Photograph by Aaron Huey
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The blue devils are among the most vibrant and energetic traditional characters in the Carnival of Trinidad and Tobago.

Photograph by Aaron Huey

5 spectacular places to celebrate Carnival

From the blue devils in Trinidad and Tobago to the elaborate masks in Venice, here’s what to see where.

This story appears in the February 2020 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Festivities get fierce in this island nation as the Jab Molassie take to the streets. These pitchfork-toting devils—just one type of the many Carnival characters—cover themselves with molasses or grease and paint, often blue. Be prepared to give them a Trinidadian dollar (about 15 cents U.S.), or they’ll smear you with paint too. The mountain hamlet of Paramin holds an especially wild display. (Hear the sounds of Trinidad.)

What is the art behind the mask? Craftspeople press layers of wet paper onto a mold. Once the paper dries, they hand-paint the masks and add gold leaf, gems, or feathers.

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A Carnival-goer poses beside Venice’s Grand Canal. Traditional Venetian masks are handcrafted and elaborately decorated.

For perhaps 4,000 years the costumed Kukeri have been scaring off evil spirits and calling for bountiful harvests. Top spots to see their processions include the town of Pernik and the village of Shiroka Laka. (See surreal pictures of Bulgaria’s masked dancers.)

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In Bulgaria, people traditionally dress in Kukeri costumes and masks during midwinter festivities to scare off evil spirits.

Mardi Gras parades come with a price: tons of discarded plastic beads. But now there are more sustainable options, such as recycled-paper necklaces by Atlas Handmade Beads.

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Paper necklaces are a sustainable alternative to plastic beads at New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades.

Oruro, Bolivia

In this arid, high-altitude city, performers don horned masks for the Carnival’s Diablada, a dance influenced by both indigenous and Spanish traditions.

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In the Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia, participants in the Diablada dance wear horned masks.