The song uses a type of clave.
Cisneros had arranged for a local flamenco teacher, Diana Patricia Cubillán Herrera, to do a small performance for the guests, and Los Del Rio were pleasantly surprised by Cubillán's dance skills. Spontaneously, Romero recited the song's chorus-to-be on the spot, as an accolade to Cubillán, but naming her "Ma'dalena" (Magdalena): "Dale a tu cuerpo alegría, Ma'dalena, que tu cuerpo e' pa' darle alegría y cosa' buena'" ("Give your body some joy, Magdalene, 'cause your body is for giving joy and good things too"). In Andalusian culture labeling a woman "Magdalena" is to give her a faint association with Mary Magdalene's reportedly seedy past, and more accurately describes her as being sassy or sensuous.
Romero saw potential in the improvised rhyme and, back at their hotel, the duo came up with the basic structure of the song. Since "Magdalena" was also the title of another song by Mexican-Spanish singer Emmanuel quite popular at the time, Romero suggested that they use "Macarena" instead which, besides being part of one of his daughters name, is a popular name in Andalusia, given its association with the Virgin of the Macarena, the incarnation of the Virgin Mary that is a patroness of Seville's barrio La Macarena. The Virgin-Magdalene dichotomy probably explains the rest of the lyrics: a song about a young woman, the girlfriend of a recent recruit to the Spanish Army named Victorino (whose name may be inspired from a kind of bull with long horns, evoking the cornudo, or male victim of his partner's infidelity, a mental image common in Spanish and Latin American culture), who celebrates his drafting by hooking up with two of his male friends. Macarena has a weakness for males in uniform, spending summers at Marbella, and dreams of shopping at El Corte Inglés (the major Spanish department store chain), moving to New York City and getting a new boyfriend.
The song was originally recorded in 1992, and released in 1993 as a rumba. This was the first of six versions of the song that can be associated to Los Del Rio. Another version, a new flamenco rumba pop fusion theme with fully Spanish lyrics, attained significant success in Spain and Mexico. It also became popular in Puerto Rico because of its use as an unofficial campaign theme song for then-governor Pedro Rosselló, who was seeking reelection under the New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico's ticket. Being the base for many cruise ships, many visitors to the island were constantly exposed to the song during their stay in Puerto Rico. This may explain how the song spread to — and became a smash hit in — cities with sizeable Latino communities in the United States, particularly Miami and New York City.
After being remixed by the Bayside Boys and having English lyrics added, it became a worldwide hit in summer 1996. The single spent 14 weeks at number one on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, one of the longest runs atop the Hot 100 chart in history. During its heyday, the song was played frequently at professional athletic games, rallies, conventions, and other places. The Macarena remained popular through 1996, but by the end of 1997, its popularity had diminished greatly. The song also broke records at the time by remaining in the Hot 100 chart for 60 weeks. The Bayside Boys remix includes a sample from Yazoo (also known in the United States as Yaz) track Situation - the laughter of Yazoo vocalist Alison Moyet.
The song was also covered by Los del Mar, which was first released in 1995 and then again at the same time as the original in the United Kingdom and Australia in the hope of fooling people into buying their version by mistake. In the UK it missed the top 40 but the Los del Rio version peaked at number two. However, in Australia, the Los del Mar version peaked at number two whilst the Los del Rio version was still at number one. In Canada, however, the Los del Mar version was quite popular on MuchMusic and top 40 radio in the spring of 1995, eclipsing the later popularity of the original.
As of 1997, the song had sold 11 million copies. While only having a 25% take in royalties from the song, Romero and Ruiz became immensely wealthy. According to the BBC News Service, during the year 2003 alone — a full decade after the song's initial release — Romero and Ruiz made USD $250,000 in royalties. Julio Iglesias is quoted as congratulating the duo personally: "My success singing in English from Miami is nothing compared to yours; coming out of Dos Hermanas with little international exposure elsewhere and selling these many records in Spanish takes two huge sets of cojones."
The song was associated with a distinctive fast dance. The song originally had no dance, and it eventually caught on with the rest of the world. The Macarena dance is performed in time with the refrain of the song. To perform the dance,
An alternative version of the dance replaces the pelvic rotation with a series of pelvic thrusts, as shown in the video for Los del Rio's recording of the song.