With Brazil for a neighbour, there is little wonder Argentina feels the need to compete and, lucky for us, doesn’t disappoint. During the same dates as above, weekend before Ash Wednesday, carnivals take over major towns across the country, particularly in the states of Entre Ríos and Corrientes, with elaborate feathered costumes and enormous parades. The largest of these is in the near-unpronounceable town of Gualeguaychú, known as the Carnival del País, or carnival of the nation.
Unlike the other fiestas in this list, the carnival of Cuba's second city, Santiago, has nothing to do with Easter and is instead centred around the summer festival of St James, the city's namesake. Unlike the others, too, it lasts a whopping ten days! Carnival bands make use of whatever instruments are to hand to fill the streets with Cuba's signature salsa soundtrack as dance troupes party the days and nights away amongst colourful floats. A unique element of the carnival is its conga parade, which takes place on the first day of the celebrations (July 18). In street after street, the whole community turns up to conga around with their neighbours, some still in their pyjamas!
A bit more subdued to start with, this festivity begins with a religious service, followed by an equally pious procession though Puno in Peru. The fun starts with the traditional dances one of which is the well known Diablada – from then on, everyone dances, drinks and endeavours to be merry! To make the fiesta all the more important, this particular event has been declared World Heritage by UNESCO.
Every year the otherwise sleepy town of Las Tablas erupts into a riot of merry-making, as two rival factions – Calle Arriba (uptown) and Calle Abajo (downtown) – compete in a truly epic dance-off. Parades, fireworks and music bring the party to life while the carnival queens in their astonishing costumes fight it out to be crowned the most beautiful. At the same time, water is sprayed over the crowd in a tradition known as the mojadera. The carnival is always scheduled for the weekend before Ash Wednesday; the dates in 2015 are 14-17 February.
Visitors to Bolivia in the days preceding Ash Wednesday will encounter an altogether different affair to the more famous Brazilian carnival, but one that's no less traditional or colourful. Oruro, in central Bolivia, hosts the most important Carnival of the country; one characterised by a dance style known as La Diablada which roughly translates as the Dance of the Devil. Parades of men dressed in impressive demonical costumes whirl through the streets as crowds of onlookers celebrate in the stands, but this being Bolivia, there are also plenty of rustic touches; one minute you'll see a troupe of dancing girls in costumes they've saved up all year to buy, and the next you might spot a man proudly parading his llama along the carnival route!