The joy of eastern Bolivia in the Santa Cruz Carnival

Vanesa Zegada | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Under the blue sky of Bolivia's green and warm city called Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a carnival that portrays the joyful eastern Bolivian people's personality takes place. Filled with beauty and colors, the carnival called "The Great Party of Santa Cruz" is a 400-year-old mestizo tradition that has evolved over time to become what I am about to describe in the next lines.

Cambas (which is how the people from this region is called) form groups named "comparsas" to participate in the carnival events. The celebration takes place each year on a variable date of February or March, but the carnival atmosphere is in the air long before. In order to get ready for the great party, parades with typical clothes, regional music and dancing take place as pre-celebrations of the carnival. Those pre-celebrations, called "pre-carnavaleras" or (shortened) "precas", are open-air spectacles. Precas take place the three Saturdays before the beginning of the carnival, in the city's historic downtown, always passing through the 24 de Septiembre Square.

Each comparsa has its own queen, and all of them are charismatic, joyful, avid dancers, able to earn everyone’s hearts and, of course, very beautiful women. But only one of them will be the Carnival Queen, and everyone will surely love her!

Cambas eagerly await their yearly queen's proclamatıon. Further than the handing over of the crown to the queen, her coronation is a spectacle with poetry, comedy, music, and dancing.

© / Richard Vaca Pereira Suárez

Boulevard Carnaval started only a bit more than a decade ago. Still, it has become a very expected activity of each carnival. In this pre-carnival event, performance artists and iconic male and female beauty figures of Bolivia get together to spread joy, in a thematic runway filled with colors. One beauty queen representing each Latin country also arrives to join this massive spectacle, putting together all the joy and beauty of the Latin spirit.

Three weeks of pre-celebration and months of preparation lead to the main parade day, called Corso! It takes place from the carnival's Saturday night up to Sunday's sunrise and, this time, the narrow streets of the historical downtown become too small for more than 400 comparsas parading. That is why the event takes places in a 4 kilometer path called "Cambodromo".

The music bands are prepared, the comparsas are uniformed in colorful and elaborate costumes, ready to jump to the rhythm of the regional music, surrounding their imposing carriages, from where their beautiful queens spread joy. The Great Party of Santa Cruz begins! 

© Romy Paz

Even if all the events mentioned constitute important pieces of the carnival today, a few centuries ago, this mestizo celebration started in the streets! The “Carnaval de Calle”, translated as Street Carnival, is the root of the tradition. People used to gather together in Santa Cruz de la Sierra downtown with two aims: jumping at the rhythm of the carnival bands and playing with water, foam and paintings.

Nowadays, the youth has partly replaced the "Carnaval de Calle" by the parties in the "parqueos", translated as parking lots. Live music and unlimited beer are a must in each parqueo. These parties go on for 3 days and, since beer is unlimited, you must be ready to party hard.

© Karen Chali

The green and warm land of Santa Cruz awaits with the beauty and joy of eastern Bolivia. If you are ready to jump, get wet, get painted, party hard and enjoy the regional events, do not hesitate to come and discover the Santa Cruz Carnival!

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