Despite being Colombia’s fourth-largest city and main port, BARRANQUILLA, on the mouth of the Río Magdalena, would be all but overlooked if it were not for its annual Carnaval – Colombia’s biggest street party. For four days at the start of each March, this swelteringly hot, industrial city drapes itself in a riot of vibrant colours, playful costumes and pulsating music: salsa, cumbia, vallenato and African drumming. Preparations begin much earlier, in mid-January, and once the festivities begin, the town converts into one huge street party, kicked off by traditional parades like the “Battle of the Flowers” and “Dance of the Caiman”. Parallel to the festivities, the city-sponsored gay Carnaval, though less publicized, is equally bacchanalian. Although barely known outside Latin America, Barranquilla’s festivities are second only to Rio’s Carnaval in size. Outside festival time, you’ll be wanting just to pass through here on the way to either Cartagena or Santa Marta without stopping.

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