So you want to get in on the Carnival action but don't know where to start?
Find out when.
First, you need to get the dates cornered before embarking on any pre-Lenten debauchery. True Carnivals - be they in Brazil, Italy, Spain, the Caribbean, or any other Catholic-leaning society - occur simultaneously, which means ix-nay on a year-round party binge (unless, of course, you count New York's West Indian Day parade, Calle Ocho in Miami, the Notting Hill joint, or innumerable other Carnival-esque activities that are not True Carnivals and can happen on any random date); you can only choose one event per year. Also, just like Easter, which is always forty days after Fat Tuesday, Carnival jumps around the calender every year: for 2011, the main events run from March 4th through the 8th, with celebrations kicking off a few days beforehand in spots like Salvador.
Find out where.
Besides the biggies (Rio, New Orleans, Venice), you've got the Carnivals featured here on Fly Brother (Salvador, Barranquilla, Trinidad), plus parties in Panama, Santo Domingo, the Canary Islands, Florence, Cologne, Sydney, Port-au-Prince, Goa, Buenos Aires, and Mobile, so language-barriers and dislike of long flights serve as week excuses for not going buck-wild at somebody's fête-a-tête-tête.
Find out who.
You could choose to hit Carnival solo, which is always a good way to meet new people on the road. Still, heading down with an established group is the best way to maximize your enjoyment and minimize hassles. You may think of yourself as an independent person, but you can always break away from the group for some alone time while still taking advantage of discounted airfares and accommodations, and the knowledge of local tour guides or experienced travelers. Each year, in addition to traditional travel agencies, educational institutions and individuals arrange group packages with which anyone can become affiliated: Dr. Jan DeCosmo of Florida A&M University organizes inexpensive packages to Trinidad and Salvador under the banner of "Friends of the Caribbean" (email her at k d e c o s m o [a t] h o t m a i l [d o t] c o m for more information) and the closer it gets to the blessed event, impromptu travel groups spring up on websites like Meet-Up, Virtual Tourist, BootsnAll, and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum.
Find out more.
English-language websites for Carnival in Rio, Barranquilla, Salvador, and Trinidad.