Carnival, Decoded

New Orleans’s annual ode to beads and beer is only one take on the pseudo-Christian bacchanalia known as Carnival, aka the days (or weeks) of celebration that precede a month and change of Lenten penitence.

Carnival celebrations dot the Caribbean, South America and Europe. Even Belgium has one, though we’ll be skipping February in the Low Countries in favor of sunshine, steelpan, rum drinks and parades notable for demanding costumes crafted entirely from bikinis, feathers and sequins. Below, a list of our favorites, from Rio to Venice to a tiny island off the coast of Morocco.

Image from Trinidad & Tobago

For Those Who Love Parades and Reggae
Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival kicks off unofficially after Christmas, peaking with two-days of non-stop celebrations on Carnival Monday and Tuesday (this year, February 8th and 9th). J’Ouvert (”jour ouvert,” or “daybreak”) kicks off at 4 a.m. Monday morning, when participants smearing themselves with mud, oil, and paint and parade through town. More parades — and calypso, and parades, and soca — follow. Come a few days early for the finals of the Panorama competition, featuring the world’s best steelpan bands.

Image from Rio Exclusive

For Those Who Love Parades and Brazilians

Carnival will kick off one long sinuous season of partying for this Brazilian city, home to the biggest, wildest and most over-the-top weeklong party in the world. Five days of events begin on Friday, February 5th, with nightly samba parades at the Oscar Niemeyer-designed Sambodrome. Plenty of pricy tickets are sold for events like the Scala Balls (or the Magic Ball at the Copacabana Palace, with standing tickets at around $1,000), but the better party is the free one, in the streets.

Image by Dave Yoder/National Geographic

For Those Who Love Parades and Thought Eyes Wide Shut Was Among Kubrick’s Best

The Italian take on Carnival is less an excuse for a Caribbean getaway than an opportunity to see European craftsmanship at its finest, including those Venetian masks beloved of serial killers and Stanley Kubrick. This year’s theme is “Art and Tradition.” It’s still Carnival, though. For proof, check out one of the main events: the “50 Shades of Casanova Grand Ball,” described as “a charming journey which will last for the whole night, hand by hand, along Casanova’s love experiences.”

Image from Canarias7

For Those Who Love Parades and Microclimates
Gran Canaria

A worthy departure point between Caribbean excess and Venetian style is Gran Canaria’s Carnival, the largest in Spain. (Another Spanish option is Cádiz, the country’s second-biggest and oldest.) The Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, offer Europe’s most reliably warm weather in January and its rowdiest pre-Lenten celebration: nearly an entire month of parades and late-night parties. This year’s theme: “The Crazy ’20s.” And should you need some adventure, a third of the island’s diverse and breathtaking landscape is UNESCO-protected as a Biosphere Reserve.

Image from Karen Attiah

For Those Who Love Parades and Scuba Diving

Tiny Curacao celebrates Carnival the way it’s meant to be celebrated: with parades and rum drinks. The season kicks off right after Christmas and includes parades for every segment of the population: teens, adults and horses. Six weeks of events culminate in the biggest — the “Gran Marcha” — on February 7th.