When you visit San Pedro in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, you’ll want to pack a special outfit. However, you won’t need a fancy dress or a collared shirt and pants for this. Instead, dig deep down in your dresser drawers for old clothes you don’t mind discarding before your flight back home. This is because you’re arriving on the island during El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro.
Carnaval is chaotic, fun, messy and steeped in tradition. Ambergris Caye has been celebrating this cultural tradition for many years – longer than Belize has been an independent nation. My first Carnaval was nearly a decade ago. Clinging to the only shade on an unusually hot February day, I stood at the very edge of Central Park. It was close enough to watch the festivities, yet a safe distance away from the teenagers screeching in delight as they doused one other with water bottles filled with brightly coloured paints.
When I turned to walk away, there stood my local friend Gerry. He was barely recognizable thanks to hot pink and white paint completely masking his face. The moments that followed were a complete blur as I reached up to touch my own face, now a near match to his. Once the shock wore off, we fell into a burst of deep laughter. At that moment, I knew I wanted to return for Carnaval again.
What I didn’t foresee that afternoon is that I would transition from bystander to official Carnaval participant. A local friend, Felix, invited me to dance in his comparsas group the following year. Here I learned just how much effort and creativity go into making Carnaval a success. While the painting is fun, comparsas are really the heart of Carnaval. Groups plan for months, deciding on each day’s theme, writing original songs for each dance, creating music, designing costumes and more.
When the day finally arrived, I was nervous. We assembled and practiced our routine as people gathered around, anxiously waiting for Felix to arrive in his magnificent costume and perfectly manicured wig. We paraded down San Pedro’s cobblestone roads, seeking charitable donations from businesses and residents. If someone donated, we danced. Multiple generations of families gathered on their balconies and porches, eagerly waiting for each comparsa group to arrive. It was not uncommon to dance for numerous houses in a row.
The excitement and the smiles on people’s faces were heartwarming and worth the shin splits I ended up with. I’ve gone on to dance in the comparsas multiple times. Every year, I eagerly look forward to seeing the happiness it brings to both locals and tourists alike. Carnaval is unlike any other event you’ll attend in Belize. It’s an integral part of the local culture and a San Pedro tradition that I hope lives on for future generations to enjoy.
Where to Stay:
Beachfront accommodations meet phenomenal value at SunBreeze Hotel and SunBreeze Suites, two of the most conveniently located hotels in Ambergris Caye. Click here to book your Winter Escape at the best rate guaranteed or choose a 7-Night Adventure Package and save $100 USD per person (based on double occupancy) using the code Winter2020.
When to Go:
The Carnaval festivities in San Pedro will be celebrated from February 22-25, 2020.
Presented in partnership with SunBreeze Hotel and SunBreeze Suites