Mention the words carnival and South America and you will probably think Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. However, the carnival in Oruro, an old mining town in Bolivia, is gaining ground and becoming a popular destination for tourists.
The Oruro Carnival is the second largest carnival in Latin America. UNESCO was so impressed with it that they declared the Oruro Carnival an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2001. It made us locals very proud.
As a native of Oruro I may be biased but to me the Oruro carnival is the place where fantasy, reality, religion and mysticism blend together and come alive for a week long celebration.
Oruro is a small, sleepy (and dusty) old town high in the Andean plateau at over 3700 metres above sea level.
Thousands of dancers and musicians in amazing and sometimes outlandish costumes descend (or rather ascend) to the town of Oruro the first week of February or March (depending on when Lent is) and party for nearly a week. But the preparations for the carnival start in late October or November the year before with dance rehearsals and plenty of partying every Saturday.
The actual carnival comprises of many different types of dances and music from different regions of Bolivia. There are dancers representing the Andean regions, the valleys and the rainforests of Bolivia. The centre piece of the carnival however is La Diablada or the Devils’ dance.
The dancers have to be very fit as they have to dance for about four or five kilometres in full costume. Some of the costumes (like the ones from the Diablada or Morenada) weigh upwards of 25 kilos depending on the complexity of the design and embroidery of the costumes and design of the masks.
When I was growing up in Oruro one of my favourite things about the carnival, apart from the dancing, were the water balloon fights. So take plenty of changes of clothes, buy yourself a water gun, water balloons and join in the water fights.
Also due to the altitude going to Oruro is not for the fainthearted. Make sure when you go there you first acclimatise to the altitude for a few days prior to the carnival; otherwise it will be very difficult for you to walk fast let alone dance along with the parades of dancers.
Three hours from La Paz by coach. Get in touch with travel agents with plenty of time because Oruro is a small town and hotels get booked very quickly.
Google map: bit.ly/eKYeKA
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