Carnaval is a big deal over here in Spain. I guess to get a better understanding of it, we can say it’s like our Mardi Gras, but with a Halloween feel! The two biggest places to celebrate Carnaval in Spain are either in Cádiz or the Canary Islands. This year, I made a point to travel to Cádiz for the big party and experience what all the hype was about. Carnaval in Spain is celebrated about two weeks before Lent starts. Those two weeks are filled with partying, indulging, and a lot of music. The celebration that takes place in Cádiz is known to be one of the largest celebrations in the world! Seriously, I’ve been told people book their hostels/hotel rooms and tickets a year in advance! I am a bit of a procrastinator and the boyfriend and I didn’t book our hostel until about three weeks before we decided to go… oops. It’s real, y’all, the prices for hostel and hotel rooms are EXTREMELY inflated during the two weekends that Carnaval takes place!
The festival is celebrated a bit differently in Cádiz than in other areas. The “Gaditanos” (people from Cádiz) are known to be very loud, funny, and great company to have while drinking! The festival is centered around singing groups called “chirigotas” who compete in the Gran Teatro Falla in Cádiz every year. The “chirigotas” are made up of Gaditanos. These singing groups sing satire about Spain’s politics, pop stars, and even mocking politicians! If you don’t speak Spanish, or are even learning Spanish, it’s a bit hard to understand them. They sing extremely fast, talking about pop culture in Spain, use a lot of colloquial words/slang, and even specific words only people from Cádiz would know! A lot of Spaniards who aren’t Gaditanos have told me that even for them, it’s very difficult to understand what the chirigotas are singing about!
While planning the trip to Cádiz, a lot of people told me that the best and safest option was to take a bus there for the party and return early in the morning at 6am the next day. It sounds crazy, right? This is actually pretty normal! A lot of Spaniards and even foreigners book bus tickets that arrive into Cádiz around 8pm (they’ve already been drinking on the bus), they stay for the main party at night, and then leave again on their bus back to their respective towns around 5am or 6am. My suggestion is: skip the bus and stay a night in the area. The big all-nighter party is usually Saturday night, but if you leave early the next morning, you’ll miss out on the bigger day on Sunday!
Here are some tips to celebrating Carnaval in Cádiz safely and successfully (AND ON A BUDGET)!
- BOOK EARLY!!
If you know you’re interested in going to Cádiz to celebrate Carnaval, book your hostel or hotel early! I’ve been told that most Spaniards will book their hostels/hotels months in advance; and the Gaditanos buy their tickets to the Chirigotas singing contest, in the Gran Teatro Falla, one year in advance! I’d recommend booking your hostel/hotel/or Air BnB at least a month to two months ahead of time, to ensure the lowest rates.The city of Cádiz is a tiny area, so once spaces run out, they definitely run out. The boyfriend and I actually booked our Air BnB in another town outside of Cádiz called Puerto Real. It’s about a 15 minute drive into Cádiz, but you can also take the cercanías (similar to the metro) into the city, which takes about 25-30 minutes.
- Find a group to go with
Carnaval is one of those parties/festivals that is much more fun if you’re traveling and celebrating with a bigger group! Walking around the streets you can find the majority of group costumes, for example: Snow White and her seven dwarves, a bunch of pirates, Minnie Mouses, police officers, etc. You don’t have to have a group costume if y’all can’t agree on something, but having a group to go with will make it more fun during the big party!
- A costume is a must!
The option of not wearing a costume isn’t actually an option. Kick your self-consciousness to the curb and do something ridiculous! Costumes in Cádiz aren’t very “showy” or revealing, but rather witty, clever, or funny. There are also a lot of people who choose to make their own costumes and a lot of men who cross dress like women. Get creative and clever and see what you can come up with! One of my favorite costumes we saw was a group of fishermen. On their fishing line, as bait, were pink penises!! I didn’t even notice it until one of them decided to start waving their “bait” around me and my friends to see if they could catch any “fish”!
- Ladies, if you’re planning on carrying purses, DON’T
Although Carnaval is supposed to be a fun and funny festival, it does attract some interesting people. Before heading to the festival, a lot of my co-workers and parents of private lessons told me to be careful while I was there and to watch my things. The city is small, and during this festival, there are so many Spaniards and foreigners that come to celebrate that it does bring some pretty sketchy people. Besides carrying my purse, I opted for a backpack with drawstrings and a flap, which makes it harder for pickpockets to reach in and take anything from me!The boyfriend and I were on our way back to our Air BnB to change for the party and a couple we found told us that their niece had her phone stolen just minutes before getting on the train! So, always be conscious of your belongings!
- Fellas, keep a watchful eye
As much as the ladies need to be careful with their bags, this also goes the same for the fellas. It’s easy to put your phone or wallet in your back pocket and not take note of it later. Like I said before, always be conscious of your belongings!!
- Pack your drunk munchies
This is something the boyfriend and I generally do. We always try to travel on a budget anywhere we go and find the best deals or smartest ways to travel. Y’all know that if you’re having a few drinks here and there, the drunk munchies start to creep in! Also, I have a nasty habit of ALWAYS wanting to buy food after we finish partying, this usually ends up with me looking at my wallet the next day and wondering how I could’ve spent 20€ on food for myself the night before!This time, we packed our own drunk munchies! We quickly stopped into a grocery store before we headed out for the party and made our own ham and cheese sandwiches. We packed them up in a plastic bag and the sandwiches fit perfectly into my backpack. After the party ended, all of our friends went to buy food, but we ended up saving about 10-15€ by packing our drunk munchies beforehand!
- Come to Cádiz early
We decided to come to Cádiz a bit earlier on Saturday to have lunch in the city and do a bit of sightseeing. I really recommend coming a bit earlier to walk around, get to know the city a bit, and you can people watch everyone in costumes and day drinking! The city itself is really beautiful (and warm, even in February!) and before the mayhem broke out, we were able to see a bit of what Cádiz offers besides just Carnaval.I also recommend to stay the night on Saturday and head back into the city on Sunday. Although Saturday is the night is the bigger party, Sunday is when the city fills with so many people who are enjoying the music from the Chirigotas. I think on Sunday it was even more crowded than Saturday night! The streets are crowded with Chirigotas singing at random street corners, Chirigotas riding in large floats being pulled by tractors, and a lot of people enjoying the festival and drinking/socializing. It’s a great ambiance to get more of a feel for the culture of Carnaval!
If you celebrated Carnaval in Cádiz, what was your experience like? I do have to mention, being Asian and walking around the party was a bit intense… Everyone was drunk and definitely making some very interesting comments, but that is for a later post! Also, enjoy this short video I compiled of our trip to Cádiz! (: Happy travels, y’all!