Top Five Carnival Celebrations Outside Brazil

  • WHL Group
  • 2 February 2011

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has a well-deserved reputation as host of the biggest Carnival celebration in the world. Nowhere else on earth is this gloriously wanton Christian holiday of feasting before fasting quite as grand in scale. In fact, all over Brazil, wild and massive celebrations compete for the Carnival spotlight. This makes it easy to forget that Carnival is celebrated with the same passion and gusto in many other parts of the world as well!

Here is our selection of five great places for a Carnival carouse outside of Brazil.


Costumes are key in the Carnival celebration on the Maltese island of Gozo. Some take the disguise aspect so seriously that they will conceal their identities completely by remaining silent. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Thyes

Malta and Gozo

The central Mediterranean island of Malta is known to spiral into madness, absurdity and lively celebrations for the five days of Carnival, the most colourful event on the Maltese calendar. The holiday has been celebrated in Malta since the 16th century, giving it a momentum that has been building for hundreds of years.

The small island of Gozo, just to the northwest of Malta, is particularly notorious for its own version of Carnival, hosted in its capital city of Victoria on It-Tokk, its main square, and in the village of Nadur. Gozitans take pride in their parallel and distinct celebration of Carnival, which they sometimes interpret a little differently than their Maltese counterparts.

For example, in Nadur, the costumes take on a whole new level of absurdity, highlighting the grotesque and ensuring complete anonymity. In fact, in Nadur, the masqueraders are so serious about remaining unrecognised that they will don sacks, sheets, wigs and outrageous makeup. They will even stay silent to conceal their voices, which is why the party in Nadur is known as the Silent Carnival.


Each village around Rijeka, Croatia, has its own distinctive bellringer costume that appears in the International Rijeka Carnival, one of the biggest in Europe. Animal masks are most common, but variations include flower hats and coloured paper streamer headpieces. Photo courtesy of Kvarner County Tourist Board on Flickr/whltravel

Kvarner, Croatia

Croatia is another Mediterranean country with a flair for celebrating Carnival. Its all-out annual festival is headquartered in the coastal city of Rijeka in the Kvarner region, which plays host to huge street parties, costumes and parades that draw masses of people.

Croatia’s own traditions and customs make its Carnival party unique, and the most iconic revellers are the bell ringers. Shepherding in the Carnival magic, the bell ringers dress in lambs-wool costumes and huge animal masks. They band together along a procession route from village to village, and ring the bells they wear around their waists. Bell ringers from each region have their own costume and musical walk, but all of them play the same role: to ward off evil spirits. Villagers welcome them with wine and refreshments.

The several days of Carnival in Croatia culminate with a massive procession in Rijeka. The International Carnival Parade tends to be around five kilometres long, with thousands of participants from both Croatia and abroad. They outdo themselves each festival season with elaborate costumes and decorations for their floats. Spectator numbers surpass 100,000, forming a sea of masks, merriment and revelry.


The Tourism Board of Seychelles is excited to promote its first annual International Carnival of Victoria, kicking off a new tradition of large-scale celebration that will rival the biggest Carnival parties worldwide

Victoria, Seychelles

The Seychelles sells itself as a “melting pot of cultures,” an appropriate slogan given the rich blend of influences and traditions that characterise this island nation in the Indian Ocean. It is also fitting that the island aspires to host the biggest international celebration of Carnival worldwide.

This year, from March 4th to 6th, Seychelles’ capital city of Victoria, found on Mahe Island, hopes to attract the representatives of Carnival celebrations from all around the globe to an international melting pot of festivities. The initiative came from the Seychelles Tourism Board, which is planning this high-profile event as a showcase for both participating countries and for Seychelles itself as a premier international destination.

Alain St. Ange, CEO of the Seychelles Tourism Board, told reporters “We envisage attracting a strong and varied contingent from abroad. Pledges of support have been given by several international carnivals and others probably including South Africa.”


The paint and plumage of Carnival costumes in Madeira, Portugal, reveal the vibrancy of one of Europe's most famous street parties. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Jamie Neely

Madeira, Portugal

Madeira is a Portuguese island that has long been a destination for fun lovers and pleasure seekers. The capital city, Funchal, certainly knows how to host a party! Its annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display reaches Guinness World Record proportions and its celebration of Carnival has gained notoriety as one of Europe’s most raging street festivals.

This year (2011), the festival begins on the 5th of February and lasts until the 8th. Thousands of participants will fill the streets in outlandish costumes that rival the most exquisite plumage and glam in Rio de Janeiro. Samba bands will play music in the streets, providing a baseline for days of dancing, singing and merrymaking.

As with many of the Carnival celebrations worldwide, Madeira’s is a burlesque. Costumes are caricatures of famous personages and parade floats are fun-poking allegories on wheels. After four days of fiesta, the revelry finally winds down for the seriousness of lent.


Unlike in Rio, the dances in Oruro never change because each one corresponds to a Bolivian folk story. The Caporales dancers shown above are presenting the story of the Yungueno slaves, and their rich costumes show the money that their slave owners paid for (and profited from) them. Photo courtesy of Maureen Valentine

Oruro, Bolivia

At 3,708.5 metres of elevation, high in Bolivia’s altiplano, is the cultural centre of the nation for the 10 days leading up to Ash Wednesday. During this time of the year, Oruro shows its true Carnival colours with ornate costumes, pumping music and plenty of heavy drinking.

An intermingling of pagan beliefs with the Catholic faith, typical Bolivian dance groups like the Morendaas, Tinus, Caporales and Llameradas parade through town and act out myths from Bolivian culture while dressed in elaborate garb that has taken the entire year to fashion. Two of the major players are the devil and the archangel and when they both arrive in the Carnival stadium on Sunday morning before Lent, there is a battle of dance that symbolises the confrontation of good and evil.

During the day, wearing a poncho and glasses is advisable; local children are out in full force with water balloons and spray foam to attack any easy targets – and gringos are notably easy targets. Also, a wise traveller books reservations in advance; the arid highlands of Bolivia can be unpleasantly cold and this small town of 250,000 will swell to more than double its size during Carnival.

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Africa, Bolivia, cities, Croatia, Europe, festivals & events, islands, local knowledge, Malta, music, personal experience, Portugal, Seychelles, South America, top five, WHL Group newsletter,

6 Responses to “Top Five Carnival Celebrations Outside Brazil”

  1. Hi Annie, what can you tell us about Carnival in Bangladesh?

  2. annie says:

    how come no bangladesh?

  3. Randy (not Ted or Anna) says:

    Not taking ownership pride in anything, T&T or steel drums. They’re not mine at all, but for everyone and anyone who cares to be informed. Just commented on a supposedly informed article purporting to advise those interested on the headlined “TOP Five Carnivals Outside Brazil”. As is clear from other independent comments and anyone familiar with the Carnival scene, one clearly loses credibility excluding one of the very best from a supposed “Top Five” list. It’s like Anna asked, are these “experts” for real? Ethan’s response is disingenuous trying to distance from his own headline by clarifying “our selection of great places” where he says “it’s no more than that”. But the “TOP Five” headline clearly suggests otherwise. Just tired in travel of having supposed independent advice not be so, instead guided by business partnering or worse. Won’t contribute to a site so clearing uninformed or biased, but suggest anyone reading this for interest in alternative Carnivals to do a little further internet research to easily unfold the jewel of T&T for your own unbiased Carnival appreciation. I have nothing to sell calling for “theatrics”, so if you don’t care about T&T or the real “Top Five”, please go support this guy’s travel partners in his subjective suggestion of other “great places”. It’s all good, probably, but it’s sure not “Top Five” if it doesn’t include T&T. Check it out for yourself. Feel free to caste stones then, but excluding a “Top Three” from a supposed “Top Five” suggests being uninformed or having another agenda, inviting these negative reactions where no language was unwarranted. The headline in the article was unwarranted. Change the headline to “5 Great Places” and all is well. And perhaps for Ethan’s “strange” omission and the resulting dumbfounded informed responses, others might tune into a place (T&T) they came here to find because of the original headline inappropriate for the article that followed. Top Five.…

    Sorry I offended anyone. Will check out drama school. Hope all have fine travels. A little independent research away from here will lead you there.

  4. John says:

    Oh la la, so much anger over an innocent omission.

    I have known Ethan for many years and he would never do something unethical.

    The language used is not warranted.

    John Nicholls

  5. The remarks of Randy seem pretty theatrical. Like: how could you forget my carnaval. Randy we all know about your carnival in Trinidad Tobago as we also know all about your steel drums. But did you know and did we know about those more local, pretty nice festivities in Croatia, Sycheles, Portugal, Malta and Bolivia? And Randy is your 13th February reaction written during a hang over from carnival festivities?

  6. Luke Ford says:

    Some enthusiastic people here who love Trinidad! It must be one damn good party to bring about so much passion. Though Randy (aka Ted), have not done much to enthuse my travel spirit for the place.

    I would also add one destination where they apparently hold their own massive Carnival, held during August in a small Christian village in Syria! I hear it’s one of the biggest parties this side of the Dead Sea!

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