Ecuadorian carnival:
colorful parades, concerts and carioca

Angela

Angela

As a Dutch girl with a catholic upbringing, I have celebrated carnival since I was young. Since I love the celebrations in the Netherlands, I was excited to experience what Ecuadorian carnival is like. So I planned a four-day trip to Ambato (the ‘Carnival capital’ of Ecuador) and nearby Baños de Agua Santa. The cities are close to each other but have different ways of celebrating, so it was a perfect combination! I can highly recommend to visit these two places if you happen to be in Ecuador during Carnival.

Ambato: Tierra de Flores y Frutas

Ambato is probably not part of most travelers’ itineraries, but during Carnival it is absolutely worth going here. In fact, during the Carnival holiday (Saturday till Tuesday) Ambato attracts people from all over the country. Some foreign tourists also find their way here to join the celebrations, but it is mostly a local festivity. Ambato is nicknamed ‘Land of flowers and fruits’ and this is exactly what Carnival in this city is about. The cathedral in the center is decorated with a colorful religious display made of flowers, fruits and… bread. Besides its production of fruits and flowers, Ambato is famous for its bread.

Not only the cathedral is decorated with these traditional symbols. Ambateños and people from nearby regions also create impressive, creative floats with fruits, flowers and bread. These are shown during the main event of Ambato carnival: El Desfile de la Fiesta de la Fruta y de las Flores

The grand parade

This parade takes place on Sunday morning and is a really big happening. The planned starting time is 9:00, but you should be there hours before to reserve a seat. It is almost impossible to find a place along the route without reserving (even if you just want to stand), because there are so many people who want to watch.

My friend and I arrived at the center around 8:00 and everything was already full. Luckily, there was a kind Ecuadorian woman who offered us two seats, amidst her family and friends. We paid $3 each. And so we blended in with the locals and had a great view of the parade!

The desfile took a good few hours and was really fun to watch. The floats were beautiful, with the most colorful flowers and fruits and pretty women (reinas, or ‘queens’) waving at the crowds. Moreover, each float played music and was accompanied by a group of dancers. They wore creative, themed costumes which were just as fascinating as the floats themselves. It was a truly festive spectacle, full of color, energy and joy. Besides the big parade, in the center of Ambato there was an artisanal market. In other places there were live concerts and other activities, such as playing traditional games. We enjoyed all of it and time flew by.

Next stop: Carnival in Baños

I loved the festivities in Ambato, but I knew that to experience ‘real‘ Ecuadorian Carnival, we needed to go to another place than Ambato. Maybe you have heard about the ‘Juego de carnaval’ in Ecuador. Yes, carnival here is not just celebrated, it is ‘played’. The game involves water, carioca (spraying foam) and in some places also eggs, flower and/or color powder. However, this ‘game’ is forbidden in Ambato – but that’s an exception in Ecuador.

So Sunday afternoon I got on the bus to Baños the Agua Santa, to experience this wild and crazy side of Ecuadorian carnival. If you want to travel from Ambato to Baños, here’s some practical info: buses to Baños run frequently, but do not leave from Ambato’s main bus terminal. Instead, there is another, smaller terminal south of the center called Ambato Interurban bus station. From here it is about an hour to Baños and the ride costs $1,10.

Dancing to live music while covered in foam

In Baños especially the foam fights were very popular (you can buy cans of carioca everywhere). It’s mostly kids spraying each other, but also adults join in and it’s basically impossible to not get hit. It is best to just go with it and enjoy the fun; the foam is harmless anyway. Carioca smells like soap and does not stain your clothes. Kids also play with water pistols and water balloons, so bear in mind that you could get hit with those as well.

Baños is not a very big town but during carnival it is absolutely full of people. Both foreign tourists and people from all over Ecuador come to celebrate and play carnival here. So be prepared for crowds, but don’t worry, the atmosphere is friendly and joyful. At night the center turns into one big party, with a live concert in the Parque la Basílica and the many bars and clubs opening till late. This does not mean that the foam fights stop, however. The dancing crowds were covered in carioca. It was a super fun party like I had never seen before!

Other activities in Baños

During the day you can easily escape the crowds, as Baños has plenty of activities to do. If you had a wild night, you could go and relax in one of Baños’s famous thermal baths. Or like we did, take the bus up to la Casa del Arbol. A 30-minute ride brings you to a great (but quite touristic) viewing point with a treehouse. Here you can ‘swing at the end of the world’. This is a swing that lets you fly above a beautiful valley. Probably one of the most impressive swings you have ever been on!

If you’re up for some more action, I can recommend La Ruta de las Cascadas. This route takes you along a number of beautiful waterfalls. There are buses following this route, but we decided to ride it ourselves. On a mountain bike! There are plenty of spots in Baños where you can rent bikes – just make sure to check if the brakes and gears works well (you’ll need them!). The road goes down most of the time, so the ride is physically not too demanding. There are several places along this route where you can also do other activities, such as taking a cable car (tarabita) or canopying.

At the Cascada Manto de la Novia you can take a path down to the water, and see the waterfall from up close. It’s a short hike and really worth it. Further on, La Ruta takes you to the impressive, iconic waterfall El Pailón del Diablo. You cannot miss this one when you are in Baños! From Rio Verde, the village there, you can easily get a ride back to Baños. There are trucks that can take your bike as well, so you do not have to bike all the way back uphill. You pay about $2 dollars for the ride.

Final tips

I hope that after reading about my experiences, you now have an idea of what Ecuadorian carnival is like in Ambato and Baños. There is a lot to do and enjoy! That’s why, however, these places attract many people. So if you are thinking about planning a carnival trip like this, make sure to arrange your accommodation in time. Especially in Ambato there are not a lot of (inexpensive) options available.

If you would like to know more about what there is to do in Baños, besides Carnival, read our blog A Weekend in Baños!

Did you know Baños is also known as the ‘adventure capital’ of Ecuador? That’s why it is included in our Multisport Adventure tour!

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