Carnaval del Pais

Carnaval del Pais

Argentina's Carnival

Carnaval del Pais

Brazil may host the most famous 'Carnaval', but Argentina does not shirk from putting on a dazzling performance of glittering costumes, shimmying bodies, and fantastic floats.

Gualeguaychú is a small, sleepy town that definitely wakes up to put on an incredible show with Él Carnaval del Pais every Saturday night from early January to early March. It is off the gringo trail but Argentines visit in droves.

The Carnival Venue

Carnaval del Pais

A sign of this festival’s popularity is that the municipality converted the old railway station into a facility to house it. The Corsodromo is essentially a catwalk half a kilometre long with grandstands on either side for around 40,000 spectators. This is no quaint country parade – but a theatrical extravaganza.

Three troupes compete on the catwalk for the judges’ votes on choreography, costumes and floats, and the ultimate prize of 'Kings of the Carnaval.' With over 800 performers and each parade lasting for about four hours, the troupes choose their own themes and then spend months in preparation with feverish sequin-sewing, float construction and rehearsal.

Argentinian Carnival Costume Design

Carnaval del Pais

Shaking your tail feather has true meaning at Carnaval. Thousands of feathers adorn the costumes, from ruffled boots to massive headdresses attached to the shoulders for support. Peacocks, pheasants and ostriches must cringe at the name of Gualeguaychú.

Very Hot Stuff

Sequins and glitter sparkle on the near-naked gyrating bodies. Watching the women jiggle their tasselled skirts at impressive speed, it’s understandable that endearing bodily imperfections are so noticeably absent. If you have body image issues, this is a festival to miss – it’s a visual onslaught of Latino gorgeousness.

Carnaval del Pais

However, it’s not all about sparkling bikinis and studded jockstraps. The designers have let their imaginations go rife on the themes and there’s a wealth of bizarre, witty and intriguing costumes. Giant spiders, macabre skeletons and lascivious vampires dance with Death in a nightmare scene, whilst personified tools and mathematical symbols extol the virtues of science. The costumes are a testament to both creativity and skill with the intricate sequined patterns and framework constructions not just looking amazing but withstanding the kind of movement that your own bones might find problematic.

The Latino Love and Energy of Carnival Samba

Carnaval del Pais

Although travelling 500 metres by energetic samba is no mean feat, the dancers wear genuine grins buoyed by the crowd’s enthusiasm. Cheers and whistles are tempered only by the singing of the theme song. Repetition will burn that theme song into your brain.

Even more impressive than the costumes are the massive floats. As tall as a two-storey building, they’re inventive, beautiful and far from static. Revolving stages, surprise trapdoors and moving platforms give life to these giant beasts that invaework. It’s quite a shock to see that it’s not motors driving the floats, but people pushing or pulling them along.

Getting Tickets to Visit the Carnival

Carnaval del Pais

Tickets are available from the main gate during the day. There’s no need to reserve unless you want very particular seating. Prices range from general admission tickets to VIP areas next to the judges where the samba goes up a notch from vigorous to frenetic.

Avoid Paying Too Much for Carnival Tickets

Whilst for a few extra pesos a numbered seat near the front seems a good idea, it can be a waste as nobody actually sits, and all sense of order disappears quickly. Seats are stood on and, for the short, general admission may be better as it is tiered. Get in early and snare a seat at the front.

Food and Drink Inside Corsodromo

Carnaval del Pais

You won’t need to leave the stands unless nature calls, in which case it is polite to do so. Staunch hawkers show strength and perseverance moving their laden crates of drinks and snacks amongst the exuberant crowd, and agile waiters with trays held aloft will bring you hot choripán from the parillas behind the arena.

Booking Accommodation Around Carnaval del Pais in Gualeguaychú

Carnaval del Pais

Book early if you want accommodation with a solid roof, particularly near the end of Carnaval when it is at its busiest. The tourist office arranges local homestays and you may see signs about town advertising beds at the homes of enterprising locals, but it’s a gamble. Camping, however, is an experience in itself.

Camping in Gualeguaychú During the Carnival

You are more likely to get a site if you arrive on any other day but Saturday, but Gualeguaychú has plenty of camping grounds. Cross the river and there’s a quiet site amongst the trees – or stick on the other side if you want to party.

Celebrating Carnival Beachside with Argentines

Carnaval del Pais

Solar del Este has a long stretch of beach and it’s not used for sunbaking. DJs and live acts have hundreds of revellers dancing at any hour and there’s always the river if you need to cool off. Argentines seem to possess superhuman reserves of energy and if you want to celebrate carnival until the sun rises you’ll find plenty of people for company.

Travelling Back to Buenos Aires from Gualeguaychú

Carnaval del Pais

Another option is to catch a late bus back to Buenos Aires and skip accommodation altogether. Buses run throughout the night but book a return after four o'clock if you want to catch the full parade. The bus station is walking distance from the stadium but it’s not a fun walk alone in the wee hours. What was a short and interesting stroll during the day becomes a long and spooky journey at night through dark and deserted streets. If your schedule is tight, leave before the crowds and get a cab.

Carnival is generally described as a Christian pre-Lenten festival, but visit Gualeguaychú and the alternative theory of pagan origins and a celebration of life makes much more sense.