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Carnival in Ecuador: How and Where to Celebrate

Explore traditions and regional ceremonies for Carnival in Ecuador, plus the date for 2021 and how to plan your trip to the festivities.
Festival goers with spray foam at Carnaval in Ecuador. Photo by El Universo.
Festival goers with spray foam at Carnaval in Ecuador. Photo by El Universo.

Carnival in Ecuador, known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday in the United States, is celebrated as a Christian tradition to indulge in life, before the liturgical season of Lent in remembrance of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. The exact date differs from year to year – usually, it takes place in February or early March. In South America, this celebration has incorporated Andean traditions and has become a big festivity in many cities with parades and colorful costumes.

When is Carnival celebrated?

In 2021, Ecuador carnival will take place on Tuesday, February 16th. However, the exact date of carnival changes depending on the year, as it coincides with the last day before the Christian period of religious observance called lent. Specifically, it takes place the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is the day that lent begins. Lent and related fasting and other observances last approximately 6 weeks, until Easter Sunday; so the carnival holiday is a way for people to celebrate and indulge beforehand.

How to Celebrate Carnival in Ecuador

Carnival in Ecuador is a popular national holiday as the original tradition of this festival lies with the Huarangas natives who threw flowers, water and flour in honor of the second moon of the year. When the Spanish arrived, this native tradition mixed with Christian beliefs. Up to this day people are still throwing flowers, flour and water during the festivities. A modern touch is spray foam that is also used to throw at friends and family.

Throughout the country, parades are organized, carnival decorations are set up, and participants wear colorful costumes and dance to local music played on traditional instruments. Chicha de jora, a fermented drink made from corn, completes Ecuador’s carnival festivities.

Group of men and women in traditional attire attending Carnival in Ecuador.

Group of men and women in traditional attire attending Carnival in Ecuador. Photo by Ecuador’s Ministry of Tourism.

This is one of the most beloved traditions in Ecuador. Here are select cities where Carnival celebrations are especially interesting, learn more here:

Carnival in Quito

Carnival in the capital Quito is a little calmer than in the rest of the country as the city forbad throwing water and flour as part of the celebration in 2013. Since then, the celebration is more focused on traditional parades with costumed dancers and musicians, representing the different parts of Ecuador. Each year thousands of locals and tourists alike enjoy the festivities in this popular city that sits high in the Andean foothills.

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Carnival in Cuenca

Cuenca is located in the south of Ecuador, surrounded by four rivers. During the carnival celebration travelers can enjoy parades with dancers and music throughout the city. Water balloons, buckets with water and spray foam are used by participants to “attack” each other and in the main square the city sprays a firehouse of foam over the celebrating crowd. Tourists are a popular target, so travelers should come prepared and make sure to avoid getting the foam in their eyes as it may cause irritation. The battle with water and foam is overall good fun and harmless as long as attendees exercise caution and keep their personal items dry and safe.

After a long day of celebrating, the traditional “Mote pata”, a stew with corn, bacon, pork, sausage and sambo seed, is served. This iconic Ecuadorian dish is a must-try for visitors.

Women in traditional attire during a parade during Carnival festivities.

Women in traditional attire during a Carnival parade in Cuenca, Ecuador. Photo by Pixabay.

Carnival in Ambato

Ambato can be reached in 3 hours by car from the capital Quito. This town is a special highlight when it comes to carnival in Ecuador.

Also called the festival of flowers and fruits, this carnival celebration is officially recognized as a cultural event. It celebrates the harvest and flowers in bloom at this time of year. Celebrations start as early as January with activities such as sports competitions and expositions. Since the 1950s, these cultural expositions have been integrated into the carnival festivities in Ambato.

Ambato’s carnival parade features colorful costumes, local music and traditional dance groups. The highlight of the parade is the fantastic carriages decorated with an abundance of flowers and fruits that are unique in Ecuador. Besides the parade, visitors can also enjoy a music and food festival in the main square. Another special tradition during the carnival in Ambato is the “vaca loca” (the crazy cow), a hand-crafted cow, that is lit with fireworks at night.

Woman in colorful traditional costume in carnival in Ambato Ecuador.

Woman in colorful attire and greenery carnival in Ambato Ecuador. Photo by Flickr.

Carnival in Guaranda

Guaranda is a small town located in the north of Ecuador 4 hours from Quito. The traditional Christian carnival celebration mixed together with the celebration of mother earth of the Chimbus Tribe native to the area.

Before the celebration starts, the city names a Taita Carnival (father) and a Mamma Carnival, who lead the parade through the city. Travelers can admire more than 40 carriages as well as traditional dancers and musicians. Participants wear lavish traditional costumes and masks. As in other regions ,the battle with water, flour and foam is also very popular in Guaranda.

Popular carnival foods are fried pork, mashed plantains as well as empanadas. The specialty in Guaranda is the famous Pajaro Azul (Blue Bird), an alcoholic drink that is served during the celebrations.

A floral float in a Carnival parade with two women waving to the crowds.

Parade for Carnival in Guaranda, Ecuador. Photo by Creative Commons.

Traveling to Ecuador for Carnival

If you are planning to travel during carnival in Ecuador, it is best to book your trip as early as possible. This is one of the most popular times to travel for locals and tourists alike. As a result, flights and hotels fill up quickly. Luckily, our Ecuador tours are fully customizable and leave 365 days per year. As a result, we can easily work with your dates and itinerary to land you at carnival festivities at your preferred Ecuador destination.

Get in touch with an expert Travel Advisor for more information.

 Sabrina Biegerl
Sabrina Biegerl
Born and raised in Germany, Sabrina was lucky enough to extensively travel through Europe from a young age. Being bitten by the travel bug and aspiring to explore more countries and cultures away from home, she decided to travel to South America. After traveling to Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina she fell in love with the continent and decided to settle in Peru.
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