Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia on a Budget

Carnaval in Oruro

“ORURO! ORURO! ORUROOOOOOOOOO!” the ticket sellers proclaimed.

Saturday was the peak day for Carnaval and the bus station in La Paz was packed to the brim with people ready to get on with their Carnaval festivities.

Oruro Carnaval-38Excitement was in the air. Everyone was ready to head out. We nervously awaited our bus ride out to the town of Oruro, the second largest Carnaval celebration in the world. We were ready…

A few days earlier we had started to do our researching. Things were not looking up. Each hotel had increased their rent 400%. A single night in this town pretty much only known for Carnaval was going to cost us a painful $100. And a tour? I don’t know about you but I don’t have $250 to spend for 2 days. Good seats? Sir, that will cost you $100 and lower for the “crappier” ones down the way away from the peak performances and pyrotechnics.

Well, fine then. We can play that game. We were heading into the last of our budget for our trip so we had to make a few tweaks.

We thought we had it all down.

We’re budget travelers (for the most part) and gosh darn it, we were going to keep it that way.

Transport: A local bus. What normally costs 10Bs was upped to 30. All good though, there were some people advertising 150Bs.

Carnaval in Oruro

Booze: In the land of coca leaves we decided to make a “smart” decision of filling a 2 liter bottle with 3 bags of coca leaves and 2 bottles of rum. Let it sit for 2 days and you have both your uppers and your downers to fill your 4 person team.

Oruro Carnaval-1

Accommodations: Well, screw you over priced hostels and hotels that were booked months ago, we’re pulling an all-nighter and catching the first bus to La Paz.

Tickets for the Carnaval Parade: SURELY there is a place where locals can sit and watch for free. Every other parade I’ve been to in Central and South America has been like that. We even sat up on a rock fence with a grand view during the bicentennial independence celebrations in Cartagena, Colombia.

Gear for Weather: A jacket and a poncho for rain should be good enough right? We are supposed to be in summer.

Sounds doable right?

This is how it REALLY was.

Transport: While I know it is Bolivia, just be prepared with what you are going to get with a local bus. A cracked windshield and brown, sticky stuff on the floor where we were sitting – we just convinced ourselves someone spilled their Coca Cola. The slowest bus driver in the world got us there in 4 and some hours (although I heard some of the more expensive buses took 6 hours).

Oruro Carnaval-5

Booze: Prices are actually decent for Carnaval. A tallboy of Pacena will run you 10Bs. A regular can will run you 8Bs. While the coca-rum drink was definitely an interesting experience, I cannot even tell you how hung over AND strung out I was at 3 or 4am while waiting for our bus out of town.

Carnaval in Oruro

Accommodations: We were done with everything by 2am and ready to go home. First bus left at 5am. We were really wishing we had a place to rest our head and our cold selves.

Tickets for the Carnaval Parade: Just to let you know, the entire point of Carnaval was the damn parade. I didn’t know that. I just thought it was a massive party in the street. Oh, and they have no place for locals to enjoy the parade. You have money, you see it. You don’t, well tough cookies. We tried to find a place to sit or see but ultimately we just had to peek at everything from openings in the bleachers. Not exactly that enjoyable (but an experience all on its own).

Carnaval in Oruro

Carnaval in Oruro

Gear for Weather: When they suggest bringing ponchos, they didn’t mean for rain. They meant for the massive foam wars and water balloons that get thrown your way. Oh, you’re a gringo? Expect to get it ten fold. I’m not kidding. There was a point where we ran away because we were done. With all of it. Tired. Wanted to punt little children. GANGS of little kids descended upon us. They ruined several beers. I got pegged hard by a water balloon that didn’t pop.

Carnaval in Oruro

Lets just say it got to the point where I dragged a little kid out of a phone booth that was hiding with his dad and spraying us down with foam as we were taking a small break. His dad laughed. I can’t believe I went up to a strange 6 year old kid and held him down while we sprayed him with collective vengeance.

Carnaval in Oruro

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Also, did I mention that it is also 60F/16C? Not your best weather for watersports fun.

Then your clothes are wet… which brings me to the next point… It gets to like 45F/6C at night. You need more than just a jacket. You need a beanie, gloves, scarves, etc. Just hope those little buggers didn’t get them wet while you were running away from children all day.

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Ultimately we started to get miserable.

Do I regret what we did? Well, partially but I rather would have experienced like we did rather than not at all.

So our suggestion? If you have the money, splurge. While we definitely couldn’t have been able to enjoy Carnaval any other way, it just wasn’t anything I imagined. It is definitely catered to people who have money, rather than a general celebration.

Have you tried to do Carnaval on a budget? What is Rio like?

Carnaval in Oruro

Carnaval in Oruro

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17 Responses to “Carnaval in Oruro, Bolivia on a Budget”

  1. For 91 Days in Bolivia
    March 21, 2012 at 12:19 am #

    Oh Bolivia! We miss you so much! We missed the carnival season! Really happy for you you got to experience it!

    On a much smaller scale we got to experience a festival in Independencia:

    http://bolivia.for91days.com/2011/07/31/fiesta-in-independencia-part-1-of-2/

    How long are you staying in Bolivia. Will you be there for the Aymara New Year’s? This was probably our most favorite experience while in La Paz!

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

      @For 91 Days: You guys seriously kick so much ass with your blog. You did everything. We weren’t there for the Aymara New Years, but mainly because we had to rush out of Bolivia ASAP due to being VERY behind on time. Cest la vie. I wish we could see everything.

  2. Terri
    March 21, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Parts of this experience sound absolutely exasperating. At the same time I am sure you’ll never forget it, and you’ll definitely look back on it and laugh. :)

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

      @Terri: I didn’t realize I’m all about more “tranquilo” opportunities. You live and learn right?

  3. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures
    March 21, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    How much fuuuuuuuun!

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

      @Andi: I would have preferred to be more glam about it, but cest la vie – we work with what we are given.

  4. Runaway Brit
    March 21, 2012 at 6:54 pm #

    I remember the temperatures in Bolivia at night and I certainly wouldn’t want to pull an all-nighter, especially with wet clothes! Kudos to you! It looks great fun though, and certainly an experience never to be forgotten.

    I recently posted an artice about the Carnival in Tenerife (also cited as the second largest carnaval in the world!) which was pretty cheap and very easy to get to the front of the procession. Apparently the street parties in Santa Cruz are immense and last for about a week. I was working so couldn’t get up there but maybe next time!

    http://www.runawaybrit.com/2012/03/13/colours-of-carnaval/

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

      @RB: I didn’t think about the fact we would be wet when night rolled around – call it severe lack of foresight. lol

      We will definitely be rethinking the next time we want to Carnaval it up. Thanks for stopping by! <3

  5. Evan
    March 22, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

    Wow! Fascinating. I didn’t know anything about Carnaval. Love the pictures, as always.

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      @Evan: Funny thing – neither did we. Serious learning curve.

  6. Ayngelina
    March 26, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Oh this makes me so homesick for last year. I was in Peru and in addition to foam they had green coloured flour. And as one of the few gringas in town I was a target for everyone.

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 11:26 pm #

      @Ayngelina: I remember that post. I also remember you saying how they came and got you by surprise and it pissed you off (I would have been mad too).

  7. Camels & Chocolate
    March 26, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    I don’t do so well with huge crowds, so I’m not sure Carnaval would be for me, on a budget or not!

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

      @C&C: Stay FAR FAR AWAY. It pushed my limits for sure.

  8. dtravelsround
    March 26, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    I want to do this! Well, in theory. I’m pretty sure by the millionth time I was sprayed and cold, I’d be done. But, still! What a cool experience!!

    • Erica
      April 8, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

      @D: By about 2pm we were done… which was only a few hours after we arrived lol.

  9. Stephanie - The Travel Chica
    March 31, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Great photos! Looks like you guys had a blast!

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