Is the La Ceiba Carnival the Honduran Mardi Gras?
There is no question that the La Ceiba Carnival is the biggest party in Honduras. Many people compare it to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But is the La Ceiba Carnival the Honduran Mardi Gras? La Ceiba and New Orleans are sister cities. They share a lot of customs and beliefs. The Banana Companies used to have regular shipping routes between both cities. As a matter of fact, New Orleans boasts the largest number of Honduran immigrants in the USA!
There is no straightforward answer to this question. In some ways they are much alike, in others they are different. I will start with the differences. While they both originated for religious motives, the motives are completely unrelated. The La Ceiba Carnival is a celebration for St. Isidore the Labourer. He is the patron saint of La Ceiba, and the Catholic Church calendar celebrates his day on May 15. The La Ceiba Carnival is big event that closes the two week long celebration known as “La Feria Isidra”. The Carnival takes place on the third Saturday in May. This year, the La Ceiba Carnival takes place on Saturday, May 20th.
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The Mardi Gras celebration is on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. For Christians around the World, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a 40 day long period of repent and religious meditation. It is a period where members of the church do penitence and do their best to abstain from committing sins. Mardi Gras, is the perfect excuse to break all the rules, commit all the sins you wish, and then repent for the next 40 days. Just like other carnivals around the world, such as the Rio de Janiero Carnival, Mardi Gras is a license to sin.
I believe that a short disclaimer may be in order here! This is not meant to be a religious post, and I am not endorsing or un-endorsing any Christian beliefs. I am only trying to explain and compare two different events that have a religious origin! While I am using this disclaimer, I must say that I have never visited New Orleans and much less had the opportunity to party at Mardi Gras. Thus, I apologize for any misstatements and humbly accept any comments about Mardi Gras.
The La Ceiba Carnival is the Best Party in Honduras!
I have, participated in several Carnivals in La Ceiba. This is an event that the whole population in the city enjoys. As a general rule, this is a public party. There are no large scale private parties going on. The party is out on the streets. Different events take place in the upcoming days. The crowning of the queen and princesses take place. Different neighborhoods host “Carnavalitos” or mini Carnivals. With them, they compete to see who hosts the best party.
Perhaps the best description of what the La Ceiba Carnival means to the locals is Guillermo Anderson‘s song. “Ella se Alegra Cuando Viene el Carnaval” describes the happiness the event brings to the community. Anderson is the best song writer and singer that La Ceiba has yet produced. He sadly passed away last year after losing a bout with cancer. His legacy, survives him and is part of the proud heritage of La Ceiba and its people.
The tourism office at the municipality of La Ceiba is in charge of the event. It is hard to get a hard copy of the calendar in advance, because many of the different bands that will take part are still under negotiation. This year, 2017, the Carnival will take place on Saturday May 20. The event starts with a big parade down San Isidro Avenue. The parade is a potpourri of groups. It begins with a display of magnificent horses, and ends with a float parade. School bands, Garifuna dancers and just about any organization that registers can be a part of the parade. Above all it is NOT a political event.
Let the Party Begin: La Ceiba Carnival Night.
As dusk sets in, the parade ends, and party begins. The San Isidro Avenue, the Zona Viva, the Malecon Turistico and the Paseo de los Ceibenos turn into venues for the best party in Honduras. As a general rule, there are a multitude of bands, international singers and DJ’s. You will find many different types of music, but one that will never fail are the drums of the Garifuna people.
It was the Garifuna Punta rhythm that got the La Ceiba Carnival to happen in the first place. Every year, there is a different and unique musical theme that is selected to promote the carnival every year. Following is a link to the 2017 La Ceiba Carnival theme. Carnival time is a great time to visit La Ceiba. If you can arrange your visit to the city for May, do so, but make sure you make reservations in advance. The city fills up and hotels run out of rooms.
If I may, I will offer a bit of advice if you are visiting La Ceiba during carnival time. You will find that at times you will be in tightly knit crowds. This means that there may be pickpockets out on the streets. Leave your valuables in the safety of your hotel room. Do not carry your passport and credit cards with you. If you plan to be in the streets enjoying the La Ceiba Carnival you will not need much cash either. Ice cold beer, water and bottled drinks are sold everywhere and at very affordable prices. For food, baleadas and pastelitos, the more popular foods in La Ceiba are also available. $40 US dollars per person will take you a long, long way during the La Ceiba Carnival.
A friend once told me that he saw La Ceiba like a more popular version of New Orleans. Not as fancy, not as refined, but with a lot of character and soul. This is especially true during the La Ceiba Carnival time. Perhaps the party scene does not have the excesses that Mardi Gras offers. But you will have the time of your life in La Ceiba if you come to the La Ceiba Carnival.
Colleen A Hennessy
February 27, 2018 @ 7:25 am
Can I avoid an organized tour to Chachahuate on the Cayos Cochinos and just pay a local in Nueva Armenia to take two of us over in their boat?
February 27, 2018 @ 2:26 pm
Good morning Colleen! Yes you can go to Nueva Armenia and hire a boat there. There are two issues you should be aware of: The first is that the road to Nueva Armenia can be in a bad state of disrepair. This means that you will need a 4X4 vehicle to get there, especially in the rainy season. You should plan on at least 40 minutes from Jutiapa to Nueva Armenia. Once in Nueva Armenia, you will need to arrange for your boat. As a general rule, these boats are used for fishing. This means that there are no life savers on board for you. Another thing to consider is that the surf gets rough as the day progresses. If you get to Nueva Armenia at 8, it will probably be 10 before you are on your boat departing. This means a shorter stay in Cayos Cochinos and a rough trip back. The best option would be to stay in Nueva Armenia and organize for the trip the day before. Years ago a small hotel called Hotel Sebastian was in operation there, but I understand it was closed some time ago. It is probably easier to get to Sambo Creek and arrange something there. By far, the most economical will be to buy a tour from Sambo Creek.