The Spanish Language Blog

Argentina's oldest carnival is celebrated in the town of Humahuaca, located in the Yujuh province in the northwest of the country. During the months of February and March, Humahuaca is the capital of the carnival in the Gorge area. Located among the colorful mountains of Salta, Humahuaca is known for its carnival. Not only during the months when carnival is celebrated, but also during the rest of the year masks, costumes and rituals of the carnival can be found.

  • The Humahuaca carnival is celebrated in northwestern Argentina and is the oldest carnival in the country.
  • The Humahuaca people dress in colorful costumes and many wear masks to remain anonymous.
  • The carnival is a mix between the original carnival of the Christians and pre-Colombian pagan rituals. Many traditions return, such as throwing white powder and carrying basil leaves. 

Even though the celebration of carnival is in the month of February or March, preparations keep locals busy all year long. As soon as in February, the "Devil" arrives from the mountains, the carnival has begun. The 'Devil' is a rag doll that stands as a symbol of the carnival. The tradition is that every year at the end of the carnival, the rag doll is buried and dug up again with the next carnival. After this, the carnival celebrations begin with feasting, dancing and drinking and a lot of traditional music is made with old instruments such as the quenas (Andean flutes with two open ends), guitars, pan flutes and accordions.

So the carnival officially begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday with the unearthing of the rag doll and lasts for nine days. In Humahuaca, it begins a few days earlier because the so-called Tantanakuy (traditional old musicians from all over the country) gather. Carnival is celebrated in a natural, old-fashioned way on the streets. The enthusiastic locals are dressed in colorful costumes and most wear imposing masks. Wearing masks is very popular during carnival to remain anonymous. Many rituals are participated in. One of these rituals is the Topamiento tradition: hundreds of men walk toward town in search of a dance partner for the rest of the evening.

Carnival in northern Argentina is a mix between pre-Columbian pagan rituals and the traditional carnival celebrations of Christians. Naturally, there is a lot of drinking, dancing and partying. Argentine traditions such as throwing white powder at each other, hurling serpentines and confetti in each other's faces and wearing basil leaves in your ears are also part of the Humahuaca carnival. The famous carnival is attended by local, Argentine and foreign visitors alike.

On Palm Sunday, the sixth Sunday of the year, the rag doll is again buried in a hole at the foot of the hill. This ritual is very sad and full of emotions. "May the carnival Devil come back soon" the people whisper and this is how the Humahuaca carnival ends. The carnival can be visited from larger cities such as San Salvador but many visitors also go on foot or on a mule. Even if you don't visit the carnival in February, the carnival can also be seen the rest of the year. Several museums in Humahuaca display crafts, paintings, sculptures, masks and costumes.

This carnival in Argentina is one of the most famous and popular carnivals in the Argentina and if you are around during this festival, it is definitely worth a visit to experience carnival in a different country and culture! 

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