The 7 Most Extravagant Carnivals Around the World (That Aren’t Mardi Gras)

The decadence and debauchery of carnival season extends way beyond New Orleans.

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Beginning on the Epiphany (January 6th) and culminating on Fat Tuesday (March 5th this year, forty days before the ever-shifting, moon-guided date of Easter), Carnival season is soon reaching its boil. A time of decadence and debauchery before the fasting period of Lent, the Catholic-derived season sees a swell of extravagance and exuberation in people across the world. Though Mardi Gras in New Orleans is arguably one of the most famous, and nearly 200 years old, there are myriad carnival celebrations around the world that can give NOLA a run for its beads.

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Rio Carnival, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

March 1–9

The mother of all carnivals, the riotous Rio explodes in a frenzy of color, samba, music and costume the first week of March. Teeming with street parties and balls, like the Gay Gala and the Black Beads Party in the Scala, dive in to the decadence at the parade at The Sambadrome, and rile yourself up by spectating samba dancers. You may hear of “Samba schools” in Rio, but these are actually neighborhood associations entertaining passersby while preparing for shows, not educational programs. Don't worry, though—you'll join in the fun, as learning by imitation is unavoidable.

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Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

March 4-5

One of the most effervescent events in the Atlantic Ocean, the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is short but very, very sweet. Doused in rum with an engine that runs on Calypso, this Caribbean carousal lasts the mere 48 hours before Lent's arrival, but packs in all the punches: Musical competitions, children's games, and a cast of characters from the clownish Pierrot to the devious Midnight Robber.

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King Carnival, Sitges, Spain

February 28–March 6

Where else but in one of Europe's gay capitals is the perfect place to you let your hair down before fasting? The best parades at King Carnival in Sitges, Spain, are usually on Sunday and Fat Tuesday, but the entire week in Barcelona's neighbor is a treat. The whole celebration culminates on Ash Wednesday, where an effigy of a sardine is dragged to the beach and burned at the stake—think Burning Man, but with a Pisces Season twist.

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Venice Carnival, Italy

February 16- March 5

Who are the partiers behind the masks? You may never know, but who cares when you're in Venice? Masquerade balls prevail in the sinking city, particularly the exclusive Grand Gala "Cortigiane a Palazzo." Feast your eyes upon elaborate masks forged from leather, porcelain, even Murano glass, affixed with feathers, sequins, and the twinkle of an eye that can spot a good time.

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Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife, Canary Islands

February 27-March 10

Touted as the second-biggest carnival in the world after Rio De Janeiro, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife boasts a clever theme each year, this one's being “marine depths,” complete with a six-meter-tall statue of Poseidon, the Greek god of the ocean. Established during the Catholic settlement of the Canary Islands, journalist Gaspar Luis Hidalgo reported that people “change[d] their gender through costume” at Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife as early as 1605, predating RuPaul's Drag Race by a good four centuries. This is a party that won't stop—during the early 20th Century dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera and General Franco, participants rebranded the carnival as a “Winter Holiday” to circumvent its religiously-motivated ban.

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Fasnacht in Basel, Switzerland

March 11-13

Though famous for one of the biggest art fairs in the world, Basel is host to what locals call the “three best days” of the year at Fasnacht. From Guggenkonzert, a festival pumping marching band-esque Gugge music into the streets, to Morgenstreich, when city center's lights are extinguished only to be illuminated by hundreds of paper lanterns, Fasnacht fascinates the masses each year in Switzerland.

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Carnival de Binche, Binche, Belgium

March 3-5

Proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, Carnival de Binche is a furor of music, marches and dancing in the week leading up to Lent. During the festival, men donned in masks, called “Gilles” (think Guy Fawkes with a lighter moustache) shake sticks to ward off evil spirits, as well as get raucous with passersby—be careful, they have a penchant for throwing produce at people.