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The Traveller's Magazine
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January, February and March signal the start of carnival seasons around the globe. If you’ve got your heart set on seeing one in 2011, now is the time to start booking your flights and hotel rooms! Here is our list of top 5 wild carnivals to experience this winter.

The term carnival comes from the Italian carnevale: carn (flesh, meat) and levare (remove), literally the removing of flesh. Etymology reveals the rationale behind the carnivals, that is, they were used as one last outburst of craziness before Lent. Pre-Lent carnivals, many starting on January 6th, attempt to satisfy every craving of the body one last time before beginning the period of fasting. The highlight of the show is the wildly popular Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday). Today the carnivals are a show of folk characters, traditions and a genuine feast for the eyes, ears and of course the appetite. Here are 5 carnivals which every traveller should see at least once in their life!

The Rio Carnival, Brazil

The most famous carnival in the world comes from South America, without a doubt it’s Rio de Janeiro’s shin dig. It’s also one of the most important events in all of Brazil. For four entire days, Rio doesn’t sleep. The streets are filled with locals and foreigners alike while the city’s samba school students dress in extravagant costumes and show off what they can do. Pretty soon the crowds will be dancing too because if there’s any reason why Brazil hosts the best and most famous carnival it’s because dancing is part of everyday life here.

  • When? March 6-9th 2011
  • How to get there? Fly London – Rio for £614 with Delta Air Lines (Feb28-Mar12)

Carnival de Nice, France

The French Riviera sure lights up when carnival time rolls around. More than a million visitors flock the southern region of France to take part in its festivities. This year’s theme is “King of the Mediterranean” and grand parades of flowers and lights are in the line-up. Carnival stats: 21 floats, 150 giant heads, 60 bands, 20 tonnes of confetti, 10 kg of wire and 5000 fresh cut flowers.

  • When? February 18th to March 8th 2011. Most of the activity happens on weekends.
  • How to get there? Flights to Nice from London starting from £57 with easyJet (Feb25-Mar02)

Venice Carnival, Italy

The Venetian carnival has been a tourist attraction since the beginning of the twentieth century and a major traditional festival in Italy since the Middle Ages. It’s one of the most elegant in the world, thanks to its gilded masks. These masks gave Venetians the opportunity to go to the carnival regardless of where they came from, essentially erasing social differences and inequalities. Even though the carnival today is mostly oriented around tourists, it’s still a magical event, especially when snow covers Venice.

  • When? February 19th and 20th, February 26th to March 8th 2011
  • How to get there? Fly low cost from London, Edinburgh and other UK departure cities. London to Venice for £50 with easyJet (Feb16-Feb23).

New Orleans Carnival, USA

Our favourite among the lot. If you love soulful jazz and singing the blue then head to New Orleans during carnival time, it’s off the hinges! New Orleans has really suffered in recent years but if there’s one thing that has helped this city get back on its feet, its carnival time. This city celebrates multi-culturalism, good humour and original costumes. Dress up in the craziest you’ve ever dreamt and don’t be afraid of offending people (there’s always worse!).

  • When? Carnival starts on January 6 and ends on Shrove Tuesday March 8 2011.
  • How to get there? Find flights to New Orleans for as little as £436 with US Airways on (departing from London).

Carnival de Québec, Canada

The carnival in Québec is worth a visit if only for the giant ice and snow sculptures. It’s a one up on the classic sand castle competition. Twenty teams from around the world compete by creating impressively detailed structures out of ice and snow. The public and jury vote on the winner. Other attractions include an ice bath, which is a great opportunity to see the bravest Canadians jump into pools of water as cold as -20°C. Why not go the extra mile and sleep in a hotel made entirely of ice?

  • When? January 28th to February 13th 2011
  • How to get there? Flights to Québec from London for 453£

Have you already been to one of these carnivals? Tips for getting the most out of the experience?

Imgs: Flickr cc. Rio: / Nice: Toufik Lerari / Venice: US Army Africa / New Orleans: DoctorWho / Québec: IvoDivo

Flight prices are not guaranteed. Fares were found at the time of writing on

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2 responses to “2011 trip ideas: The wildest carnivals in the world

  1. 114th Saranac Lake Winter Carnival this Feb. 4-13 in the Adirondacks. – always a great time. This year's theme is “Medieval Times” so the parade is bound to be spectacular – as is the ice palace and fireworks.

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