Here at Imagine Ecuador headquarters, our staff are eagerly awaiting one of the most exciting events of the year — the arrival of Carnaval. While New Year’s Eve is a great experience, Many people feel that Carnaval surpasses it with multiple days of crazy, quirky mayhem that’s welcomed by locals and tourists alike. For them, Carnaval is the Holy Grail of Holidays.
Thou Shalt Get Wet!
In Ecuador, Carnaval has its own unique twists that you won’t find in Rio de Janeiro or Rome. But what it lacks in pomp, it compensates with some wildly unique traditions absorbed from the indigenous culture and elsewhere.
One of the most surprising elements for newcomers is the tradition of water fights. Ecuadorians who want to participate (mostly students and young adults), arm themselves with water balloons, squirt guns, and even buckets of water. Then they go to the streets and rooftops, or hide behind doors, in hopes of surprising a friend, a neighbor, or the occasional passer-by (automobiles with windows down are prime targets!).
Pistols, Balloons, and Carioca
Not surprisingly, as Carnaval nears, the local stores begin stocking water pistols, water bazookas, Carioca (a very popular spray foam), and balloons. Business is brisk by the time the holiday begins. It’s all in fun of course. For those who like living dangerously, they are welcome to join the fun. But beware: the ammo of preference ranges from water, to Carioca, to eggs, to flour and worse. So be prepared!
For those who don’t want to participate, don’t worry. There are many other activities to keep you busy and entertained during Carnaval.
Activities and Destinations
Most cities and towns organize some form of parade or pageant during Carnaval. The city of Ambato, in the center of Ecuador, is renowned for its Fiesta de las Flores y las Frutas which brings over 100,000 tourists to the province for the holiday. The parade features floats decorated with flowers and fruits from the region. Even the priest comes out to bless the local products in the back of pickup trucks. The candidates for Queen of Carnaval ride upon the floats throwing flowers or sweets to the crowd. Finally, days later, a new Queen is elected to reign for the coming year.
Guaranda, in the province of Bolivar, is another popular destination for tourists during Carnaval. Their celebration blends indigenous traditions, such as the Fiesta of Pawkar Raymi (a tribute to the Earth and its gifts), with European and Christian elements that is truly worth seeing. Aside from the various religious and indigenous ceremonies, serenading is popular, as are the parades and the ever present battles with Carioca and water. The atmosphere is welcoming and if you get there don’t forget to try the local drink, Pájaro Azul.
Another popular attraction during Carnaval, are the live concerts In most towns and cities. These usually take place in the streets and coliseums. Depending on the size of the towns and their budgets, there can be local performers or even international bands. Dancing is encouraged, people are friendly, and alcohol and snacks are always plentiful.
If you’re very lucky, you may see a “crazy cow” during Carnaval. The Vaca Loca is a cow made of paper maché or cardboard and later fitted with roman candles, and firecrackers. It often appears in the streets at night, mounted on the shoulders of a person. The cow runs in circles and charges the passers-by. Then, when the fireworks are lit, it begins to explode and spews sparks high into the air, while spectators play at bullfighting — or run to get out of the way. Definitely not for the squeamish.
Join the Party
Carnaval happens only once a year. With a little planning, you can take part in in this wonderful celebration! Check out the holiday schedule. It’s a wonderful chance to hang out with friends and acquaintances, watch the parades and processions, eat hearty, party like crazy, and of course — get wet!
For travelers it’s also a perfect moment to discover Ecuador and the warm, spontaneity of its people. So, if you’re considering a trip to South America, I highly recommend you put Ecuador on your itinerary for February. You won’t regret it!
Imagine Ecuador is an eco-tour operator specializing in natural adventure tours to all the major tourist destinations in Ecuador. We also organize cycling, hang-gliding, trekking activities as well as ocean cruises. For more information contact imagineecuador.com
Ray Hood, the writer of this article, is currently living in Ecuador, South America. For questions or comments, he can be reached on LinkedIn.