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Photos: 20 Spectacular Carnival Celebrations Around the World

Pre-Lenten street parties are everyone's favorite excuse for a party. Just in time for the festivities, we found the most over-the-top festivals from Brazil—the global superpower of celebration—to Belgium. Each destination has its own traditions for music, costumes, and cutting loose.

  1. Pre-Lenten street parties are everyone's favorite excuse for a party. Just in time for the festivities to begin, we found the most over-the-top festivals from Brazil—the global superpower of celebration—to Belgium. Each destination has its own traditions for music, costumes, and cutting loose.

    (Peter Adams Photography Ltd / Alamy)
  2. Binche, Belgium: Binche—a town close to the border of Belgium and France—has held an annual pre-Lenten festival since the 16th century. The must-see event is the March of the Gilles, a parade of men and boys wearing brightly colored costumes and wooden clogs. Mar. 6-8, 2011, Carnavaldebinche.be

    (OPT/JPRemy/courtesy Visit Belgium)
  3. New Orleans: This year's edition of Mardi Gras in New Orleans might be extra wild because it will coincide with spring break at many universities. Bands will play Dixieland jazz, zydeco, rockabilly, and other jive all around town, but especially along Frenchmen Street.

    (Jean-Paul Gisclair/courtesy neworleansonline.com)
  4. Salvador, Brazil: About 1,000 miles northeast of Rio, Salvador hosts its Carnaval. It's as dazzling as Rio's, but feels less commercial since most events are free. All around town, music spills out of trio elétrico—a truck wired for sound and a music group playing on the roof. Mar. 3–9, 2011, Bahia-online.net/carnival.htm

    (Carnival_Salvador_Get152)
  5. Olinda, Brazil: On March 8, Olinda's soccer stadium is the site of a battle between good and evil, pantomimed to the extra-quick-beat music of frevo, a brassy regional style.

    (Antônio Cruz/ABr/Wikimedia Commons)
  6. Oruro, Bolivia: On March 5 is La Diablada⁠—or the Dance of the Devils—a parade of about 20,000 dancers, many of whom wear demonic-looking paint and plumage that put American Halloween costumes to shame. The dancers interpret the classic battle between good and evil.

    (tumor5256/MyBudgetTravel)
  7. Venice, Italy: There are no cars in Venice, so Carnevale revelers must walk through its piazzas and twisting alleyways to reach ballrooms. Onlookers seize the opportunity to sneak peeks at the gorgeous outfits.

    (Courtesy Wacksonjackson/Flickr)
  8. Barranquilla, Colombia: If you go to the Carnival party in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, don't be surprised if someone tosses a garland of flowers around your neck while you're standing on a cobbled street listening to a mix of Colombian funk and folk music. Mar. 5–8, 2011, colombia.travel

    (Courtesy Proexport USA)
  9. Barranquilla, Colombia: UNESCO has recognized the multiday event here in Barranquilla as a precious global treasure. The adventurous will want to try a shot of the sugarcane liquor aguardiente, or "firewater."

    (Courtesy Proexport USA)
  10. Québec City, Canada: Canoes race in the ice-choked St. Lawrence River on the last day of Winter Carnival.

    (Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis)
  11. Moscow, Russia: Maslenitsa (loosely translated as the "week of butter") is a national holiday week, when locals stuff themselves silly in an event that is akin to Mardis Gras. Feb. 28–Mar. 6, 2011, russia-travel.com

    (YURI KOCHETKOV/epa/Corbis)
  12. Moscow, Russia: In Moscow, a little "town" is created near Red Square, where partiers binge on bliny (pancakes) and watch live performances of folk songs accompanied by a balalaika, a triangular Russian stringed instrument. Festivities culminate in the burning of a straw effigy, shown here.

    (SERGEI KARPUKHIN/Reuters/Corbis)
  13. Avilés, Spain: An imaginative carnival is held in the town of Avilés on Spain's northern coast. Here, costumes tend toward the lighthearted: toothbrushes, mattresses, and pop culture characters. The fun ends when parade-goers carry a real sardine on a funeral procession through town and then burn it. Mar. 2-9, 2011, spain.info

    (Tourist Office of Avilés)
  14. Nadur, Malta: Sunset invites a multitude of masked and hooded creatures to throng the streets of Nadu, including this garish float.

    (Peter Hirth/laif/Redux)
  15. Ponce, Puerto Rico: Colorfully caped figures go on parade wearing iconic papier-mâché masks, and one of these characters may swat you and other onlookers with a dried cow's bladder blown up like a balloon—or something just as yucky. Tens of thousands of revelers dance to a mix of pop and merengue at various open street parties. Mar. 2–8, 2011, seepuertorico.com

    (Nicholas Pitt / Alamy)
  16. Rijeka, Croatia: Zvončari are goat-head creatures who ring bells to scare away evil spirits, and they're the stars of the Carnival parade in this coastal village on the Adriatic Sea, about 100 miles west of the capital, Zagreb. Parade on-lookers offer wine to the creatures, who often wear white trousers, striped shirts, and sheepskin throws. Jan. 17 –Mar. 6, 2011, ri-karneval.com.hr

    (Emil Pozar / Alamy)
  17. Rijeka, Croatia: Other costumes that you're likely to see in Rijeka's festival include flower hats and paper-streamer headpieces. UNESCO added the festival to its registry of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

    (Rijeka Tourist Board/Rijeka Carnival)
  18. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago Unlike pre-Lenten festivities elsewhere, the party here demands audience participation. If you go, expect someone to throw paint on you—and then lure you into a dance.

    (Courtesy Trinidad Tourism)
  19. Mazatlán, Mexico: Nightlife revolves around the plaza Machado Plazuela in Mazatlán.

    (Courtesy Mazatlán Hotel Association)
  20. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Rio is the city most closely associated with Carnival. Around a half-million foreign visitors join the city's 7 million residents for this annual party. The main event is the competition between samba performers in the Sambodromo. It's worth the high price (tickets from $110). Mar. 5-8, 2011, tickets from $110, rio-carnival.net

    (Courtesy Embratur)
  21. Olinda, Brazil: This seafront town about 500 miles northeast of Salvador throws a Carnival with folkloric and homespun vibes that rivals Rio's and Salvador's parties. On the Friday before Ash Wednesday, street parades showcase bonecos, or large papier-mâché figures.  March 4–9, 2011, gobrazil.about.com

    (Breno Laprovitera/Brazilian Tourism Board)
  22. Oruro, Bolivia: Approximately 140 miles southeast of capital city La Paz, Oruro is an Andean mountain town that hosts an annual Carnival celebration recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  Mar. 4–14, 2011, Oruro tourism: 011-55/591-2-525-7881

    (Pame82s/Wikimedia Commons)
  23. Oruro, Bolivia: A masked crusader delights onlookers on one of Oruro's parades. Festivities continue through March 14, when participants toss water balloons at each other.⁠

    (Pame82s/Wikimedia Commons)
  24. Viareggio, Italy: Perhaps Europe's finest pre-Lenten party is the Carnivale festival in Viareggio, a coastal town about 245 miles northwest of Rome. This year, on five consecutive Sundays, the city hosts a series of parades that are distinctive for including supersize floats.  Feb. 20, 27, 2011; Mar. 6, 8, and 13, 2011, viareggio.ilcarnevale.com

    (Giulia/Wikimedia Commons)
  25. Viareggio, Italy: Dancers dressed as ducks perform for the crowds in Viareggio. A typical float, like the one behind the dancers, may rise as high as 65 feet and be large enough to support more than a hundred partygoers plus papier mache merry-go-rounds and effigies of celebrities and politicians.

    (Italian Government Tourist Board North America/Fototeca Enit)
  26. Venice, Italy: In Venice during Carnival, you'll see the occasional costumed figure in Piazza San Marco. But masked participants can be found in all the major piazzas, often lit up by flares and bonfires. Feb. 26, 27, Mar. 1–8, 2011, carnivalofvenice.com

    (Courtesy Alaskan Dude/Flickr)
  27. Québec City, Canada: Québec City draws 750,000 visitors yearly to its Winter Carnival. Residents build large-as-real-life castles made of ice and snow, and race go-carts down the street while dressed as shrimp, caribou, and other fanciful creatures. Jan. 28–Feb. 13, 2011, carnaval.qc.ca

    (Alison Wright/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis)
  28. New Orleans: Say "Mardi Gras" in the U.S. and everyone thinks of New Orleans, with its masked partygoers and debauchery. The city's pre-Lenten Carnival has been tamer since Hurricane Katrina, with smaller crowds and less flashing of the flesh. Mar. 8, 2011, mardigrasday.com

    (Kate Elkins/courtesy neworleansonline.com)
  29. Cologne, Germany: In Cologne, Kölner Carnival is a rowdy week for many adults, with heavy drinking and plenty of late-night dancing. But kid-friendly events include a parade on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, when kamelle (candies) are tossed from floats. Some of the traditions have been passed down since at least the Middle Ages. Mar. 5–8, 2011, koeln.de

    (Courtesy cometogermany.com)
  30. Cologne, Germany: A kid-friendly parade has floats decorated with colorful faces. Kids hold out their hands hoping to catch kamelle (candies) tossed in the air.

    (Courtesy cometogermany.com)
  31. Nadur, Malta: Nadur's Silent Carnival is a spontaneous act of locals, who usually disguise themselves in simple costumes such as sacks and wigs, walking spookily—in total silence—around town during the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Mar. 3–8, 2011, aboutmalta.com

    (Peter Hirth/laif/Redux)
  32. Kingston, Jamaica: Unlike in other Caribbean countries, Carnival season here lasts past Ash Wednesday and through Easter, with countless street parties pulsing to ska, reggae, and soca music. Two "camps" compete to lure participants, Jamaica Carnival (jamaicacarnival.com) and Bacchanal Carnival (bacchanaljamaica.com). February through May 2011

    (Ian Cumming/age fotostock)
  33. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: This country's largest Carnival is in its capital, and the highlight takes place on March 6, when a best-costume competition draws participants who famously wear grotesque devil costumes.  Every Sunday in February, with a national holiday on Feb. 27 and Mar. 6, 2011, godominicanrepublic.com

    (Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism)
  34. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: Ordinary partygoers gather along George Washington Avenue in Santo Domingo (a.k.a. The Malecón) to celebrate.

    (ORLANDO BARRIA/Corbis)
  35. Trinidad and Tobago: Port of Spain, the capital city of this set of islands off Venezuela's coast, throws the biggest pre-Lent celebration in the Caribbean. Some participants wear ingenious costumes that satirize the former British colonial authorities. Others slather themselves in oil and practice the ultrafast, whirling dance moves called wining. Mar. 7–8, 2011, ncctt.org

    (Courtesy Trinidad Tourism)
  36. Mazatlán, Mexico: Residents of the western coastal city of Mazatlán, which lies 270 miles northwest of Puerto Vallarta, put a patriotic twist on their Carnival. On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, the harbor is the setting for a reenactment of the failed French attack of 1864. Mar. 38, 2011, gomazatlan.com

    (Courtesy Mazatlán Hotel Association)
  37. Mazatlán, Mexico: On Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, parades strut the length of Avenida del Mar along the Pacific coastline.

    (Courtesy Mazatlán Hotel Association)

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