Hundreds of festivals across the continent show culture and personality through vibrant and powerful music as well as costumes that are more or less showing off, making this festivity an excellent time to discover new cultures.

Having planned to start our travels in Patagonia at the end of February, we could not be in Rio de Janeiro for its Carnival. So we decided to make our way down south from Brazil, following the local carnivals. Our route would bring us through Encarnacion in Paraguay and Montevideo in Uruguay. During the month of February we had the chance to attend 3 different types of carnivals. There are many more that we haven’t had the time to attend and will mention at the end of this article.

Carnival in Encarnacion, the cheap Rio!

Rio knows how to do Carnival at best, but the small town of Encarnacion has nothing to envy. According to the locals, the carnival of Encarnacion is much noisier and offers more skin than Rio! it is also much more affordable and less touristy. The entrance fee varies between €7 and €12 for the standard entry (40000 to 70000 Gs). The accommodation and the food are also a great deal here.

Our daily average spend was €24 each without being careful (meat and beer every single day). Even if Encarnacion has not much to offer, it is a nice place to relax by the beach, eat amazing and well served barbecue for less than a fiver, learn about the history of Jesuit missions and German immigrants, and it is a great alternative to the Brazilian carnival. Finally it is only 5 hours away from Iguazu falls by well serviced bus routes!

Read our article about Encarnacion’s carnival

Montevideo, the historical Carnival

Montevideo is known as the city that celebrates Carnival the longest! For 40 days, the Uruguayan capital vibrates with street shows and the samba parades. A great time to go is early February in order to attend the famous “Llamadas”, a parade that praises the Uruguayan African heritage and the rhythm of the “Cadombe”. The carnival is held in the street and can be seen without charge.

However it has paid seating and is recommended to buy tickets to sit and avoid the crowds. The only issue for travelers is that tickets are sold 3 days before the show and can only be bought in certain shops on the streets of Montevideo. Tickets are from €5.50 to €20. There is also options to join “rent a balcony” and join others for a rooftop view of the parades and BBQs. Prices for this vary and we only heard of this through hostels. (

Read our article about the Llamadas in Montevideo

Argentina, the random street party

We haven’t really attended a Carnival in Argentina, However, we had the chance to see the school kids preparing theirs in San Ignacio Mini . While visiting friends we also got to see a local “Murga” in the streets of Buenos Aires.

Read our article about the Murgas in Buenos Aires
To see a video of Carnival rehearsals see the end of our article about San Ignacio Mini


The other carnivals in South America (that we know of)

We haven’t been to any of these carnivals as we unfortunately cannot do them all in one month! With time we would visit them all.

  • Carnaval de Barranquilla, Columbia
  • El Salvadore, Brazil
  • Oruro, Bolivia
  • Quebrada de Humahuaca, Argentina
  • El Callao, Venezuela
  • Cajamarca (Ritual of the Yunza), Peru
  • The fiesta del roto chileno, Chile
  • El Carnavalón, Chile
  • Juegos des agua, Ecuador


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