It's no overstatement to say that Carnaval De Bahidorá is one the world’s most stunning festivals. Running for eight years in the state of Morelos, it’s a two hour drive on a good day or brace yourself for more with Mexico City’s hardcore traffic - but what you’ll find at the end of the road is well worth the gridlock.
You might wonder if you’d died at some point during the drive and instead arrived at the gates of heaven. In reality you’ve been whisked away to the unbelievably beautiful festival site in Las Estacas. It’s a small oasis encapsulated by the tallest palms and cypress trees that from a canopy of greenery punctuated by sunlight and exotic birds. Beyond that, Las Estacas is sat between mountains and corn fields as far as the eye can see.
Deep in the Mexican countryside, it’s a spectacular site that isn’t really frequented by international tourists like you get with Cabo or Cancun; instead it’s more of a best-kept secret amongst locals on staycation. From February 14th-16th it transformed from a vast nature reserve and family friendly resort to a raver's utopia for the three-day Carnaval De Bahidorá, which drew about 10,000 attendees.
Things kicked off at the Isla B forest party on Friday night, with up-and-coming Latin collective Onda Mundial curating the programming. With 25 DJs and producers in their crew from Cuba, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay and more, they’re making a name for themselves with crazy free for alls on Mexico City's underground circuit. The opening party felt shamanic. Multi-colored light strings hung between trees adorned with hand-crocheted ornaments while everyone moved to dark, earthy and melodic techno until 4:00 AM.
After all the dancing was done, it was time to charge up for day two. Onsite camping offered the fully immersive festival experience, but a step up from that is the Glamping offer with kitted-out tipis with double beds, al fresco seating with floor cushions, and colorful rugs and lanterns. Further afield was the Hotel Bahidorá, a short drive from the festival site. The 16th century estate and former hacienda dates back to the times of the Spanish Empire.
Back for a day afro fusion, neo soul and more, the main proceedings took place over at the Sonorama stage. Things started with electro afro-funk group Ibibio Sound Machine, who played a stream of afrobeat and disco with a dash of electronic elements. Ibibio were preceded by Compton’s flamboyant Channel Tres flanked by two vogueing dancers. Adding his own West Coast touch to dance music, Tres combined it with rap in a very carefree way with tons of flair. Just imagine for a second that Andre 3000 made house music and you get the gist.
Next up was Goldlink who had the crowd singing along to the Grammy-nominated single "Crew" with Brent Faiyaz and Shy Glizzy. Headliner Erykah Badu was fashionably late of course, but the queen of neo-soul did not disappoint. Enclosed in a laser cage, Badu freestyled on a drum machine in between tracks from her classic album, Baduizm.
Day gave way to night, and naturally the sounds got heavier and harder. Avalon Emerson and Josey Rebelle played the prismic El Amate stage whilst Branko spun heavy dub with Spanish vocals over at La Estacion. The night was lit up with trippy installations, from glow-in-the-dark mushrooms and giant crystals jutting from the ground to neon pink flamingos and a floating pair of eyes, it added a whole other dimension to the experience. It felt like getting lost in a jungle labyrinth when going from stage to stage and finding these luminous little sculptures along the way.
Homegrown talent is important at Bahidorá. The art instillations are all from local artists and collectives, plus half of the roster is made of Latin American acts. The ratio of bigger international headliners was about two for every eight up-and-coming artists.
“We don’t start by saying ‘let’s do this headliner,’ it starts all over the place” explained Lucía Anaya, the booker for Bahidorá. “We promote emerging artists from Latin America and all around the world to do a line up that’s eclectic.”
Anaya tailors each stage to have its own personality and vibe. The main stage represents what’s contemporary and El Amate is all about the club sounds. Meanwhile La Estacion had roots, reggae and dancehall on the schedule – both new and old – with the Equiknoxx sound system and Jamaican legend Sister Nancy pulled in a huge audience.
In comparison to other global festivals, Bahidorá flies under the radar. It started with the founders throwing underground parties in Mexico City which grew and grew into the weekend-long carnival that it is now. With the hopes of keeping things intimate and balanced as they are, they’re keeping a lid on growth to maintain the equilibrium of sustainability, crowd sizes and overall experience for festival goers. In spite of that, Bahidorá is gradually opening itself up to the world but crucially at its own pace.
Bahidorá’s General Director Iñigo Villamil emphasized the importance of keeping what they have pure and unadulterated. Rather than push for more ticket sales and cram as many people in as possible, environment is prioritized over profits.
“We take care of the place as best as we can, we have a sustainability program and we’ve taken care of all the small details” Villamil said. “It’s only been growing little by little. We’ve been growing stages, exploring the site more and more.”
Villamil and his team work hard to offset the festival’s environmental impact, accounting for each car that arrives to the plastic usage of each guest. The cleanup efforts are unmatched; there’s not a single crushed can of beer or discarded cigarette butt in sight. Following the Green Music Initiative, guests and campers are encouraged not to litter, sort their waste for recycling and leave no trace behind at the end of the festival. The organizers minimize the event’s carbon footprint by ensuring sure all food and drink are served in compostable, biodegradable or recyclable packaging, and they offer group transport to reduce emissions in addition to planting trees on Las Estacas and the surrounding areas.
It’s all about growing in harmony with the nature of Las Estacas and the river that divides the park in two with crossing points via small rope suspension bridges covered in neon tassels. “In the beginning it was just the main stage then we opened Asoleadero where the river is” he continues. “Exploring little by little to get to know the place… We started experimenting and eventually came to this format”. The result is National Geographic levels of picturesque. Entirely Instagram worthy without even trying.
Sunday was wrap day, and the natural river that serves as the heart of the resort is also central to the day’s activities. Festivalgoers floated upstream on rubber dinghy’s, inflatable unicorns and flamingos while Latin disco deep cuts play from the Asoleadero stage - a sound system mounted on a small island opposite the bank. People are sunbathing by the water whilst sipping on sipping on local mezcal cocktails and ice-cold beers. Vendors snake through sun worshipers on the bank carrying trays of drinks on their heads.
Nearby there’s a quaint little market teaming with funky merch, clothing and accessories from local boutiques and independent brands. You’ll also find authentic street food stalls to sample spiced lamb quesadillas, the freshest tacos, and grilled corn topped with cheese and crema fresca. Pair the market food with mezcal and lemonade on ice and the perfect riverside spot, it’s a scenic end to the carnival and a lovely way to ease off the hangovers from the last couple of days and make way for post carnival comedown.