24 Hour Party, People!By David Jenison
The Mayan calendar might be over, but the Latin American parties are just beginning with Carnival season in full swing. Most people know Brazil is the party’s international hotspot, but the Paraguayan city of Encarnación is the fast-rising new star.
Located in the southeast corner of the country, Encarnación is the Carnival Capital of Paraguay with lively parades, vibrant colors and juvenile playfulness. The party is smaller and less pricey, but it is no less excessive. For the festival, Avenida Francia becomes a Sambódromo-style procession with elaborate floats, cerveza-sponsored dancers and half-naked garotas (parade girls) in ornate outfits.
Hard-partying crowds watch from the bleachers and luxury boxes as snow rains down like a blizzard. Snow? No, it doesn’t really snow in Paraguay, but it is a local Carnival tradition to blast everyone with lanzanieves “snow spray” that comes in an aerosol can. After the parade, people pile into the nearby clubs with many patrons still covered in fake snow.
Visitors usually come prepared for the snow fights, but they better not forget about the Saturday afternoon Water Wars. For several hours, the city engages in a giant water fight, and the local kids gear up like it was a Call of Duty: Black Ops convention. Many fill up water buckets and douse unsuspecting people from rooftops, while water balloons come from any direction, including from passing cars. Adults are even known to wield a mean garden hose or water cannon. Sure, the whole party reeks of frat-house immaturity, but don’t most Carnival celebrations?
Encarnación, “The Pearl of the South,” sits on the Paraná River just across the water from Argentina. The city features a modern hilltop neighborhood called Zona Alta where travelers should stay, while the crumbling Zona Baja is the spot for serious bargain shopping. Encarnación even has a sandy, two-mile river beach with volleyball courts, water sports and swimming areas. A short distance outside of town, the UNESCO-honored Jesuit Ruins are considered the most impressive mission remnants in South America. Even if nursing a hangover, travelers should not miss the ruins.
The Lonely Planet guide says the Encarnación Carnival is “much more fun” than Rio, which is quite an overstatement, but it is not an either-or proposition. The three Brazilian hotspots—Rio, Salvador and Olinda—start Carnival on Feb. 8 this year. In Encarnación, however, the party starts Jan. 18 and continues every weekend through the traditional Carnival dates. This means a traveler can start the party in Encarnación, head to Rio for the main event and then keep the liver abuse rolling with the “Ressaca” after-party on Tinharé Island. That tallies up to almost two straight weeks of partying.
Paraguay might get its Carnival influence from Brazil, but guess where Brazil gets its smoke? Supplying most of eastern South America, Paraguay is second only to Mexico as the world’s largest cannabis producer. The government has traditionally had a relaxed attitude about enforcement, but the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (read: U.S.A.) is now putting pressure on the Paraguayan government. In other words, traveling patients should be low-key about use and avoid crossing borders with medicine, though finding smoke in Encarnación should not be a problem.
Every party-friendly individual should experience at least one Carnival party, but remember that U.S. citizens need a tourist visa to visit Paraguay or Brazil.
Jesuit ruins photos by David Jenison.
Carnival photos courtesy of Carnavales Encarneacenos.