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Staying Safe at Carnaval 2020

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It would be a shame to let a pickpocket ruin an otherwise unforgettable experience in Colombia which is why staying safe at Carnaval de Barranquilla is so important. This particular Carnaval is touted as one of the largest parties in all of South America, second only to the spectacle in Brazil. From colorful costumes and parades to free concerts from some of the cities finest musical groups, Carnaval is purported to offer a little something for everyone. As a first time attendee to the festivities I have been loving every moment, but in the back of my mind, there are always a few nagging concerns about safety, so I thought I’d share a few of my precautions.

Many people travel to this lovely coastal city during the Carnaval de Barranquilla each February, but whether you are a local or a foreigner, you can never be too careful in crowded public spaces. One piece of advice that almost every native Colombian will give you as you carelessly whip your phone out on the street for the first time is, No des papaya. Essentially, this means don’t make yourself look like an easy target for thieves, and that goes double for gringos. So what can you do to make the most of your time in Colombia while remaining in possession of your most prized valuables?

General safety precautions apply to any mass event from Coachella to Oktoberfest, and staying safe at Carnaval de Barranquilla is no different. First, before you even leave home, you should ask yourself if you really need to bring everything that you have with you. This means bringing just enough money for beers and cabs, making sure you took your credit cards out of your wallet, perhaps leaving your phone at home if you are going with a group that already has a designated “Uber Caller”, and removing any flashy jewelry – unless, of course, that’s the look you’re going for.

staying safe at Carnaval
Carnaval has plenty of free events that pickpocketers LOVE to attend.

Secondly, if you are going to bring a backpack, even just for hats and water bottles, it is a good idea to strap it to your chest. I know, I know… it makes you look like a bit of a geek, so if cool points are more valuable than whatever you have in your bag, feel free to skip this one.

Go with a group! Parades and free concerts are always more fun when you go with friends anyway! Using the buddy system has been tried and tested since grade school and it hasn’t failed me yet. Even if you get separated in the crowd at some point, it’s always good to know that someone is expecting you before they take their cab home at the end of the night.

Keep wallets, phones, and anything else valuable in your front pockets (or in that bag strapped to your chest), and frequently check to make sure that they are still there. I often put valuables in one pocket so that I can move through a crowd safely clutching them in one hand while cradling a drink in the other.

staying safe at carnaval
The author (Satchel) listo for Carnaval!

Finally, since it is commonplace to get offered drinks of all kinds by the friendly Colombian festival-goers, make sure you see them pouring it from a bottle, drinking it themselves, or at least alert a friend that you have just ingested some mystery moonshine.

Make sure your experience this year is unforgettable, not regrettable. I’ll be doing my damnedest to do the same. Enjoy yourselves and don’t forget about staying safe at Carnaval de Barranquilla!


Are you here for Carnaval? Why not stay a few days extra and relax on the beach at Taganga?

Satchel is an English teacher, writer, and traveler from Colorado. After receiving a BA in philosophy from MSU Denver in 2013 he began exploring the world in search of a new home. In late 2019 he moved back to Colombia with the intention of living in the country long term.

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