MEXICO CITY, February 1, 2006 – Those in search of a unique and exciting Carnaval experience, look no further than our southern neighbor, Mexico. Hosting an array of parades, parties, concerts, culinary festivals, cultural programs and beauty pageants, numerous Mexican coastal cities offer Mardi Gras celebrations comparable to those in many different parts of the world.
Celebrated immediately prior to Ash Wednesday (March 1st) and normally lasting nearly two weeks, Carnaval comes from the Latin word “Carnavale,” meaning “goodbye to the flesh,” where carefree abandonment and indulgence are encouraged. Mexico has a long tradition dating back to the 19th century, where locals enjoy plentiful amounts of meat prior to Lent, the 40-day period of reflection and meditation before Holy Week.
No celebration in Mexico is complete without the traditional burning of El Mal Humor (Bad Mood) kick-off, where an effigy modeled after an unpopular politician of the day, is hung and burned, followed by a flurry of confetti and fireworks. There is also an abundance of pageantry, crowning the Reina del Carnaval (Carnaval Queen); and the selection of the Rey del Carnaval (Carnival King), who may take on different names, including Rey Feo (Ugly King) or Rey de Alegria (King of Happiness), depending on the city. Hopefuls compete in a grand ceremony for the coveted titles, followed by a massive party, featuring performances by regional music or dance groups. Winners are crowned by a local government official and earn the privilege of being part of the major parades, normally held on Sunday and Tuesday during Carnaval week.
Parades are also a must! Depending on the local carnaval’s theme, parades display an array of floats decoratively inspired by Mexican scenery and normally feature bright flowers and live entertainment. Some 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.
To culminate the week of festivities, there is yet another symbolic burning. This time, it’s of Juan Carnaval, another effigy symbolizing all that is impure. The burning and burial of this character represents a fresh, new beginning, paving the way to the period of Lent and the spring.
Mazatlan– Feb. 23-28
Mazatlan, home to the third-largest Carnaval celebration in the world after those in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, attracts more than 400,000 people each year. From Feb. 23 to 28, thrill-seekers fill the malecón (oceanside promenade) running along downtown’s Olas Altas beach, singing and dancing along with roving mariachi bands. You can also catch regional Sinaloen 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), tostadas de aguachile (spicy shrimp served on a crispy tortilla), ceviche de sierra (sword fish “ceviche”), camarones con mango (mango shrimp) and marlín ahumado (smoked marlin). After enjoying some fresh seafood, the Olas Atlas port offers a unique offshore fireworks presentation Feb. 25 representing a mock naval battle, in commemoration of Mazatlan’s 1864 victory over the French Navy.
In addition, the Mazatlan Carnaval hosts a cultural program featuring regional art and literature competitions. Top prize is the prestigious Clemencia Isaura poetry award, a tradition honoring Mexico’s best unpublished work. Activities include a two-week fair with amusement park rides for all ages as well as lots of handicrafts up for bargaining. This year, the theme of the Mazatlan Carnaval will be “Spirits of Wind and Sea,” celebrating the city’s contributions to attracting tourism to the region. For more information on Carnaval in Mazatlan, visit www.carnavalmazatlan.com.mx.
Veracruz – Feb. 21 – March 1
Known for its Afro-Caribbean-influenced culture, the port city of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico hosts the second-largest Carnaval 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 main 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 Feb. 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. For an updated schedule of the week-long festivities, visit www.veracruz-puerto.gob.mx/turismo/.
Merida– Feb. 22 – March 1
The Yucatan Peninsula’s capital city of Merida is one of the many cities that celebrate Carnival. 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.
Each day, a parade is celebrated with a different theme, including Happiness, Battle of the Flowers and Children’s Parade. The parade route starts at the Monument to the Flag on Paseo Montejo Street and ends at San Juan Park. Good places to view the parades are the Main Plaza and Paseo Montejo. All along the route, people dance in the streets to the music of the famous Mexican bands that grace the celebration. For more information, visit www.merida.gob.mx/carnaval/
Cozumel – Feb. 22 – 28
Rich in tradition, Cozumel’s family-friendly version of Mardi Gras offers travelers a one-of-a-kind experience filled with vibrant costumes, exciting parades and exhilarating dance troupes. 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.
Festivities include the traditional ceremonial crowning of the king and queen of Carnaval, and numerous colorful parades with magnificent floats and nightly street fairs with traditional foods and concerts. Music abounds with daily musical performance and continuous dancing throughout the streets of downtown San Miguel. Adding to the Cozumel’s unique celebration is the 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. For more information, visit www.cometocozumel.com.
Other important carnival destinations in Mexico include Campeche, Campeche; 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, Japan and Latin America.
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