Block parties, cumbia, and clubbing in Barranquilla

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I am convinced that Barranquilla is the party capital of Colombia, at least among cities on the coast. It’s famous for its Carnaval (sure, the one in Rio is more well known, but Barranquilla’s is second and nearly as elaborate), but I think they know how to party year-round. It’s also the hometown of one of my best friends back in New York, so of course I had to check it out.

I first arrived in Barranquilla two weeks before Carnaval was set to begin and could already sense the energy in the city. Markets were selling masks and themed t-shirts, floats and costumes were being built, and there were unofficial pre-parties everywhere. My first night in town, I went with some folks to my hostel to a block party in a neighboring barrio where there was a live band playing cumbia and everyone was dancing. I tried! We all joined in the dancing circle, but no matter how much effort I made I can’t shake my hips as well as the Colombians do. They’re born with it, I’m sure. There were all these little girls — five, six, seven years old — who were dancing like pros.

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My second night in Barranquilla, we had all planned to go to the Coronation Ceremony (another lead-up to the main event), but when we got there nothing was really happening. After standing around the plaza for a while and drinking tiny cups of cinnamon tea from street vendors, we decided to go to a nightclub in la Zona Rosa instead, a place called the Pink Panther. I’ve never seen anything like it — it was like some glitzy 80’s throwback. Somehow my group ended up in this elevated, gated-off VIP area and someone bought a bottle of aguardiente. There was a waiter assigned to us and it seemed like his entire job was just to keep pouring us shots. The whole place was so loud that I was surprised I could hear at all the next day. Maybe I’m just old.

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However, the Pink Panther was also the first nightclub I’ve been in that had a huge pile of individual-sized bags of Cheetos and other snacks on the table (or at least it was in our fancypants VIP section). Gatorade-like sports drinks as well. Score! Those totally helped balance out all that aguardiente, right?

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