One of the best times to experience Bolivia’s incredible diversity and culture is during carnival season. It’s the time of year when Bolivians celebrate their historical traditions, look forward to the year ahead, and live in the moment – with a healthy dose of Chicha, Cerveza and Singani of course! If you’re visiting Bolivia in late February/early March, find out how Bolivia Milenaria experiential tours can take you into the heart of the action as part of a safe, real experience, and unique activities.
Carnaval de Oruro – Bolivia’s biggest carnival
It’s not traditionally one of Bolivia’s biggest tourist destinations, but for a few weeks every year, the city of Oruro is the centre of Bolivia’s biggest traditional festival. This is one of the great Latin American carnivals for the bucket list. In fact, it was declared a UNESCO ‘Masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity’. The Carnival de Oruro attracts almost half a million participants and spectators to this city in the high plains of the Andes. The streets are transformed into colorful parades, traditional music and dancing, outrageous costumes and some serious revelry. Then, almost as soon as it started, the party reaches its conclusion in a crescendo of music, honking horns, and firecrackers, and Oruro goes back to the serious business of mining for another year.
The importance of carnival in Bolivia
The word ‘carnival’ comes from the Latin for carne vale, meaning ‘farewell to meat’. As far back as Roman times, it has been the last riotous binge before Lent, where traditional roles are inverted, the powerful ridiculed, and the appetite indulged to excess. Because of its association with Lent and fasting, carnival has always been an integral part of the Roman Catholic calendar, which is why it is held in late February/early March around the world, from Rio de Janeiro and Port of Spain.
The same is true in Bolivia, where indigenous Aymara and Quechua festivals were integrated into the Catholic calendar by the Spanish. Not that the Spanish were initially enthusiastic. Having founded Oruro in 1606 for the purpose of mining, the colonists tried to ban indigenous festivals, so today’s carnival is a curious blend of pre-colonial and contemporary influences and rituals, making it a fascinating insight into Bolivian culture.