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The world's top 6 (surprising) carnivals

Forget Rio Carnival or New Orleans Mardi Gras, Booking.com’s data recently revealed that the most highly-rated carnival destinations aren’t the obvious choices.

According to global travellers, the most unforgettable carnival experiences can be found in lesser-known destinations. For authentic and spirited events where you can party with the locals, read on...

Barranquilla, Colombia

Sequins and sunshine in Barranquilla, Colombia

Sequins and sunshine in Barranquilla, Colombia

Though you’re unlikely to hear about it outside of South America, Barranquilla’s annual Carnival is the second largest in the world. This city was the birthplace of Shakira, which makes sense once you clap eyes on the flamboyance of the costumes, floats and local ‘cumbia’ music. Best described as a medley of African, Indigenous and European music, cumbia provides a soundtrack to this electrifying procession that is impossible to stand still to.

Gualeguaychu, Argentina

Choripan with Chimichurri, Gualeguaychu, Argentina

Choripan with Chimichurri, Gualeguaychu, Argentina

The carnival in Gualeguaychu is quite possibly South America’s best-kept secret. Despite being described as bigger and better than Rio. If you arrive during the day, don’t be alarmed by the lack of action, this city sticks to its siesta. But gathered around the river banks, you’ll find crowds of people swimming, dancing, and relaxing. Try a choripan (grilled chorizo and crusty bread sandwich), washed down with a cold beer while watching the sunset, before migrating to the centre of town for the real party. Expect loud, rhythmic beats, performers throwing fire, women wearing dazzlingly bright, feathered and sparkling tails, and fabulous choreography.

Patras, Greece

Lighthouse in the harbour of Patras, Greece

Lighthouse in the harbour of Patras, Greece

The annual carnival in Patras is the largest in Greece and one of the largest in Europe and is a melting pot of different cultures. Not restricted to one parade, visitors can partake in treasure hunts and various special events. The extravagant floats are a mix of tradition and themes of inspiration and spontaneity. When the first float appears on the parade, hundreds of thousands of visitors drown out the music with their cheers.

Xanthi, Greece

Colourful Carnival dresses in Xanthi, Greece

Colourful Carnival dresses in Xanthi, Greece

Bringing together all cultures, age groups and ethnicities, the carnival in Xanthi floods this North-eastern Greek city with colour and music every spring. A collection of concerts, theatrical performances, music, exhibitions, and sports all create a jolly atmosphere with a focus on local folklore.

Encarnacion, Paraguay

Vibrant costumes and feathered headdresses in Encarnacion, Paraguay

Vibrant costumes and feathered headdresses in Encarnacion, Paraguay

Encarcion is a real challenger to Rio when it comes to scantily-clad, colourful revelers dancing to salsa and samba rhythms. And a ticket to the sambadromo (parade ground) where the event is held will only set you back a fraction of a Rio ticket price. Performers festooned in flowers, glittering bikinis and huge headdresses lead the crowds in creating a wild, celebratory atmosphere.

Olinda, Brazil

Popular carnival characters in Olinda, Brazil

Popular carnival characters in Olinda, Brazil

The carnival at Olinda is Portuguese in character but with its own individual flavour. Including African-influenced dance and musical groups from an array of genres. Every year, people dress up as Presidents, politicians, and other famous personalities while giant papier-maché puppets parade along to native Brazilian music. This is a street party, admission is free, and the music continues as day turns into night, with drum rolls drifting around every street corner.

** The Data analysts at Booking.com used a z-score analysis to find the most surprising carnival destinations.