Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Carnival on the Ilha da Magia

For my tenth carnival, I went with the island of magic.

I’m in Florianopolis, Brazil this week, an island city in the Southeast part of the country well-known for its exuberant carnival celebrations the week before Lent.

It’s actually the tenth carnival I’ve been to. Over the past decade, sort of by accident, I started going to a new destination with a well-known carnival at the start of Lent every year. Last year I was in Venice, and in the years before that I was in Cologne, the Canaries, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Binche, Maastricht, Nice and New Orleans.


What’s been most interesting about this little exercise is observing how markedly different all these carnival celebrations are from one another. 

Venice is a stately affair, not a party. People walk around in their elaborate costumes during the day, but then at night the streets are empty and the costumed revellers shut themselves behind doors at insanely expensive balls. 

Rio de Janeiro is the polar opposite, an out-of-control explosion of exuberance that lasts 24 hours a day, and that everyone gets involved in. Salvador had more of an African influence, with street parades and drums.

Cologne is all about silly store-bought costumes for the spectators contrasted with elaborate floats in the parade, which often have a political theme. New Orleans is, well, just a tacky trash fest.


Florianopolis, or ‘Floripa’ as it’s known in Brazil, has a carnival that reminded me very much of carnival in the canaries (I went to the celebrations in Tenerife and Gran Canaria in 2014). There’s a lot of the same traditions, such as cross-dressing on Saturday and burying a giant fish on Friday. Both Gran Canaria and Floripa have large gap populations so both of the carnivals have a lot of gay participation, and both have big drag queen competitions that the whole city takes part in.

But one unique element to the Floripa carnival that wasn’t so present in the Canaries is the hippy element. Floripa is known generally as a counter-culture destination in Brazil, a place for free spirits to go and live in tranquillity. IE, there’s a lot of pot. So it almost felt like ‘San Francisco does Carnival’. In a good way.

And the beach setting for the carnival certainly makes this a unique carnival for me.

Florianopolis, known as the 'ilha da magia' is an amazing place. It’s largely unknown outside of Latin America, and I read on Wikitravel that only 7% of tourists there come from outside Brazil (and almost all of that is from Argentina). When I told people in Europe and America I was going to Floripa they all said they had never heard of it. But when I got to Latin America it started to ring a bell for people. I must confess I had never heard of it either until my friend moved there last year.

Luckily I am staying with my friends there, without them I would have been in real trouble as nobody here speaks English, and I speak zero Portuguese.

But it’s always nice to go somewhere off the beaten tourist path. And it’s certainly a change from Cancun!

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