Can’t make it to Rio this year? For our new Festival Friday, let us take you on a whirlwind tour of Gualeguaychu carnival, one of the most popular in Argentina. Nothing to envy to Brazilian carnivals!
Where is Gualeguaychu?
When we spent time in Buenos Aires in January/February, all the talk was of weekends in a place that went by the strange name of Gualeguay. What was that about? We asked around. The best Carnival this side of the Brazilian border, we were told. So, one sunny January afternoon, we headed to the Retiro bus station in Buenos Aires to see for ourselves.
A three-hour bus ride later, we disembarked in Gualeguaychù at lunchtime. At first sight, the place didn’t look like much. One of those sleepy South American towns; dusty streets around a plaza, a river flowing muddy waters, a few hammocks slung across the patios.
Not a soul around, in the blistering hot early afternoon. Only a few lone activists, holding spraypainted banners protesting against a local paper plant. We wandered around trying to find a bed for the night, but all rooms were full.
Eventually, we found beds in a dingy little place, a few blocks from the dusty plaza. The owner sat on the step, sipping mate from a silver gourd, and dismissed our offer to show passports with a wave of his hand. Vete al rio, he said. Go to the river. So, that’s where the action was.
Gualeguaychu Carnival Action
Hundreds of people were lying around the riverbank when we arrived, swimming, dancing, playing and listening to music. A few trago carts were about; some people nibbled choripan, others sipped bottles of icy-cold Quilmes. The sun moved slowly, lighting the muddy waters of the Rio Gualeguaychù. With every passing hour, the music grew louder, people started dancing, more and more descended to the riverbank. At sunset, the place was packed.
Walking back across town, the feeling was to be in a completely different place. The sleepy village of lunchtime had become party central. Streets were packed with sellers toting silly hats and performers spinning fiery koi. Music blasted out of the patios. We followed rivers of people to the Corsodromo, the arena where the Carnival parade would soon take place.
The party began around midnight. Soon the arena was drowned by cheers and drumrolls. When the float of the first comparsa paraded, the festive mood was palpable. The audience was up and dancing, singing along, taking photos of the beautiful dancers and portly King Momo, the patron of Carnival, surveying the celebration from the top of the float.
The party continued through the night, each float more colorful then the last, the beats getting faster and faster, the atmosphere more and more joyous. It was the time to let my hair down and dance.
Practical Info: The Gualeguaychù Carnival is every Saturday night in January, February and the first week of March. Entrance tickets to the Corsodromo vary with the date, from $60 to $150 (Argentinian pesos, not dollars!) There are several hostels, campsites and hotels in Gualeguaychù. Or head down to the river and sleep under the stars!