This year, Carnaval La Paz will run from February 23 to February 28, 2017 and the theme will be “El Juego de la Vida" or "The Game of Life". Without a doubt Carnaval is the grandest event on the La Paz social calendar, drawing hundreds of thousands of people each year.
Following the western Christian Easter Calendar Carnaval traditionally ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. This means Carnaval can end as early as February 3 and as late as March 9th, so the 2017 Carnaval will be at the later end of the spring calendar and being warm temps, a limited threat of rain and beautiful evenings for the parades, which unless they change the schedule will take place in daylight. The later date of Carnaval usually meaans greater attendance, so if you're looking to make hotel reservations you need to do it in 2016.
What to expect at Carnaval La Paz
If you come to Carnaval La Paz expecting bead tossing, drunken debauchery and things popping loose you might have to cover the young one's eyes for, it is not that kind of Carnaval. It is a family event, with more modest parades, food booths and cultural events. Attended by a cross section of Baja California Sur, it is most popular with young people between the ages of 'tweens and early 20's.
There is a king and queen and some of the most beautiful women and a handful of men in La Paz come out of the woodwork to compete for this honor. Becoming Carnaval Queen or the King of Joy (Traditionally the title is "King of Fools") can be a big thing for a young person in La Paz.
The job has its demands as well as the royal court not only is present during every night of Carnaval but also visits the jail, orphanage and old folks home to bring the spirit of Carnaval to those that can't attend. Corronation of the King usually takes place following the burning lf Bad Humor in effiegy on Thursday night. The queen and her court are crowned an presented on Friday night.
Taking the crown is serious business in La Paz. In 2010 it was rumored that a family member of the Royal Runner-Up let the air out of the tires of the Queen's float, because she felt the reigning queen had cheated to gain her throne. But who knows, it was just rumor, but it held up the parade for nearly 40 minutes.
The parade nights always bring out the best crowds (Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the last three nights) and the float costumes are about as racy as things get in this family town. The Gay community has its good share of the fun with Carnaval and some of the best floats in the parade are entries sponsored by the gay community. The most outrageous costumes on the most ornate floats with the most enthusiastic sexy dancing beauties often results, on closer inspection, that those 'sexy women' have a surprise in store.
The main stage is located near the kiosk (bandstand) on the Malecon at the foot of 16th of September. This is where the Burning of Bad Humor in Effigy takes place to officially open Carnaval, most of the nightly performances take place and where the coronation event is held. Things start to fire up about sunset, with the main events on the stage taking place after 8PM and dancing to live and loud music that continues to about 2AM nightly. Stages featuring various musical acts from around Mexico and locally that cover much of the musical spectrum and range from 'pretty good' to 'why isn't someone recording these guys'.
There are plenty of Carnaval trinkets and some little thing always ends up being the defining piece of junk for the year, ranging from hand launched helicopters to glow in the dark mustaches.
There are booths selling specialty breads, margaritas and tacos, the smell of Carnaval food drifts over much of lower La Paz for almost a week. The booth space isn't cheap and many social organizations that count on funds raised during Carnaval to sustain them through the year have squealed about the increased fees.
There is a reading, opening night and again on Sunday, by the winning poet laureate in "The Game of Flowers or Florals". The Game of Florals goes back to 169 B.C.E. Roman times, when a competition was held for the street poets, troubadours and bards where the winner was awarded a golden flower encrusted with gems, of which to give the lady of his choosing. The competition was dedicated to the Roman goddess Flora and is most likely the origin of the term, 'to use flowery words'
You can't miss the blanket auctioneers. Selling blankets like they aren't going to make anymore tomorrow, these guys sell combination stacks at break neck speed. With home modified microphones blaring though sound systems Jimmy Page discarded four decades ago, you soon discover that every phrase in Spanish ends in an "S". Yet there are those ardent blanket buyers who stand there, right in front of the speakers, waiting patiently for the auctioneer to package the "Elvis" bedspread with the Winnie the Pooh comforter, then loose his mind and lets them sell for the ridiculous price of $180 pesos. (I found the prices a bit better than retail, best on the last two days of the carnaval)
Main Act Lineup: The entertainers for Carnaval seem to follow the same pattern and genre. The line up was revised the first week of January for undisclosed reasons. One stipulation to the selection of performers was "no narcocorridos, songs that refer to specifics of the narco trade, often glorifying the business.
Thursday: Comedian Teo Gonzalez will follow the burning in effigy of Bad Humor (video)
Friday: Angeles Azul Cumbia dance music will bring dancing to the streets, if you know the cumbia moves. (video)
Saturday: Pop singing duo Ah Ash has performed with Ricky Martin and has cross-border hits. (video)
Sunday: Napoleon, some refer to has the Frank Sinatra of Latin American with hits that span decades. (video)
Monday: Replaced once again on January 12 we have the band El Tri, with Alex Lora coming on Monday. Although I personally like Molotov too, but Alex Lora is an upgrade. El Tri refers to themselves as Heavy Nopal (cactus) or we would call it heavy Rock. I would best equate them to the Aerosmith inn Mexico. (video)
Tuesday: Banda Carnaval will move the dancing feet with the big band Caribbean sound. (video)
How Carnaval almost wasn't
Carnaval has certainly become more sophisticated since my first one, 17 years ago. The last farm tractor hauled float was replaced in the parade some years ago, floats became more artistic, headline acts became top drawer and the whole thing just kept getting bigger. In fact, almost too big for the small city of La Paz. It seems hard to imagine, but in 2013, we almost saw the end of Carnival.
The bill for Carnaval 2012 exceeded $880,000USD for the City of La Paz. With the constantly rising expectations, each year's committee felt the need to raise the bar. Carnaval events lead to national TV broadcasts of some of Carnaval La Paz in 2010. Apparently, it didn't lead to big 'Nielson Numbers' and it hasn't happened since.
The headline acts for the 2016 Carnaval faced some limitation. With the drug related problems the city faced through much of 2015 the organizers banned any musical group associated with "Narcocorridos", those artists who's ballads glorify the narco trade.
It also appears organizers took a step back from the pinnacle of artists showcased a few years back. Samantha Rae is a national sensation of local origin, but is not the singing legend of say, Yuri or Gloria Trevi who has sold more than 20 million records or Panteón Rococó, who's style and popularity I would equate to "Oingo Boingo" in the 90's
Children's Carnaval will be on Sunday, February 14, 2016 with a special Kids Parade, junior Carnaval rides and special entertainment for the youngest set.
An important change for parade watchers in 2013 were the marching placard holders in the parade with signs discouraging the throwing of objects at the parade marchers. Throwing items at the parade marchers is now a ticketable offense. Just like any mass gathering Carnaval attracts those that prey on crowds, pickpockets and petty thieves don't miss Carnaval La Paz either. Local "rateros" (the word is not "banditos") are joined by migratory mainland professionals, so keep a good hand on your cameras and keep what you take with you to a minimum. Police and Mexican military keep a pretty tight wrap on things and decend quickly on even the slightest sigh of trouble. With seucity concerns in 2015 with a drug war in process in La Paz many thought it would throw a damper on the event, but attendance was estimated among the higer years on record. This year's Carnaval faces a greater challenge to attendance, falling too early, falling at the end of the low season in La Paz. (Jan - mid Feb)
The down-side of Carnaval La Paz
Without a doubt Carnaval benefits commercial interests in La Paz and particularly the businesses closest to the action. It also interrupts life and business in the area that do not benefit from the increased traffic and disruption of business. For drivers in La Paz the Malecon will begin to be obstructed on Monday, February 1 and be closed on Wednesday as the final setup takes place.
Traffic flow along the Malecon from Marquis de Leon on the southwestern side to the Molina (windmill) on the northeastern end. Effectively crossing town after 8PM will require traveling several blocks inland. The streets are swept daily during Carnaval and the mess seems to evaporate by about 10AM daily, but it takes through the following week and Kid's Carnaval for some of the mechanical rides and booths to disappear completely from the Malecon.
The few days prior to, the week of and after Carnval are nearly always sold out well in advance at the better hotels. However, in the past two years La Paz has added more than 500 new hotel rooms, so it may not be too late yet to make your reservation.Travel to La Paz for Carnaval
Because of the early placement of Carnaval this year attendance may off a bit as well.
If you have never experienced Carnaval La Paz you might want to make a point of it in 2016, it could be the last for a while. There appears a distinct lack of organization and cut backs in promotion. Their are no promotional video on Youtube this year, nor is there a reversion to the poster days. There have been four revisions to the entertainment lineup since November, although in other years the lineup was announced only once, but several days in advance of Carnaval. Support for the event from local merchants has drifted out of the downtown area that benefits from Carnaval and now the event relies mostly on sponsorships. I do hope they can coordinate the continuance of the event; it is a true slice of La Paz.
It's a piece of Baja California Sur folks, if your in the area, don't miss out. If you miss out, we'll see you at the next Carnaval!