Chasing Mazatlan’s Carnaval Fireworks and the Nightlife that Wouldn’t Quit

Entrance to the Carnaval block party

Carnaval! Carnaval! Carnaval! This magic festival in Mazatlán, México, is one of the biggest in the world, with over 900,000 humans traveling here for the week-long event. The biggest Carnaval is of course in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The second biggest might go to the USA in New Orleans. Good old NOLA! Growing up, I always wanted to travel there for Mardi Gras but could never afford the expense. Plus, I hear NOLA can be dangerous. I have a friend that once got held up at gunpoint during the parade. Best to stick with a safer (and cheaper!) city, like Mazatlán.

All the planning

The city has been preparing for Carnaval for months and I’ve enjoyed watching all the hard work that goes into something this big. Every evening, humans have been gathering in the park outside my apartment to practice different dance routines for the various parades. They practice with different songs and walking simultaneously while dancing. Have to keep in formation! It’s been a treat.

Monigote in the park
I was lucky to find this monigote in the park near Olas Altas!

Then, a couple of weeks before the events, these gorgeous, ginormous monigotes (“puppets”) went up all along The Malecón. I walked for miles to get pictures for you all… then I went back at night to get pics of them all lit up. So much fun! A week before the events, roadblocks and gates on side-streets started to appear. You see, they close off Olas Altas during the evenings of Carnaval to create a kind of block party with paid entrance. So many beer stands! Pacifico is a big sponsor, as their brewery/distributor is here. I’ve never seen so much beer in all my life. I kid you not.

While the city was planning, I was also planning. Of course I was! I picked three events that I really wanted to see: Fireworks, Sunday Parade, and Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) Parade. Then I planned for the best place to watch each. Both parades would go by the park out front, so that was easy. As for the fireworks, I found the best secret spot on this hillside nearby my apartment. Well, you know nothing ever goes as planned. Time for some stories.


Well, I scouted out this steep set of brick stairs hidden between a large building and a construction excavation. It has the perfect line of sight over the beach of Olas Altas, which is perfect for watching the fireworks. Carnaval fully starts off with the Burning of Bad Humor, followed by massive fireworks depicting this epic 1864 battle between the Mexican military and French invaders.

As for the Bad Humor, that is a fireworks-filled wood and paper doll (or sign) made to look like someone (or something) that Mazatlán is upset over. There have been dolls representing public officials and, of course, the coronavirus. This year it was a big phone bill receipt because peeps didn’t like that the cost of service was going up so much. Lots of folks thought there might be more pressing issues than that going on in the world, but it’s all in good fun.

The spot I picked on the stairs should allow me to see the Burning of Bad Humor… until they built the musician stage right behind where it would all go down. This blocks my view of the burning, but it’s still a magnificent spot for the fireworks. Besides, I’m really short, so even if I was down in the throngs of people on The Malecón in front of Olas Altas, I wouldn’t be able to see anything but the person in front of me. The hillside will be better.

Not so secret, secret

So I walk up the hill (and it’s a really big hill!) to get to my secret spot about an hour before the burning. I’m already tired because it’s like ten minutes until I’m usually in bed. There are a ton of vehicles desperately trying to find parking. People are rushing down to get into the block party to get a good spot for the fireworks. Suckers! I know the best spot! That’s when I notice that some people are walking up the hill and not down. Um… do other people know about my spot?

Yes, they do! The stairs are absolutely packed with people. Entire families look like they have been picnicking all day to reserve their place on the stairs. I’m tiny. I can squeeze in. Delicately winding my way down these really steep stairs, I find a spot next to this group of older folks. The lady I sit next to is very excited and speaks English. She tells me that they have been coming to this spot for years. It’s the best spot in all of Mazatlán to watch the fireworks. Ha!

Well, we had the most wonderful time chatting about Mazatlán and Carnaval. There was a guy down on the street below making fresh cotton candy (fairy floss to my Aussie friends). With the wind, the candy kept flying up into the air and catching on power lines, in people’s hair, and in many outstretched fingers. There were some really happy kids running around down there! While I missed the Bad Humor burning behind the stage, the fireworks were some of the best I have ever seen. That view was amazing!

When does the parade start?

I wake up on the day of the first Carnaval Parade with this grand idea that I would walk the four kilometers to the fancy liquor store and take a bus back home. Then I look outside my window to see this giant float driving down the road. There is a guy in back with a long hook to keep the power and phone lines from snagging on the top of the float. Are they lost? It’s really early. I think the parade is at night.

Mrs. ItchyFeet at Carnaval Parade
Lady had me wear her hat while she went to get more beer. It’s a nice hat!

Okay, check the internets. I’m right about the time of the parade, but completely wrong about the location. It will not be going in front of the park by my apartment but starts at the Fisherman’s Monument down on The Malecón. Time to find a new spot to watch because this thing is supposed to be amazing. Absolutely cannot miss this. I’ll scope a spot on the way to the store and check for damaged power lines… yup, spotted one just a couple blocks away. It was almost completely pulled down and hanging across the street!

You would not even believe how many people were out picnicking that early in the morning to reserve a great spot for the evening parade! They have many-many hours to wait! This is not like any parade route I have ever seen. People are roping off large sections of sidewalk and filling them with plastic chairs. Entire stands have been erected for a better view. You can pay for the privilege. Some even come with a separate bathroom! This is a production.

Can’t see anything!

I’m short, so I have to find a spot that will allow me to see the parade. Otherwise, it’s pointless to even come down here. The parade starts just before dusk and lasts for hours, so a chair would be nice. I’m scoping out spots as I walk miles to the liquor store. That’s when it hits me… the roads are all closed. There will be no bus back. I’m walking the entire way. Getting my steps in!

It is great fun watching families with umbrellas and coolers enjoying morning beers with breakfast while overlooking the beach. Massive floats have begun to arrive and line up before the starting point. Everyone is excited and taking pictures. After the store, I try to find a bus on one of the back roads but only succeed in finding a huge fair going on. Farris wheel, rides, booths, the whole lot! How fun is that!?! If I liked screaming kids more, I would definitely go check that out.

While I’m still tired from the late night fireworks the night before, I’m determined to party hard tonight and at least stay up until maybe 10pm? Hopefully? Around dusk, I head out to find that spot I picked out this morning… and the street is packed. From what I read, about a million people are here at The Malecón to watch this thing. Somehow, I get herded into the road. This is a bad idea because there is no way to get back up onto the sidewalk. Endless seas of roped off chairs block the entire route.

We’re family now

I end up breaking through some family’s picnic area while they tried to block me and enthusiastically booed and hissed at me. “No paso!” I got the impression they had been doing this to peeps all day and were enjoying it immensely. I literally cannot make it to the spot I had picked out. It’s too dense to squeeze through. The spot I stop at to get my bearings is filled with umbrellas, so I can’t stay because I can’t see the road.

Puppet in parade
The head, arms, and legs move! Coolest parade ever.

Finally, I find a spot where I can mostly see. These two ladies are giving me the once over to see if I’m a good human or not. I have no doubt that they will tell me to get lost if I don’t make the cut. Lucky for me, I am not shy and quickly win them over with loads and loads of broken Spanish! Soon I was part of the family and they were having me block other people from trying to cut through. “No paso!” Stressful but loads of fun!

They told me what to say and how to block any holes in the human line with my tiny torso. All in good fun. I think I even learned some new Spanish swear words. The parade was spectacular and really did last for hours. We had another family join our new family when one of the ladies needed to pee and someone offered up a blanket to hide behind so she could squat next to a palm tree. We were all dying laughing! You do what you got to do.

Where are my sunglasses?

After the parade ended, chaos ensued, with everyone going every which way, but halfway home I realized that I no longer had my sunglasses. They must have fallen off at some point… probably during all the dancing. I went back to look, but they were gone. I hope someone found them and can use them. That is why I buy my sunglasses under $50. Plus, the tropical salt water tends to scratch the crap out of them. Oh, well.

Carnaval Parade

The next day, I was very tired even though I got to bed by 10pm. There was a band in the park outside playing until 4am. When do they sleep!?! My grand plans of checking out the block party fell apart by that evening when I realized it didn’t fully start until after my bedtime. Go listen to loud bands and people-watch? Go to bed? What can I say? I really like sleep. Plus tomorrow is Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras! Mardi is French for Tuesday and Gras means fleshy. See, you’re learning stuff!), so best to rest up.

El Martes de Carnaval Parade is set to go right past the park in front of my apartment. I can literally look out my window and head down when it gets here. Loads of places to watch from as the park is really big. Which is lucky because this is the end of the parade route, so you really don’t know when it will arrive. It all depends on how fast the dancers walk and the floats drive. They came early, and I popped out to watch.

Puppy love!

Wouldn’t you know it, there is this berm at the bottom of the park to help stop erosion and keep wayward balls from rolling into the busy street. I found a spot right at the top with the absolutely perfect view of the parade. It does not get better than that spot… unless you have a chair at the front. Plus, this shy teenager with a very energetic dog was trying to watch from behind me, so I offered up the spot next to me. You know what that means!?! Dog kisses!

Float with confetti
Unbelievable parade for El Martes de Carnaval.

Turns out the dog was actually a puppy at only six months old. There was some confusion when I asked how old he was as the kid thought I wanted to know his age. Nobody cares about you, young human! Tell me all the things about the puppy! His name was waffles! That pup was climbing in people’s laps and loving on everyone. He did not like the fireworks, though. Those big bangs are loud and scary! He just needed some cuddles.

People started heading home after the parade ended, and that’s when the real fun began. You see, once the parade started, people just parked wherever. And I mean just abandoned their cars in the street. It was an absolute parking lot. I can’t imagine being that family who had picnicked all day with the great idea of heading home early to avoid the traffic. Only to discover that they legitimately could not get their car out until everyone behind them moved. Chaos!

You can’t park there.

So I wake up the next day to see a transit cop outside looking at an SUV that is parked in the park on the sidewalk. Like fully on the sidewalk! My guess is that the driver couldn’t find parking, and with lots of illegal parking going on, just drove right up into the park and left the giant SUV on the sidewalk. Maybe got too drunk to drive home? Good for them for leaving the vehicle, but it’s like 10am now and you really should come move your vehicle. Maybe they forgot where they parked!?! There were like a million people here last night.

Giant parade puppet
Look at the size of this thing!

Now the cop is there for a while, chatting on his cell phone, and I get bored. The next time I look out, a flat-bed tow truck is there and the officer and driver are talking about how to tackle this sidewalk situation. The tow truck driver tilts the bed of his truck up in front of the SUV and the driver hooks up the vehicle. Basic stuff, with the alarm going off as the SUV is pulled up onto the bed. It stops as the incline gets steeper.

Bear with me, as this is where it gets interesting. This random guy walks up to the transit cop and hands him a cell phone. The cop starts talking on the phone and asks the tow truck driver to stop putting the SUV on the tow truck. What? The officer gets off the phone and some other random guy walks up. I think he came from the condo tower next door. The cop is talking to the guy and gesturing toward the tow truck driver. Then exaggerated arguing ensues!

Just pay the guy

I can’t hear what they are saying but I assume it’s something like, “I’ll move the vehicle, don’t tow it, but I’m not paying anyone for a tow I didn’t get.”. Back and forth. Then the guy dramatically shoves some money into the tow truck driver’s hand. Nobody looks happy. The tow truck driver gets on the phone to maybe his boss, who definitely told him that it is not enough money because the SUV stays on the truck. More gestures and more money comes out.

Cars parked in street for parade
You can’t tell, but this is a street in front of a parking lot. People just left their cars to watch the parade!

Now at least the tow truck driver and the transit cop are happy. The other guy storms off. But here’s the thing, at this point there is no way to get the vehicle off the truck without wrecking the bumper because half the vehicle is on the sidewalk and half has been pulled over the edge. It now must be driven off the tow truck. But who has the keys!?! And why didn’t they park in the parking garage? Maybe they are just visiting friends and don’t have a spot?

And who was the guy who handed the cell phone to the officer, because the officer is now talking on it? I think, somehow, the random guy borrowed the office’s phone, and I only saw him give it back? So many questions! Soon a lady comes out of the building with keys. Maybe the owner? Maybe the wife? Maybe she was sleeping while this whole thing went down? This allows the tow truck driver to get the SUV off the truck and back onto the sidewalk. Then the lady parks the SUV in one of many open spots in the parking lot of the park. I must say, people-watching is the best!

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1 Comment

  1. Hell of a party.
    I suspect I’m getting old when my personal reaction is, “too many people, too much hassle.”

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