updated 3/7/2011 1:31:36 PM ET 2011-03-07T18:31:36

Pre-Lenten street parties are everyone's favorite excuse for a party. Just in time for the festivities, we found the most over-the-top festivals from Brazil — the global superpower of celebration — to Belgium. Each destination has its own traditions for music, costumes, and cutting loose.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio is the city most closely associated with Carnival. Around a half-million foreign visitors join the city's 7 million residents for this annual party. The main event is the competition between samba performers in the Sambodromo. It's worth the high price (tickets from $110). Mar. 5-8, 2011, tickets from $110, rio-carnival.net

Slideshow: 20 Spectacular Carnival Celebrations Around the World

Binche, Belgium
Binche — a town close to the border of Belgium and France — has held an annual pre-Lenten festival since the 16th century. The must-see event is the March of the Gilles, a parade of men and boys wearing brightly colored costumes and wooden clogs. Mar. 6-8, 2011, Carnavaldebinche.be

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New Orleans
Say "Mardi Gras" in the U.S. and everyone thinks of New Orleans, with its masked partygoers and debauchery. The city's pre-Lenten Carnival has been tamer since Hurricane Katrina, with smaller crowds and less flashing of the flesh. Mar. 8, 2011, mardigrasday.com

Salvador, Brazil
About 1,000 miles northeast of Rio, Salvador hosts its Carnaval. It's as dazzling as Rio's, but feels less commercial since most events are free. All around town, music spills out of trio elétrico — a truck wired for sound and a music group playing on the roof. Mar. 3–9, 2011, Bahia-online.net/carnival.htm

Olinda, Brazil
This seafront town about 500 miles northeast of Salvador throws a Carnival with folkloric and homespun vibes that rivals Rio's and Salvador's parties. On the Friday before Ash Wednesday, street parades showcase bonecos, or large papier-mâché figures.  March 4–9, 2011, gobrazil.about.com

Oruro, Bolivia
Approximately 140 miles southeast of capital city La Paz, Oruro is an Andean mountain town that hosts an annual Carnival celebration recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  Mar. 4–14, 2011, Oruro tourism: 011-55/591-2-525-7881

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Viareggio, Italy
Perhaps Europe's finest pre-Lenten party is the Carnival festival in Viareggio, a coastal town about 245 miles northwest of Rome. This year, on five consecutive Sundays, the city hosts a series of parades that are distinctive for including supersize floats.  Feb. 20, 27, March 6, 8, and 13, 2011, viareggio.ilcarnevale.com

Venice, Italy
In Venice during Carnival, you'll see the occasional costumed figure in Piazza San Marco. But masked participants can be found in all the major piazzas, often lit up by flares and bonfires. Feb. 26, 27, Mar. 1–8, 2011, carnivalofvenice.com

Cologne, Germany
In Cologne, Kölner Carnival is a rowdy week for many adults, with heavy drinking and plenty of late-night dancing. But kid-friendly events include a parade on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, when kamelle (candies) are tossed from floats. Some of the traditions have been passed down since at least the Middle Ages. Mar. 5–8, 2011, koeln.de

Barranquilla, Colombia
If you go to the Carnival party in the Caribbean coastal city of Barranquilla, don't be surprised if someone tosses a garland of flowers around your neck while you're standing on a cobbled street listening to a mix of Colombian funk and folk music. Mar. 5–8, 2011, colombia.travel

Québec City, Canada
Québec City draws 750,000 visitors yearly to its Winter Carnival. Residents build large-as-real-life castles made of ice and snow, and race go-carts down the street while dressed as shrimp, caribou, and other fanciful creatures. Jan. 28–Feb. 13, 2011, carnaval.qc.ca

Moscow, Russia
Maslenitsa (loosely translated as the "week of butter") is a national holiday week, when locals stuff themselves silly in an event that is akin to Mardis Gras. Feb. 28–Mar. 6, 2011, russia-travel.com

Avilés, Spain
An imaginative carnival is held in the town of Avilés on Spain's northern coast. Here, costumes tend toward the lighthearted: toothbrushes, mattresses, and pop culture characters. The fun ends when parade-goers carry a real sardine on a funeral procession through town and then burn it. Mar. 2-9, 2011, spain.info

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Nadur, Malta
Nadur's Silent Carnival is a spontaneous act of locals, who usually disguise themselves in simple costumes such as sacks and wigs, walking spookily — in total silence — around town during the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Mar. 3–8, 2011, aboutmalta.com

Ponce, Puerto Rico
Colorfully caped figures go on parade wearing iconic papier-mâché masks, and one of these characters may swat you and other onlookers with a dried cow's bladder blown up like a balloon — or something just as yucky. Tens of thousands of revelers dance to a mix of pop and merengue at various open street parties. Mar. 2–8, 2011, seepuertorico.com

Rijeka, Croatia
Zvoncari are goat-head creatures who ring bells to scare away evil spirits, and they're the stars of the Carnival parade in this coastal village on the Adriatic Sea, about 100 miles west of the capital, Zagreb. Parade on-lookers offer wine to the creatures, who often wear white trousers, striped shirts, and sheepskin throws. Jan. 17 –Mar. 6, 2011,ri-karneval.com.hr

Kingston, Jamaica
Unlike in other Caribbean countries, Carnival season here lasts past Ash Wednesday and through Easter, with countless street parties pulsing to ska, reggae, and soca music. Two "camps" compete to lure participants, Jamaica Carnival (jamaicacarnival.com) and Bacchanal Carnival (bacchanaljamaica.com). February through May 2011

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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
This country's largest Carnival is in its capital, and the highlight takes place on March 6, when a best-costume competition draws participants who famously wear grotesque devil costumes.  Every Sunday in February, with a national holiday on Feb. 27 and Mar. 6, 2011, godominicanrepublic.com

Trinidad and Tobago
Port of Spain, the capital city of this set of islands off Venezuela's coast, throws the biggest pre-Lent celebration in the Caribbean. Some participants wear ingenious costumes that satirize the former British colonial authorities. Others slather themselves in oil and practice the ultrafast, whirling dance moves called wining. Mar. 7–8, 2011, ncctt.org

Mazatlán, Mexico
Residents of the western coastal city of Mazatlán, which lies 270 miles northwest of Puerto Vallarta, put a patriotic twist on their Carnival. On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, the harbor is the setting for a reenactment of the failed French attack of 1864. Mar. 38, 2011, gomazatlan.com

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Photos: Carnival around the world

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  1. Binche, Belgium

    The Gilles of Binche take part in the Carnival parade in Binche, Belgium. The Binche carnival, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage event, is the biggest and the liveliest annual event in Belgium. (Francois Lenoir / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. New Orleans

    Rex, the King of Carnival, rides in the Krewe of Rex as he arrives at Canal St. along St. Charles Ave. Tuesday on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. New Orleans

    Lee Chance laughs as he shows off his collection of beads that he caught during the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club parade Tuesday on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of the Salgueiro samba school participate in the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome on March 7. (Ueslei Marcelino / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Port of Spain

    A masquerader from the band "What I Saw" presented by Robert Lakhan poses on the stage on Carnival at Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain on March 7. (Andrea De Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers dressed as clowns participate in a carnival parade in Sesimbra village on March 7. The clown parade in Sesimbra village became a tradition after a world record for the biggest clown march was set in 2004. (Jose Manuel Ribeiro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of the Porto da Pedra samba school participate in the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome on March 7. (Sergio Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Rio de Janeiro

    Brazilian pop singer Roberto Carlos waves from atop a float of the Beija-flor samba school on the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome on March 7. (Ricardo Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Sao Luis do Paraitinga, Brazil

    Revelers kiss on a street during the Carnival of Sao Luis do Paraitinga, 106 miles from Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 7. The event is part of the ongoing Carnival celebrations taking place across the country. (Nacho Doce / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of the Salgueiro samba school participate in the second night of the annual Carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome. (Sergio Moraes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers of Uniao da Ilha samba school perform at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on March 7. Uniao da Ilha lost fancy dresses and floats in a fire that took place three weeks ago. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Rio de Janeiro

    Members of Uniao da Ilha participate at the Carnival Rio 2011 parade at the sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on March 7. More than 3,000 drummers and dancers ferried into Rio‘s Sambadrome, the massive stadium where the samba schools compete, wearing costumes and lavish outfits. (Antonio Lacerda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Rio de Janeiro

    Members of Uniao da Ilha Samba school parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, on Monday. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rio de Janeiro

    Members of Uniao da Ilha Samba school parade during Carnival celebrations at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, March 7. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rio de Janeiro

    A reveler of Uniao da Ilha Samba school performs at the Sambadrome on Monday. (Vanderlei Almeida / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rio de Janeiro

    Dancers perform on their Imperatriz Leopoldinense samba school float during a carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on March 6. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Barranquilla, Colombia

    Revelers perform during carnival celebrations in Barranquilla, Colombia. In 2003, UNESCO declared Barranquilla's carnival as a "Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." (Fernando Vergara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rio de Janeiro

    Imperatriz Leopoldinense dancers perform during their carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on March 6. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

    A fire breather performs during a carnival parade in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on March 6. (Erika Santelices / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Port of Spain, Trinidad

    A girl participates in the Red Cross Children's Carnival competition at Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Feb. 26. (Andrea De Silva / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Venice

    Latvian-born artist Kathrina Asfardi performs with her flying piano at the Fenice theater in Venice, Italy, late on March 5, during the "Cavalchina," a historic annual Venetian carnival ball. (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Duesseldorf, Germany

    A carnival reveller celebrates the traditional Rose Monday carnival parade in the western German city of Duesseldorf on March 7. The Rose Monday parades in Cologne, Mainz and Duesseldorf are the highlight of the German street carnival season. (Ina Fassbender / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Paraty, Brazil

    A woman dances amid orange smoke during the 'Bloco da Lama', or Mud Block carnival parade in Paraty, Brazil, March 5. (Rodrigo Abd / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Venice

    A horse is brought into the Fenice theater in Venice late on March 5, at the start of the "Cavalchina". (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Venice

    People dressed in carnival costumes pose in San Marco square in Venice on March 5, during the annual Venice Carnival. (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Recife, Brazil

    An aerial view of millions of revellers during the "Galo da Madrugada" (Rooster of the Morning) parade in Recife, in the northern coastal state of Pernambuco, Brazil, March 5. (Stringer/brazil / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Limassol, Cyprus

    People dance through the street during a traditional parade to mark the end of the carnival period in southern port city of Limassol, Cyprus, on March 6. (Petros Karadjias / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Evolene, Switzerland

    "Empailles" (Straw man) wearing a costume made of a jute bag stuffed with straw and scary mask walk through the streets of Evolene during a traditional carnival procession on March 6. "Empailles" along with "Peluche" who wear costumes made of animal skins and masks invade the streets of the village and scare residents with their broomsticks or their bells during carnival. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Oruro, Bolivia

    A dancer performs during Carnival celebrations in Oruro, Bolivia, March 5. (Juan Karita / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Torres Vedras, Portugal

    Carnival revelers look at a float depicting Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates, left, and Spain's Jose Zapatero, threatened by an "IMF beast" during the parade on the streets of Torres Vedras on March 6. Torres Vedras village carnival organization devoted 2011 carnival to the subject "The Jungle". (Jose Manuel Ribeiro / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Prague, Czech Republic

    A girl in a costume is pictured during the Malostranky carnival parade in Prague, Czech Republic, March 5. (Filip Singer / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Baranquilla, Colombia

    A reveler performs during Carnival festivities in Baranquilla, Colombia, on March 5. The Carnival of Barranquilla was declared to be a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003. (Joaquin Sarmiento / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Rio de Janeiro

    People dance during a "Ceu na Terra" street parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 5. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Sao Paulo, Brazil

    Revellers of the Vai-Vai samba school dance atop a float during the opening night of parades at the Sambadrome, as part of Carnival celebrations in Sao Paulo on March 5. (Mauricio Lima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Lucerne, Switzerland

    Carnival goers celebrate the opening of the festivities in Lucerne on March 3. For five days the traditional carnival will be celebrated in the city of Lucerne. (Sigi Tischler / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Rio de Janeiro

    Revelers perform during the 'Mameludicos Euforicos' street carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro on March 3. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Venice, Italy

    People dressed in carnival costumes pose in San Marco square in Venice on Feb. 27 during the annual Venice Carnival. (Andrea Pattaro / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Canary Islands

    A nominee for Queen of the Santa Cruz carnival shows off her outfit to a jury at Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the Spanish Canary island of Tenerife on March 2. (Desiree Martin / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Jacmel, Haiti

    Women dressed in party attire prepare to participate in a parade during carnival weekend in Jacmel, Haiti, on Feb. 27. This year's celebration was met with mixed emotion as the memory of the 2010 earthquake, which forced the cancellation of last year's event, loomed large. (Allison Shelley / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Viareggio, Italy

    A giant carnival float called ReXpubblica showing a mask of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi during the annual carnival of Viareggio on Feb. 20. (Fabio Muzzi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Oruro, Bolivia

    Women from Orinoca town, where Bolivia's President Evo Morales was born, join in celebrations in the Anata Andina (Andean carnival) in Oruro on March 3. Hundreds of ethnic groups from Oruro province participated in the carnival. (David Mercado / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Nice, France

    The Queen of Nice's float takes part in a parade at the 127th Nice carnival in Nice on Feb. 19. The 127th edition of the carnival, celebrating the "Mediteranean King," runs until March 8. (Sebastien Nogier / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. New Orleans

    Young girls and their dogs parade through the French Quarter during the Krewe of Barkus Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans on Feb. 27. The parade of dogs and their owners, a twist on the Krewe of Bacchus, benefits animal welfare organizations. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Lucerne, Switzerland

    A carnival goer celebrates the opening of the carnival in Lucerne, Switzerland, on March 3. (Sigi Tischler / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Viareggio, Italy

    A float depicting United States President Barack Obama with his hat topped off by a man masked as al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden, titled "Barack-Adabra and the Great Circus of the Fleas," is shown at the traditional Viareggio carnival parade in Viareggio, Italy, on Feb. 20. (Paolo Lazzeroni / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Montevideo, Uruguay

    Members of group Cuareim 1080 participate in a parade to inaugurate the Carnival of Uruguay, in center Montevideo, Uruguay, on Jan. 27. The Carnival in Uruguay is one of the longest in the world, with more than 80 days of celebration, generally occurring in January through mid March, with celebrations in Montevideo being the largest and brightiest. (Ivan Franco / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Bremen, Germany

    A dressed up participant stands on the market square during the 26th Samba Carnival in Bremen, Germany, on Feb. 26. Samba groups from all over Germany take part in the street carnival. (Carmen Jaspersen / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Rio de Janeiro

    A dancer of Uniao da Ilha samba school performs while parading during carnival celebrations Monday at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Felipe Dana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. New Orleans

    Revelers reach out for items thrown by riders on a float in the Rex parade Tuesday on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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