Imagine a celebration where Curaçao’s already colorful streets bloom, giving way to a vibrant tapestry of colors, music, and revelry. Traditional music trickles through town, carrying with it celebratory chatter and the enticing smells of local dishes. Elaborate costumes and equally intricate floats compliment the music and merriment, as do hues that rival the Caribbean’s brilliant turquoise waters. This celebration is Carnival.
Though carnivals abound around the world, Curaçao is home to the Caribbean’s largest and longest-standing Carnival celebrations. One of the southern Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, Curaçao has remained under the radar, as has its rich Carnival season. Until now. Make the most of this year’s Carnival by brushing up on everything you need to know before you go.
What’s now the Southern Caribbean’s liveliest time of year was once a traditional Catholic rite. Christians on Curacao practiced “Carne Levale,” in which they pledged to give up meat for Lent. By the 19th century, this practice was preceded by community celebrations, beginning with masquerade parties and spirited marches in private clubs. Carnival, as it is now, gained traction beginning in 1969, giving way to events throughout the month leading up to Ash Wednesday.
Spiritual mythology still appears in present-day Carnivals through the beloved Carnival characters. Leading the parade is the Carnival Queen, bestowing parade-goers with fertility and peace in the spirit of Mother Earth. Equally beloved are the Prince and Pancho, the embodiment of Carnival’s rambunctious spirit. Finally, Carnival-goers await the season’s “villain,” the Carnival King or King Momo, a straw-filled figure that symbolizes infertility, sins, and bad luck.
The Main Events
Carnival is a nearly month-long event, but the most meaningful moments are concentrated in two main parades: Gran Marcha (The Grand Parade), and Marcha di Despedida (The Farewell March). Beginning the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday, Gran Marcha is as boisterous as any Carnival event. Tourists and locals alike line the streets during Gran Marcha to cheer on the processional of costumed dancers and performers. Gran Marcha is also joined by the Children’s and Teen’s Carnival Parades, making it a friendly and family-focused affair.
The Marcha di Despedida signals a farewell to Carnival, taking place on the eve of Ash Wednesday. The floats glow with twinkling lights as they parade through Curaçao with Momo in tow. Momo is then burned at midnight at the parade’s and Carnival’s grand finale.
The Events Along the Way
Gran Marcha and Marcha di Despedida are Carnival’s biggest spectacles, but they’re only two events of a month filled with celebration. Some of the more memorable moments, in fact, take place in the “in between” once Carnival is open but before the grand parades have actually begun.
The first of these is Tumba Festival, an event unique to Curaçao . Aspiring local musicians, performers, and composers compete in the four-day Tumba Festival in the hopes that their tumba (or song) will be chosen as the year’s official Carnival song. Like the rest of carnival, this festival brings with it beer, food, and some of the best dancing in the Caribbean Islands. The winner of the Tumba Festival is then crowned Rei di Tumba, and will walk in the carnival parades along with their original tumba.
After opening day, Carnival groups also take to the streets, wearing t-shirts specific to their group. Following local bands, these groups dance, sing, and spread the carnival spirit through Jump Ups (outdoor) and Jump Ins (indoor), where they also sell t-shirts to raise money for their floats in the Gran Marcha.
Curaçao speaks to the curious explorer in us all!
Home to more than 35 captivating beaches, a diverse heritage spanning 55 different cultures, ‘live and let live’ attitude and unrivaled European architecture; Curaçao remains one of the most exceptional islands of the region. Its capital city, Willemstad — a UNESCO World Heritage site — with its iconic colorful Handelskade backdrop and roster of museums, monuments, flavorful restaurants and shopping, was selected in 2013 as one of the Top 5 Cities in the Caribbean by Condé Nast Traveler’s readers. Curaçao’s natural beauty, pristine diving and snorkeling sites are a favorite with divers and adventure seekers, and its beaches and idyllic weather, situated on the outer fringes of the Hurricane Belt, has won it further accolade and recognition.