A Wet and Wild Carnival in Sucre

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Taking the streets by storm at Carnival 2012 in Sucre, Bolivia

On one of my first nights in Sucre I had dinner on the balcony of a lovely little restaurant overlooking the city’s main square. As I gazed out across the beautiful gardens and sidewalks that lined the plaza I noticed something really disturbing.

A group of young college kids were hurling water balloons across the street at some unsuspecting girls walking by. The poor girls were nailed in the back and face, while the boys laughed and huddled up nonchalantly. I thought this was really messed up.

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Forceful Flirting: Women of Sucre have no chance of staying dry during Carnival.

To my surprise, the girls kept walking and nobody stepped in to stop the guys. They carried on with the aerial assault for the next half-hour as I watched girl after girl get soaked, only to walk it off. I didn’t understand.

Every time I walked through the plaza on the following nights I witnessed the same thing, so I finally stopped and asked what the hell was going on. The young kid I asked, stopped and looked at me in astonishment and said… It’s Carnival!

The build-up to carnival in Sucre apparently kicks off with the turning of the New Year. It was mid-January and the chaos had already commenced for the late-February celebration.

There aren’t any major parades during carnival in Sucre and there are no elaborate costumes and almost no tourists. If this is the Carnival you’re looking for in Bolivia, you go to Carnival in Oruro. In Sucre however, it’s a different scene all together.

From January until the festivities wrap at the end of February, the entire city is at war. A big freakin’ awesome water war.

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Balloons on Deck: On every street corner in Sucre there are women ready to restock your water balloon supply.

People dump buckets of water on innocent pedestrians from balconies above, teens chuck water balloons in every direction and squirt gun drive-bys make everyone paranoid.

On the days leading up to the “official” carnival, the streets come alive with random marching bands walking down the middle of the street with a herd of drunken followers. Bars, clubs and colleges have pre-carnival parties and work becomes irrelevant.

The tradition is that on the Thursday before carnival is called “conpadres,” where all men go out and get real tuned up and the following Thursday is called “conmadres,” where all the women of Sucre go out and get wild. Each night is like one big bachelor and bachelorette party.

For those looking to pick up women, conmadres is about as good as it gets.

Once carnival hits the whole city shuts down. You can’t walk from one corner to the next without dodging water balloons and marching bands along the way.

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Dancing in the streets of Sucre on Day 1 of Carnival

For me, the big celebration started early Friday morning of carnival with an asado (BBQ) and balloon launching party on the rooftop of the BiblioWorks office. We were armed with buckets of water, balloons and squirt guns to drench the early party animals.

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Doing my part.

From there, I met up with the gang to parade across the city with about 200 others and their hired marching band.

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
The crew ready to hit the streets of Sucre for Carnival!

We walked clear across town, singing and dancing in the streets while getting soaked along the way. We passed dozens of other groups, each with their own marching band, and kept ourselves limber with a heavy supply of Leche de Tigre.

Leche de Tigre is a strong homemade concoction that consisted of milk, coconut, cinnamon and lots of Singani (alcohol).

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Celebration in Progress.

The mobile party went on until about 10pm, when those who still could, continued the festivities with a giant water war on the streets and then moved inside to one of the bars along the main strip of Avenida de las Americas (Americas Ave).

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
I accidentally broke the tooth of my buddy to my right during a wild water war on day 3.

Now, I don’t want to put a stamp on all Bolivians, but I must say, when it comes to drinking the Chuquisaqueños are lightweights. After a few bottles of Leche de Tigre, these guys were all over the place, starting fights and passing out on the sidewalk. Luckily, my friends paced themselves enough to keep it together.

Thank goodness they did because we partied like this for the next 5 days.

Carnival Celebration in Sucre, Bolivia
Shutting it Down: We were the last men standing on night 4 of Carnival!

Overall, thanks to local friends I had a blast and was able to experience a carnival much different then other’s around South America.

Maybe next year I’ll compare it with Brazil’s!

My name is Gareth Leonard, a Marketing Director turned World Traveler with a passion for slow, meaningful travel. I have been traveling the world full-time for the past 9+ years and document it all on Instagram and YouTube. Come join me!


  1. YOUR ALIVE!!!!!!! No word from you in quite a while, started to get me worried. Had to keep tabs on you through your blonde friends blog to make sure you were in one piece, wondering if you would make it to my wedding. Can we party like this in August?!

    1. Haha, I am alive! Sorry I’ve been off the map. I wouldn’t miss your wedding for the world and I’ll bring the water balloons!

  2. So funny Aunt Chris, I was trying to explain to the guys during carnival the 3-man slingshot and they thought it was brilliant. I might have to send one down here for next year!

  3. I’m glad u like it… our carnival is unique, but sometimes it’s hard, specially for us girls! As innocent and fun as it looks, waterballoons hurt a lot!!! Anyway u r one of the few visitors who hasn’t run away from our unique sometimes dangerous carnival 😛

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