“Our family, two adults and 3 adult children, had the pleasure of visiting Colombia and traveling with Colombia Photo Expeditions. It was an amazing trip as we learned about Columbia’s history, culture and people. The trip was well organized and Chris our expedition leader was welcoming and knowledgeable. There was something for everyone from the wonderful food to the salsa clubs and adventurous outings. We fully intend to return and will be sure to contact them when we do. Loved it !” — Merion, PA
“Who lives it, is who enjoys it (Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza).” The slogan of the Carnaval de Barranquilla reflects its vibrant celebration of life. The carnival is the second largest in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro. In 2003, it was named one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
The carnival stems from a long folk tradition in Colombia; many say it began as a celebration of spring and renewal. It has links with historical festivals such as Diablos Arlequines from Sabanalarga. In truth, its origin is a mix of many components: it comes from a combination of pagan ceremonies, catholic beliefs, and ethnic diversity, and is a mixture of the European, African and Native American traditions, dances and music. Such celebrations have sprung up in some form all over the world. It was at first a holiday for slaves and grew to be a celebration of the region as it combined with traditional indigenous dances and influences from European colonizers.
“Carnival came from Europe,” said Professor Jairo Soto, “The origin is associated with pagan festivities in Rome, Persia, Egypt, Spain and pagan gods, but at the same time, the Carnival marks the end of the winter, and the beginning of spring. When the catholic church reached power, they needed to fuse Carnival (the representation of the flesh and desires), with the church beliefs: most importantly, the beginning of Lent, and finally, Easter Week. Carnival is nothing else but the joining expression of the pagan and the religious.”
“Barranquilla is a happy city, full of optimism and kind people,” said journalist Fernando Vengoechea, one of the driving forces behind the design project TodoMono. “Its real value resides in its people, and the Carnival is the best time of the year to feel the passion of its citizens, almost touchable in all the festivities, costumes and expressions of an intangible heritage, long preserved through words, gestures, dances and traditions.”
“The Carnaval de Barranquilla is a celebration that has been growing with time, both in number of participants and visitors” said Carla Cecilia, Director of the Carnival. In 2003, UNESCO labeled the event as a World Heritage masterpiece. “This mention was very important for both Barranquilla and Colombia. Barranquilleros assumed a great commitment to preserve it, becoming an example of other cultural manifestations in other parts of the country.”
“It’s the maximum expression of our Caribbean being,” said sociologist Aser Vega. “It crystallizes the key values that define us, including our imagination, irreverence, happiness for life. It is a proposal of life over death, especially in a country with such a violent history.”
“This designation by UNESCO was given to the Carnival due to its cultural diversity, clearly seen in its music, dances, crafts, costumes, oral expressions, rituals and food,” said Cecilia. “It is the clear fusion of three cultural lines: Indigenous, European and African, making in it a live testimony of millennial traditions.”
“The Carnival is our identity,” said Linda Isabel Gomez, Cedros neighborhood queen and 2018 aspiring popular queen. “It is our passport to the world. It is our biggest happiness, color and fantasy we have in Barranquilla.”
Preparation in Barranquilla begins weeks before the carnival. Locals take part in events such as the Carnaval de los Niños (Children’s Carnival); the Fiestas de Comparsas, Fiesta de Danzas y Cumbias and Danza del Garabato (dance performances); and the Viernes de la Reina de Reinas (Carnival Queen Contest), where the future carnival queen is selected.
“Becoming a Carnival Queen was a lifelong dream for me,” said 2018 Barranquilla Carnival Queen Valeria Abuchaibe Rosales. “But at the same time, it’s a great responsibility becoming the visible face of one of the most important festivities in the country. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover each corner of our city, to learn to value the work of our artisans and to feel the warmth of our people.”
“The Queen’s Coronation used to take place on the Paseo de Bolivar,” said Economist Ricardo de Leon, economist, local cultural researcher, and member of the ‘Cumbiamba del Carajo’. “As the event grew, the stage became too small. Parallel to Barranquilla’s development, the event became more complex and elaborate, gaining in visual impact, but requiring a stage with special characteristics.”
“The moment of the coronation was simply indescribable,” said Abuchaibe Rosales. “For the first time, the event took place at the Naval School, located on Via 40. It is here where the most important events of our festivities take place. There, with hundreds of locals and visitors, I had the opportunity to share the show ‘Musa: raíz inspiradora’, dedicated to women through dance, art and music”
“When I was 12, I joined for the first time the Carnival Parade for Children, an unforgettable experience,” said Abuchaibe Rosales, an opportunity to feel the warmth of our people toward our celebrations. A year later I tried to become the Children’s Carnival Queen, but it never happened. I kept on trying. I prepared myself, dancing and learning, becoming part of the shows of other Queens, such as the Coronation of Olga Lucía Rodríguez (2004). All these efforts have helped me understand the responsibility I carry today as an Ambassador of this World’s Intangible Heritage.”
Meanwhile, artisans work tirelessly to create the environment that will give rise to Barranquilla’s fantasy world. They build elaborate floats, costumes, and masks created by local artisans. Each mask represents a different dance or piece of mythology. The Danza de los Congos, for example, is one of the most traditional dances of the Barranquilla carnival. It stems from colonial times, when many of the first Africans were brought to South America as slaves. Dancers wear painted wooden masks of tigers, gorillas, donkeys, goats, and most famously, bulls. In the Garabato dance, which stems from Spain, a skull mask representing Death comes face to face with the Carnival Spirit, eventually losing. Other masks, like the monkey masks of the Micos and Micas dance, represent indigenous traditions.
As the carnival day arrives, the city of Barranquilla shuts down to make way for the festivities. Music takes over the streets, and regular workday activities become impossible. “During Carnival you listen to all kinds of music,” said Teheran. “But of course, the predominant rhythms are the traditional drums, Cumbia, Chande, Guaracha and ‘Ritmo de Puya’.”
“When slaves came from Africa,” said Soto, “they brought their own culture, their own gods, their own music, their own traditions, so we ended up having the marriage between the African, the European and the Indigenous.”
The carnival officially begins with the reading of the carnival proclamation – the Barranquilla mayor symbolically gives the key to the city to the queen for as long as the carnival will last. A proclamation is read along with the queen and King Momo – a fat, jolly character who opens the carnival.
The carnival queen was first crowned in 1918. In fact, the queen has rotated between only a few upper class families in Barranquilla. This has drawn some criticism; however, the role of queen requires great financial expense for her costumes and decorations, which limits middle-class women from participating. The queen must also demonstrate her skills and charisma by performing many different dance forms for the public. The queen is chosen by a board of 11 members 6 months before the carnival.
Since Carnival began more than 100 years ago, the queen has been the main character of the event for a century now Mid last century, the Carnival takes the popular accents, along with Caribbean rhythms. The queen is chosen from the upper class families, a way for the wealthy to enjoy Carnival. It is said that a family could spend between 3000-5000 million pesos ($180,000US) for the trousseau of a girl that wants to pursue becoming queen of the Carnival. “The Queen’s family needs to finance all the dresses for all occasion,” said Ricardo de Leon. “Of course, this includes the trips; a permanent folkloric music group, with at least seven members; a team, including make up artist, press for all daily activities she is involved with, since she is officially crowned.”
“But we should remember that the Carnival also has space for the popular queens,” said Ricardo de Leon. “Each neighborhood chooses their own queen, known of “Reina del Barrio”, among which the “Reina de Reinas” is finally selected. The winner will also parade on a float during the Batalla de Flores parade, together with her royal princesses.
“Being a neighborhood queen was a marvelous experience,” said Gomez. “It was not me who experienced the event, but me as a representation of my neighbors and supporters. The fact that I was chosen provided a sense of pride, being able to have all the requisites needed. With every neighborhood I visited, my awareness raised, feeling people’s empathy and love.”
Next comes the Queen’s Coronation: a nighttime event before the parade. The previous queen crowns the current queen. “Just for coronation night, it is possible that the queen may spend $10,000,” said Ricardo de Leon. “This includes a $1,000 crown, a $7,000 coronation dress, several additional outfits. She is an essential element in all the different choreographies that take place this special night.”
As soon as she takes her throne, the city sleeps and awaits the next morning: one of the most famous events of the carnival, the Battle of the Flowers (Batalla de las Flores). The parade is led by the new carnival queen, who throws flowers into the crowd. This vivid celebration of life lasts nearly the entire day. An endless procession of people streams through the city streets, dancing and performing. The diligent work of the artisans is finally put on full display. The result is an almost otherworldly explosion of color, as troupes of costumed characters seem to compete for the most outlandish outfit. Musicians and dancers entertain the crowd, and once the parade ends, the party continues late into the night.
The next day is the Great Parade, focused on the diverse art of Colombian dance. The region is famous for its dance, characterized by a wide-ranging array of cultural backgrounds. Dancers compete for the Golden Congo prize. Dancers emerge to perform in their painted wood animal masks, reflecting centuries of tradition. Audiences also witness masterful displays of Cumbia: a dance representing the triple cultural mix of the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe.
I can still remember how I felt photographing the Carnival, surrounded by hundreds of people sharing the most passionate joy I have ever seen. For someone like me who has spent years documenting dance and folklore, being able to capture this living history was quite emotional.
“The Carnival could be summarized by the word ‘color’,” said Fernando Vengoechea, one of the driving forces behind Todomono, along with Johnny Insignares . “It is not a single expression, or a feeling. It is many things at once, always characterized by a wide range of colors and different tones. It all depends on the person, on how deeply he wants to experience the event. It is as black and white as death; green as the cayman that travels every year to Barranquilla; and red like the polleras, the dresses worn to dance Cumbia, present on every corner during the celebration.”
The Carnival has evolved with time. “I remember going to the Paseo Bolivar when I was 15 years old,” said Tomas Teheran, percussionist from a group called ‘Las Alegres Ambulancias’. “I have been connected to music since I can remember. Everyone in my family are drummers or singers.
There are multiple parallel events in Barranquilla during Carnival. “Noche de Tambo happens at Plaza de la Paz, in front of the Maria Reina Cathedral,” said Ricardo de Leon.
“There is a new event taking place every night called ‘Baila la Calle’,” said de Leon. “It is a recreation of the Carnivals from the 60s and 70s, along K50 or the “Callejon de la Aduana’. There is a wide variety of music and celebration ambiances and gastronomy offerings, both traditional and modern. It ends with all kinds of performances on a big stage.
“I have always been linked to the Carnival,” said Carla Cecilia. “ I remember many carnivals surrounded by my family, with my siblings, the comparsas, the capitanias, and specially, when I began advising the creation of the floats for the Battle of Flowers. I do love the work done by our artisans, their technique, and all the labor that goes into this moving giants.”
It is important to mention “La Noche del Rio”, in the square of the Parque Cultural del Caribe, along Via 40- n open event that started 12 years ago, with several interruptions over the years. “The nature of the event is to bring all the traditions from all the riverside villages, that sailed down the river Magdalena to finally reach Barranquilla,” said Ricardo de Leon, “in order to join the Carnival celebrations. Here you find ‘bailes cantados’ (singing dances), ‘ritmo del pajarito’ (bird’s rythm), ‘ritmo de tambora’, bullerengue.” This year’s honoree was Majin Diaz, a Colombian musician and composer who recently died in November 2017. He was best known for being the uncredited writer of “Rosa, que linda eres”. At the 18th Annual Latin Grammy Awards, Díaz won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Recording Package; El Orisha de la Rosa had also been nominated for Best Folk Album, but lost out to Natalia Lafourcade.
The end of the carnival is marked by the symbolic burial and mourning of Joselito Carnaval, based on the myth of a former city coach driver who drank himself to death on his day of rest. After this last celebration is over, the inhabitants of Barranquilla can finally enjoy some much-needed rest. They have just completed one of the most famous expressions of celebration in the world. The Carnaval de Barranquilla is more than simply a huge party; it is a complex and labor-intensive reflection of a long history of art and culture in the Colombian region.
“The Carnival is a way of life for the ‘Barranquilleros’,” said Cecilia. “ We are lively like the Carnival. People from this area are kind, passionate, with great sense of humor and pride of our city. Carnival means tradition, sharing, celebrating, creating. We eagerly wait for this event, even more than Christmas.”
It represents a mixture of African, Indigenous, and Spanish traditions: poignant expressions of human emotion. Barranquilla will clean up the feathers and sequins from its streets and return to normal life, only to rise again – more exuberant than ever – in the coming year. As I write this final lines, I am already coordinating our return next year.
“When the Carnival comes to an end, we experience real sadness,” said Teheran. “This event is about enjoying life to the fullest, but only lasts four days. We need to wait a full year to live it again, so when it ends, considering its mere four days, resonates real sadness among everyone.”
“At the end of this year’s Carnival I experienced great satisfaction” said Gomez. “We have a wonderful queen that made us vibrate and feel our culture. And of course, nostalgia. Any real Barranquillero would love to experience Carnival every single day of the year.”
As I conclude these lines, I am already brainstorming ideas to share my love for Barranquilla and its Carnival with the world, and of course, return to produce further work.
“For Gigi and myself this trip was a “Maslow Peak experience” We have been traveling since our early 20’s and have been to 150 plus countries….and only handful do we rate as a peak experience…Miss you all. A great group.”
Dr. Joe Shurman, MD. Inaugural Colombia Photo Expeditions Tour.
In Feb 2018 we had the opportunity to visit Colombia on a unique photo expedition with Colombia Photo Expeditions. This was our second visit to Colombia in 13 months; our first visit in Jan 2017 with Colombia Birdwatch included 2 weeks exploring Cali, the Cauca Valley, and the Central & Western Andes where we saw over 350 different species of birds. We knew we would return to explore Colombia again some day as the country is so diverse in its culture and landscape.
Thanks to the power of social media Christopher Calonje, owner of Colombia Birdwatch, & Kike Calvo, owner of Colombia Photo Expeditions, met and formed a partnership to offer a unique and extraordinary photo expedition visiting the Caribbean region of Colombia to coincide with Carnaval de Barranquilla.
We began our Colombian exploration in the colorful colonial city of Cartagena where we met our small group of fellow travelers. We were joined by a local guide for a tour of Cartagena and a visit to a local market. Our photo instruction and opportunities began the first morning and continued to the last day. Kike Calvo continually provided guidance and instruction to our group as a whole and answered many individual questions to enable us to increase our photography skills throughout the journey. Whether we were beginners or more advanced photographers, Kike was always available and willing to offer photography advice and assistance with camera settings for smart phone, point & shoot, mirror-less or SLRs cameras. Cartagena is a photographic gem with its colonial streets, colorful buildings and people of varying descent.
Our journey continued to Barranquilla for the highlight of the expedition, Carnaval. Thanks to Kike’s hard work and coordination with Carnaval staff, he was able to obtain special press pass access for our group to photograph several special events including Final Parade Float preparation, Coronation of the Carnaval Queen and the Carnaval Parade. This was truly a unique experience to wander among the Parade floats as workers painted, sanded and carved final details, to be directly in front of the stage for the energetic dance performances of the Coronation celebration, and finally, to be on the street to photograph the Parade floats, dancers, and crowds enjoying one of the largest Carnaval celebrations in the world. We were also able to visit the nearby community of Galapa where many of the masks are handmade; men and women were hard at work hand carving and painting masks as well as making small souvenirs. Our three days spent in Barranquilla were busy and filled with the high energy that defines Latin American culture. To be a part of Carnaval with the special photography access will always be a top highlight of our years of exploring the world.
After the excitement of Carnaval, we continued on to Tyrona to a rustic lodge on the coast for much needed R&R. As we began the second week of our two-week exploration, we had opportunities for hiking, birding with our local guide, and swimming. We left the coast for the Santa Marta mountains where our next lodge required a 3-hr journey in 4-wheel drive vehicles to to reach its location at 1900m in televation. Busy hummingbirds at numerous feeders gave us an opportunity to try our hand at bird photography. Catching a hummingbird in flight or hovering isn’t easy but Kike gave us valuable tips to increase our chances of capturing images of these beautiful birds. Relaxation, hiking and birding were all optional during our time in Santa Marta. We rose very early one morning for the 1-1/2 hr 4-wheel drive further up the mountain for a beautiful 360 degree view as the sun rose above the clouds. Most of us had a chance to see the endemic Santa Marta parakeets as they busily feasted on flowering trees along the mountain road.
We completed our journey with a visit to a local Wayuu tribal community in Guajira where we met Jose Luis and his family and learned about the Wayuu culture. The late afternoon sun gave us another great photographic opportunity as three women dressed in hooded red dresses along with one young man performed a traditional dance for us on the salt flats. Beautifully crocheted handbags and woven bracelets made by the tribe were being sold and we were happy to purchase these items to take home as souvenirs and gifts.
We ate well throughout the trip, eating local specialties including fresh grilled fish, ajiaco, arepas, ceviche, fresh fruits, and juices. Our lodging was carefully selected for location, comfort and character which included a range from rustic lodges to upscale hotels.
We were sad to leave Colombia and say goodbye to our new friends but brought home many fond memories, photographs, added photography skills and hopes to return to this beautiful and diverse country in the near future.
Our sincere gratitude to Kike and Christopher for the creation and execution of this exploration of the diversity of Colombia. -Susan Bowman & Bob Schafer
p.s. a special thanks to Vivian during her 5 days with our group!
Word of Dances was born as an artistic fusion of classic ballet, a minimalist perspective, where my subjects merge with their surrounding in an almost magical way. As I immersed myself into the World of Dances, I fell in love with the richness of folklore and its traditions, specially in Latin America. As a natural evolution, my life-long photographic project on dance did only made sense, by expanding its existence, with the inclusion of a detailed, yet graphically superb, documentation of the intangible representations of culture, expressed through dance, music, oral expressions and traditional attires. In such way, The Güepajé Project, pronounced wepaheh, was born.
As result of the rich folk music heritage in Latin America, almost every traditional community in the continent practices some form of folk dancing. Folk dances are typically performed for the pleasure of the participants and do not require an audience, therefore overlapping somewhat with tribal dances, defined as dancing originally from African tribes, often associated with syncretic religious practices like Santeria and Candomble – and some types of social dancing. Furthermore, when a traditional folk dance is perform onstage in a formal concert, its steps and patterns may be those of folk dance, but it has been removed from the context of folk culture(*).
The hours spent researching Colombia for the creation of Colombia Photo Expeditions, unveiled a new understanding of the intercultural mesh of Latin America. After documenting the Barranquilla Carnival in February 2018, I fell i love with a Colombian popular term that was perfect to describe my folk dance series within World of Dances. Even the word “Güepajé” does not exist in the real academy of Spanish language dictionary, it is a popular interjection to show happiness in the north coast of Colombia. The singers of Cumbia and Vallenatos shout “Güepajé” to transmit good feeling or to increase the enthusiasm, and the dancers shout it that expressed joyfulness.
The Güepajé Project is a collection of photographs craft with a true love for cultural diversity and traditions, with the humble attempt to visually preserve expressions, that one day, may be well gone.
This post is the latest in the series Uncover Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.
As Scaven and Rafferty 2013 described, there is relatively very little research on the physiology of many crucial pollinators influenced by warming temperatures. On their new book (*) Tree Pollination Under Global Climate Change , authors Climate change has been known to impact plant pollination by changing flowering phenology and by distressing the activity of pollinators.
Mismatches could impact plants by impairing decreased insect visitation that means less pollen deposition, whereas pollinators could face reduced food availability. However, in some circumstances, pollinator–plant synchrony does not cause mismatches, due to generalist pollinator species keeping pace with changes in forage-plant flowering by switching between host plants . Animal biology and ecology associated with pollination i.e. population, reproductive aspects, and activity – flight, etc., are essential for understanding the impacts manifested by climate change. This is evident in many tropical regions worldwide, where, animal pollinators comprise much more species and interactions, when compared to temperate conditions
(*) Ramírez F., Kallarackal J. (2018) Plant-Insect Phenology and Pollination. In: Animal biology and ecology associated with pollination i.e. population, reproductive aspects, and activity – flight, etc., are essential for understanding the impacts manifested by climate change.. SpringerBriefs in Agriculture. Springer, Cham
Header Photo: Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. © Kike Calvo
Photos taken by National Geographic Creative photographer Kike Calvo during our Expeditions around Colombia.
A selection of photographs taken by the participants of our February 2018 Caribbean Colombia Photo Expedition. Participant list include: Christopher Calonje, Anna Calonje, Nano Calvo, Vivian Carrascal, Jen Gussman, Jim and Deborah Frank, Amy Mackling, Jen Hamilton, Pat Robinson, Susanne Chantal, Bob Schafer, Susan Bowman, Joe and Gigi Shurman and Grace O’Mally. All images belong to the photographers. To join our 2019 Expedition, visit or email us.
Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.
The Asociación Colombiana de Ictiólogos (ACICTIOS), the largest network of fish experts in Colombia, has created a reference list of all the fresh water species in the country.
After Brazil, Colombia holds the Second place in the number of fresh water species, with a total of 1494, 374 of them endemic. From this total, 706 live in the Amazon, 663 in the Orinoquia, 223 in the Caribbean, 220 in the Magdalena-Cauca region, and 130 in the Pacific. All the results are available free of charge through Sistema de información en Biodiversidad de Colombia (SIB Colombia).
Fishes: An Introduction to Ichthyology (5th Edition)
Fishes: A Guide to Their Diversity
One River. Wade Davis
Moon Colombia (Travel Guide)
47 Amazing Things to See and Do in Colombia
Lonely Planet Colombia (Travel Guide)
Colombia (National Geographic Adventure Map)
National Geographic Traveler: Colombia, 2nd Edition
Diverse Colombia by Colombia Photo Expeditions, in which Kike Calvo profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on Colombia for journalism, ecotourism, science, exploration and photography.
The National Geographic Society recently recognized President Juan Manuel Santos of the Republic of Colombia for his unwavering commitment to conservation. In a ceremony at Society headquarters, Gary E. Knell, president and CEO of National Geographic Society, along with Jean Case, chairman of the National Geographic Society Board of Trustees, honored President Santos for his dedicated efforts to protect Colombia’s environment. Colombia is one of world’s richest countries with respect to biological and cultural diversity, and President Santos has done more than many elected leaders in the Americas to expand protected areas so they’re enjoyed by generations to come.
I am proud that a selection of my Colombian land and drone footage was included in the video presented to President Santos during the event. You can see the full video in Spanish here.
Since his election to the presidency in 2010, President Santos, last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, has made significant strides on behalf of the environment, increasing the total area of Colombia’s network of protected areas to more than 6,500 square miles on land and sea. Most notably, he more than doubled the size of Chiribiquete National Park, located in the heart of Colombian Amazonia. The park contains a variety of natural wonders, from “tepuis” — table-top mountains with isolated, unique ecosystems — to some of the most botanically diverse lowland forests in the northern Amazon. The amazing animal species in Chiribiquete include jaguars, tapirs and birds found in no other region on Earth.
Featured photo: National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary E. Knell (left) stands with President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia (right) at a special ceremony honoring President Santos for his unwavering commitment to conservation held at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. on September 21, 2017. Photo by Sora DeVore/National Geographic