Carnival is the main – and some say the only – attraction in Oruro. UNESCO recognized it as a Human Heritage event and due to it the city is called the Folkloric Capital of Bolivia.
La Diablada takes place on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and is a huge parade of devils performed by dancers in elaborate masks and customs, which attracts crowds from the whole country.
Finding accommodations and a comfortable place to look at the parade from is difficult. It is recommended to book places through the travel agencies in La Paz before arriving at Oruro.
The telling signs of the carnival appear weeks before the event. In Oruro’s crowded streets, kids armed with water-guns and water-filled balloons attack pedestrians and cars without discrimination. Devilish masks decorate public places. Dancing groups practicing their dances sporadically block the main streets; beer and urine foul the air. Heavily organized in unions, Bolivians treat the event in an organized fashion that if implemented into their regular life would catapult this poor country into the richest in the world.
This carnival is dedicated to “Diabladas” (Devilish) dances, which are part of a devil’s cult which was merged with the local version of Catholicism.
The devil’s masks and customs give testimony to a rich imagination, in sharp contrast to the monotonous brass music played by the bands and the slow, unsophisticated, undulating moves of the dancers. The heavy dresses accompanying the men’s masks allow the dancers only clumsy, pendulum-like moves. The women use peculiar customs: hats belonging to 19th century London, long-sleeved, colored blouses, high-heeled boots reaching above the knees, and skirts that seem to end before they begin. Each dancing group carries signs showing to which workers union it belongs.