1. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The most famous carnival in South America takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from Feb 18th – 21st in 2012, and attracts people from all over the world. One of the highlights of this is the samba parade competition, in which samba schools from different neighborhoods of the city take part. They each choose a different theme each year and spend all year practising their music and dancing, and preparing their costumes and floats. There are also street carnivals in different parts of the city with bands and dancers wearing all sorts of elaborate costumes, as well as balls and dance parties where dressing up is very much encouraged.
2. Salvador da Bahia, Brazil
Another famous Brazilian carnival, also known as the world’s largest party, is held in Salvador da Bahia on the north east coast of Brazil and attracts several million people each year. While the costumes aren’t as elaborate and spectacular as in Rio, there is a greater variety of music – not just samba – and many of Brazil’s top musicians and singers perform there. The bands parade slowly around the city on trucks known as ‘trios eléctricos’, and you can join them, watching from special stands known as ‘camarotes’ along the route, or just watch and listen from wherever you can find space. In 2012 the Salvador carnival will be held from Feb 16th – 22nd.
3. El Callao, Venezuela
Each February a large carnival takes place in El Callao in the Venezuelan state of Boliva, featuring a mixture of music and costumes from Venezuela, the West Indies and the French Antilles. There are also carnivals in other parts of Venezuela, including Los Tambores de Bariovento and Trinidad.
4. Azuero, Penonme, and Panama City, Panama
Carnival celebrations are held all over Panama, with the largest in Azuero, Penonme, and Panama City, the captial. These celebrations are huge parties with parades, music, dancing and amazing costumes. One particular Panamanian tradition is the throwing of water at one another, the ‘mojadera’, which is both lots of fun and a great way to keep cool (so leave your best clothes at home!). In 2012 these carnivals will take place between Feb 18th – 21st.
5. Gualeguaychú, Argentina
Early each year the city of Gualeguaychú in the north east of Argentina holds huge carnival celebrations where you can enjoy fabulous costimes, music and dancing. The Carnaval del País is held every Saturday in January and February, culminating in a big fiesta on Sunday March 19th. Head to the corsódromo, a large, purpose-built stadium, to enjoy hundreds of dancers and musicians as well as a spectacular parade.