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Mexico’s Carnival, Fiesta Forever!

By Erick Laseca

Looking for a unique Carnival (Carnaval in Spanish) experience close to home with a foreign feel? Search no further than our southern neighbor, México. Hosting an array of parades, parties, concerts, culinary festivals, cultural programs and beauty pageants, Mexican coastal cities offer Mardi Gras celebrations comparable to those in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro or anywhere else in the world.

Celebrated the week prior to Ash Wednesday and normally lasting a little less than a week, Carnival in Mexico has a long tradition dating back to the nineteenth century. Coming from the Latin word Carnavale, meaning “goodbye to the flesh,” Carnival refers to the week before Lent (Cuaresma), where carefree abandonment and indulgence are encouraged.

Beauty Queens and Burning Moods, what else can you ask for?
Kick-off begins with the burning of El Mal Humor (Bad Mood), in which an effigy, usually modeled after an unpopular politician of the day, is hung and burned, followed by a flurry of confetti and fireworks. This gives commencement to nearly a week of festivities in some of Mexico’s most popular coastal cities, including Campeche, Mazatlan, Veracruz and Merida, just to name a few.

Host cities celebrate all sorts of parades daily, depending on the local carnival’s theme, which differs from region to region. Parades display an array of floats decoratively inspired by Mexican scenery and normally featuring bright flowers and live entertainment. Some parades require an entrance fee, and visitors are advised to get tickets to the parade as soon as they can through the local tourist office or hotel.

Mexpipe Challenge Surf Carnaval-February 16-20
For the first time ever, a surf carnival has been added this year at Zacatela beach in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca. This festival with a laid-back Woodstock-like atmosphere will take place on the beach and will have D.J.S, a fashion show, electronic dance parties and break dancing competitions as well as plenty of surf in the Pacific Ocean.

Men and women can compete in surfing competitions as well as enjoy the many festivities offered in conjunction with the carnival. The Grand Carnival Parade takes place on Tuesday the 20th, followed by a costume contest and an awards ceremony at Town Hall.

Mazatlan– February 8-20
Mazatlan, home to the third-largest Carnival celebration in the world after those in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, attracts more than 400,000 people each year. From February 8 to 20, thrill-seekers fill the malecón (oceanside promenade) running along downtown’s Ollas Altas beach, singing and dancing along roving mariachi bands. You can also catch regional Sinaloenses bands with lots of brass, as well as rock groups that set up along the way.

Food lovers can enjoy open-air culinary festivals in the Zona Dorada (Golden Zone) and in Machado Plaza. Prominent dishes on hand include Mazatlán's famous pescado zarandeado (barbecued fish), camarones con mango (mango shrimp) and marlín ahumado (smoked marlin). After enjoying some fresh seafood, Ollas Atlas port offers a unique offshore fireworks presentation February 17 representing a mock naval battle, in commemoration of Mazatlan's 1864 victory over the French Navy.

Veracruz – February 13 - 21
Known for its Afro-Caribbean-influenced culture, the port city of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico hosts the second-largest Carnival in the country. Parade-goers can expect to see Draculas, drag queens and women in sparkling dresses dancing to the infectious Caribbean/Spanish rhythms along Miguel Avila Camacho Boulevard. Groups from neighboring villages dance in peacock and pheasant-feathered headdresses. A must during Carnival in Veracruz is dancing! Visitors should not miss the chance to dance at the zocalo, or central square. Salsa, cumbia, reggae and marimba are popular, but Jarochos (people from Veracruz) hold a special place in their hearts for the music and dance known as danzon, which first arrived from Cuba in 1880. For live music, visit the zocalo and/or the malecon on February 21, featuring Mexican artists.

And when they aren't dancing, there’s nothing like sitting on the banks of the Jamapa River in the nearby town of Boca del Rio and enjoying succulent grilled huachinango (red snapper), or a vuelve a la vida (Veracruz-style seafood cocktail, a well-known hangover remedy) at bargain prices.

Cozumel – February 14-21
Known as one of the most popular celebrations in the Mexican Caribbean, Cozumel has commemorated this pre-Lenten celebration for nearly 100 years bringing Carnaval to life in an exciting explosion of color and music. Cozumel’s unique celebration includes a variety of costumed characters, such as Harlequins, rumba dancers, Spaniards, gypsy women, fairies, princesses, bullfighters and kings and queens that can be spotted during the week.

This carnival is also considered a family-friendly version of the holiday and begins with the crowning of the emperor and empress as well as the king and queen of Carnaval. As the week progresses and the momentum builds, the island’s celebration continues with colorful parades, nightly street fairs and daily musical performances and dancing throughout the streets of downtown San Miguel.

Merida– February 14-21
The Yucatan Peninsula’s capital city of Merida is one of the many cities that celebrate Carnival, with this year’s theme centered on “The Circus”. Since 1980, the people of the Yucatan celebrate the marching of “El Jacarandoso,” a popular character who was once king of the Carnival and annually displays the most colorful and amusing costume. On Monday during Carnival week, the ladies don hand-embroidered dresses and the gentlemen sparkling white guayaberas, the dress shirts typical of the region.

Other important carnival destinations in Mexico include Ensenada, Baja California; Guaymas, along the Sea of Cortez in Sonora; Tepic, Nayarit; and Chamula, Chiapas, said to be one of the most indigenous festivals in the country.

About the Mexico Tourism Board
The Mexico Tourism Board (MTB) brings together the resources of federal and state governments, municipalities and private companies to promote Mexico's tourism attractions and destinations internationally. Created in 1999, the MTB is Mexico’s tourism promotion agency, and its participants include members of both the private and public sectors. The MTB has offices throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

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Erick Laseca
Mexico Tourism Board
312-228-0517 x14

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