Carnaval de Gualeguaychu

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Carnival float at Gualeguaychu

Most of us associate the hedonistic merriment of the Carnaval celebration with the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro. But this annual fiesta, characterized by topless ladies, colorful plumage and lively samba beats, is in fact a worldwide phenomenon and Argentina is not one to be left out of the fun. The rural town of Gualeguaychu in the Entré Rios province may appear to be a calm country hideaway, good for lazing on river beaches and strolling through back country cow fields, but it is in fact home to Argentina’s biggest and boldest Carnaval festivities.

Located 220 kilometers north of Buenos Aires, Gualeguaychu is a hidden gem. You won’t find it mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide, and it is virtually unknown on the international tourists circuit, making it all the more special a destination and a truly unique Argentine experience. Located a stones throw from the Uruguayan border, Gualeguay (as it is called by the locals) boasts numerous river beaches, water sports, thermal baths, and a pleasant small town community feel, not to mention the massive Carnaval parade that the city is most known for.

Gualeguaychu Carnaval del PaisEvery Saturday from the first weekend in January through to the first weekend in March, a carnaval parade is staged at the cities Corsodromo, known as the Carnaval del Pais. 25 pesos gets you a general admission ticket, and a few pesos more affords you the luxury of a front row seat. The parade begins around 11 pm and lasts several hours. Hundreds of dancers, wearing next to nothing but sporting amazingly elaborate feathered headdresses and slathered with glitter, sing and dance down the parade strip. The carnival theme song, played endlessly, is pumped throughout the arena while the audience sings and cheers in general jubilation. The enormous and outlandish floats are the most impressive aspect of the parade, and while the whole thing gets a bit repetitive, it is highly amusing and a great opportunity to take some vibrantly colorful photos. Check the website for more information on the Gualeguaychu carnival.

If the idea of nearly naked men and women gyrating in their sequins and headdresses doesn’t do it for you, Gualegauy still has plenty to offer. In an almost surreal juxtaposition, the town has several relaxing and quiet alternatives. The beach that runs along the river through town provides mellow sunbathing and picnicking areas, as well as shallow waters for kids to play in. There are also several beaches north and south of the town center, costing around 5 pesos per day, with different amenities such as camping spots, restaurants and water sports. These beaches can get quite crowded on the weekends and some, like Solar del Este, have a truly MTV spring break feel, with hoards of drunken youth dancing in the sand to the latest Reggeaton hits. If you are looking for a beach party then this is the place: pitchers of sangria, dance contests, and a quick jump in the river to keep you cool. If you are feeling lively join the revelers dancing under the sprinklers in front of the stage, it is quite the scene.

Chillin' in GualeguaychuGualeguay is a breath of fresh air for anyone staying in Buenos Aires. There are several hotels in the downtown area, but I recommend renting a cabina on the beach or staying at La Barranca, the town’s only hostel. The cabinas are usually for 2-6 people and have their own kitchen and bathroom. Many have weekend deals but call ahead and confirm because they might have a four-night minimum. Find information on places to stay in Gualeguaychu and other visitor information here.
If you want a little peace and quiet, outside of the city and away from the masses, then try La Barranca. Run by the friendly Juan, and situated 8 kilometers out of town with its own private lake, this hostel is a fine getaway for travel weary backpackers or city dwellers in search of some serenity. There isn’t much to do, lounge in the sun, drink a beer and fish in the lake, play with the owners two big friendly dogs, and you most likely won’t have much company so don’t come here expecting the usual hostel party scene. Contact the hostel ahead of time and they can arrange to meet you at the bus station, otherwise you might not find it!
The whole city is currently wrapped up in a political and environmental battle protesting the proposed new paper factories that Uruguay wants to build across the river. It is an interesting aspect of the local culture and one you will most definitely be exposed to as their theme song, ‘No a las papeleras‘ is sung several times a day to the tune of The White Stripes ‘Seven Nation Army’. Feel free to join in the singing, whether it is during the carnival parade, at a beach side concert, or random restaurant or bar.

Suset over the beach at Gualeguaychu

A quick visit to Gualeguaychu can provide everything from lazy canoe rides to high-speed jet skis, mellow stargazing to late night carnival fireworks and relaxing sunbathing to beach party madness. It is as yet undiscovered by the international tourist masses, though it is a very popular weekend destinations for Argentines. So take a walk down the path less traveled by, and enjoy the pleasures of a lesser-known but extremely delightful town.

2 Comments

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Paul on August 21, 09

That’s a great description of the event. You really captured the experience. The carnaval was one of our most favorite side trips during our stay in Buenos Aires.

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