One of the main events on the South American calendar is Carnaval, a weekend of huge parties all over the continent. Many travelers may be familiar with the world’s most famous carnivals in Brazil, mainly in Rio de Janeiro but also in Salvador and Recife. Often referred to by Brazilian’s as the “Greatest Show on Earth”, Rio’s carnival holds the Guinness World Record for the largest carnival on the planet, hosting over 2 million people each day! And although Argentina may not have Brazil’s reputation as far as Carnaval is concerned, it can surely hold its own, and is most definitely an Argentine celebration as well.
While Carnaval might be associated more closely with hedonism than piety, the origins of the festival are actually religious in nature. The festival occurs before the Christian period of Lent, a time of solemnity and devotion. Carnival, however, is essentially the antithesis of this time of sacrifice; parades and street parties are the norm, with people in costume and an over the top indulgence of food and alcohol before Lent’s purge.
In Argentina, it is easy to tell when Carnaval season is approaching; you can hear it in the streets with the rehearsals of the murga, a type of musical theatre which involves a performance of drums and dancing, and a play enacted by members of local communities on stage. Over the weekend of Carnaval, starting this year on the 25th February, murgas appear all over the city, drawing crowds through the night to cheer on the dancing children and teenagers, and the adults who act out the play.
If you want to feel the full force of Argentina’s Carnaval, head to the city of Gualeguaychú in the province of Entre Rios close to the Uruguayan border. Situated on the banks of the Gualeguaychú River, this small city hosts the country’s biggest Carnaval festival. Celebrations mainly take place in the Corsódromo, a converted railway station, through which the parades pass. Gualeguaychú’s famous festivities have been going on for over 30 years and still to this day thousands of revelers flock to enjoy the exotic and elaborate dress, the infectious music and imposing floats. Soak up the intoxicating atmosphere of this unique South American experience, known locally as the Festival of the Country. A competition is held between the comparsas, or the various performing groups, to decide who will walk away with the prize for best choreography, design and coordination. Expect feathers, tiaras, spangled bikinis, eccentric characters, quirky floats and a great time.
Alternative carnival celebrations are also popular in across the country, where regional variations of the fiestas can be enjoyed. In Jujuy and Salta, an Andean version of the festival takes place called El Carnaval Andino, and is a more indigenous affair, while in Santa Fe province, an effigy of the Rey Momo is burned on the last night. The