This 10-day festival was first held in Venice in the 11th century and consisted of over two months of revelry each year before it fell into decline during the 18th century. Thankfully, the Italian government revived carnival in 1970 with great success and it’s now one of the world’s most photographed events. The streets of Venice are full of intrigue as revelers don dazzling Venetian masks and elaborate costumes.
Rio Carnival, Brazil – Feb 17-22, 2012
The Rio Carnival is a benchmark against which every other carnival is compared. It’s also one of the most lauded artistic events on the globe. Over half a million foreign tourists come each year to the “Carnival Capital of the World” to watch the debauchery. In Rio, Carnival is celebrated as a profane event and considered an act of farewell to the pleasures of the flesh before the start of Lent. From Ipanema to Copacabana, the city couldn’t be more alive with scantily-clad samba dancers and blaring blocos.
Trinidad Carnival – Feb 17-22, 2012
Steel-pan drums, calypso dancers, and a cup of rum in each hand – that’s the key to fitting in and getting into the spirit at the Caribbean’s largest carnival celebration. A kaleidoscope of color, Trinidad’s carnival is loud in more ways than one. The islands of Trinidad and Tobago have a wide mix of Amerindian, European, African, Indian, Chinese and Middle Eastern influences and each has a place at carnival. Though it may nab ideas from a myriad of cultures, this party is nothing like its counterparts in Tenerife, Venice, Rio, or New Orleans. Taking the best ideas from around the globe, Trinidad’s carnival is fittingly known as “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Barranquilla Carnival, Columbia – Feb 18-21, 2012
Barranquilla’s carnival is so incredible, even UNESCO couldn’t help but declare it a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Thousands of tourists flood into Barranquilla for this festival, which begins four days before Ash Wednesday and reaches its climax the next Saturday during Batalla de las Flores (the battle of the flowers). Barranquilla’s carnival is Colombia’s most important folklore celebration and one of the biggest celebrations in the world.
Goa Carnival, India – Feb 18-21, 2012
Carnival in India? That’s right, Goa offers the subcontinent’s only Carnival thanks to the Portuguese who ruled over the small state for five hundred years. Despite being a Christian celebration, the fête mixes Hindu and Western traditions making it a hodgepodge of excitement. Goa’s carnival features floats, dancing, grand balls, and the famous red-and-black dance held by the Club National in Goa’s capital, Panjim.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival, Canary Islands – Feb 17-26, 2012
Government bans on Tenerife’s carnival by Spanish dictators Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1935) and General Franco (1940-1960) only served as a cause for more celebration. Today, this party is widely regarded as the second-most popular and internationally-known carnival after Rio’s. Tenerife’s carnival is known for its cross-dressing dancers, dazzling queens, and traditional “murgas” in clown costume.
Oruro Carnival, Bolivia – Feb 17-22, 2012
Around 600,000 people line the streets during Oruro Carnival to watch over 28,000 traditional Bolivian dancers and 10,000 musicians march through town for 20 hours. The parade is led by San Miguel who is followed by the devils, El Tio – the lord of the underworld, and lots of conquistadores painted as devils. This carnival also holds prestigious UNESCO-designation as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
New Orleans Mardi Gras – Feb 21, 2012
“An American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” – Mark Twain. Costumed balls, raucous parties, and festive parades make Mardi Gras the United States’ wildest, naughtiest, and most colorful party. The “Fat Tuesday” celebration is the last day for Catholics to indulge — or overindulge — before Ash Wednesday, and starts the sober weeks of fasting that come with Lent. “Nah’leens” celebrates with nearly 400 floats, 15,000 paraders, nearly a million spectators, and rampant drinking and jazz music.