Shake Your Booty: Carnival in Mazatenango

There are special moments when the sheer exuberance and joy of the human spirit, shining so brightly, transcend all the negative forces and we find ourselves walking on air!

Another in a long list of Guatemala’s best-kept secrets is the fantastic annual Carnival of Mazatenango: an event virtually unknown to those outside the Pacific Coast region.

I do not recommend “Mazate” for those who need luxury accommodations and require that everything be according to an orderly schedule. Mazate is typical of the Pacific coastal towns in Guatemala, the hustle and bustle of the multitudes in the sweltering heat can be daunting, and the cacophony of children shouting, buses honking and vendors hawking creates a kaleidoscopic, swirling, sensory barrage that can be disarming for a lightweight or rookie traveler. But for those of you who are adventurous or wish to begin to be so, Mazate may become for you, as it is for me, a magic wonderland.

Carnival is a period of public revelry typically held the week before Lent in accordance with the Catholic calendar. According to some sources the word “carnival” comes from the phrase: “carne para baul” or “meat for the devil” because it was the last lustful celebration and feast before lengthy fasting.

Lent is the period preceding Easter that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence and penitence in commemoration of Christ’s fasting in the wilderness. It runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.

Carnival is celebrated all over Guatemala with small parades and events. If a little child sneaks up behind you and breaks a colorful egg stuffed with confetti on your head, this is to be taken as a sign of affection. It is a tradition in Guatemala. So, when you notice people all over the place with confetti in their hair, now you know why. Only in Mazate do we find big carnival parades. They cannot compare in opulence with the events held in Trinidad, Veracruz or Merida. But what the “Mazatecos” lack in financing they make up for with their exuberant spirit. If you look closely, all the costumes are homemade. Mother’s work all year to do the very best with what the family has to create costumes of incredible color and variety for their chil-dren. One costume may be made of white satin adorned with painted peanut shells and other common objects made magical through the ingenuity of its creator. Other girls will be wearing real grass hula skirts likewise painted in psychedelic colors. It is all for maximum fun and the big party of the year for the entire population. 

I know now why kings of old were entertained by dancing girls. In my normal life I am a wildlife photographer and it is my job to seek out and photograph the incredible beauty I find in nature. But nothing is more beautiful than to see the girls of carnival dancing through the streets of Mazatenango. During carnival week every day there is something different. There is the children’s parade in the morning, the parade of carnival floats, a horse parade and the wild nocturnal adult parade. The carnival culminates with a masked ball at the municipal salon.

Feb. 3-17: cultural activities and the election of the queens.
Feb. 18-26: more cultural events and parades.
Feb. 21, Tues 9am: Carnival! Beginning at 1a
av., z. 1 the parade ends at the Campo de la Feria. This carnival has been celebrated for 127 years. (For more details/times see DateBook on page 22 and

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