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Ask the experts: where to go for carnival in South America

Rio takes the spotlight when it comes to carnival in South America, but there are plenty more options for some full-blown Latin celebrations — check out our pick of the best

Published 8 Apr 2019, 23:58 BST
Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia.
Carnaval de Oruro, Bolivia.
Photograph by Getty

Brazil is best known for samba, carnivals, football and beaches, but it’s the people who give this country its unique identity. Amazonian Indians, Portuguese, African, European and Japanese communities all coexist independently, yet fuse together into a rich medley of cultures.

Carnival has become synonymous with Rio, and it’s here the celebrations are at their most indulgent and spectacular. However, the celebrations go on all over Brazil, with each region giving its own individual spin to the festival. For a street party charged with Afro-Brazilian rhythms, spontaneity and irrepressible musical energy, Carnival in Salvador is an exciting alternative to Rio.

Meanwhile, the dual celebrations of neighbouring Recife and Olinda have an inclusive atmosphere where anyone can take part in the parades that flow through the beautiful cobbled streets. Recife has seen a real artistic revival recently, with traditional music and dance featuring in a modern, slightly gritty incarnation. Then just up the road is Olinda, where the baroque architecture has enchanted visitors for years.
Laura Rendell-Dunn, Journey Latin America

Carnivals take many forms the world over, with each destination hosting its own decidedly local version. Heavy hitters like the Rio Carnival are perennial favourites, but there are parties in practically every Latin American country that will keep you dancing until the sun comes up.

Oruro in Bolivia is home to one of South America’s most spectacular carnivals, a 10-day celebration attracting revellers from all over the world with its distinctly Bolivian flair. The festivities encompass the entire city, as dance and musical groups take to the streets for a series of parades including La Diablada (Dance of the Devils), a tradition originated by the region’s indigenous cultures.

The city itself is located within Bolivia’s southern Altiplano, a sprawling high-altitude plain that’s home to some of the continent’s most otherworldly landscapes. After things die down, head south to the salt flats, Salar de Uyuni and Salar de Coipasa, or head west to take in the amazing surroundings of Sajama National Park’s namesake volcano and soak in its hot springs. Before heading home, spend a few nights in the buzzing capital of La Paz to explore its burgeoning food scene or do some shopping at one of its many markets.
Bailey Freeman, South America destination editor, Lonely Planet

Published in the March 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK) 

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