Carnaval de Cádiz is said to be the third largest carnival celebration in the world after Rio de Janeiro and Trinidad…and it’s definitely something to witness. Carnaval usually takes place within the first 2 -3 weeks of February every year. I’ve attended carnaval in Cádiz, Lanzarote (Puerto del Carmen) and Sanlúcar and there are some things I wish I had known beforehand; continue reading below for insight on how to get the most out of your carnaval experience!
If if you had told me the amount of people who would be in Cádiz the Saturday of carnaval I wouldn’t have believed you. Every street in the city is packed with thousands of people and you’ll be pushing your way through crowds all night. If you hope to duck into a store or restaurant to use the restroom, forget about it! Your best option is to find a semi-concealed place between trashcans on the street or a dimly lit alley (so bring a pack of tissues ladies)! If you’re thinking of staying the night in city on the “Big Saturday” of carnaval you better try reserving accommodation a few months ahead of time because absolutely everything will be booked. People usually bring their own beer and liquor with them to drink in the streets (the locals call this action botellón). You’ll notice everyone has plastic bags full of Cruzcampo bottles, liquor and mixers; there are so many people drinking in public that the police don’t do anything about it (so I wouldn’t worry too much about getting in trouble for it).
One of my favorite things about carnaval are the costumes! Seeing a group of 30 smurfs is expected… a passing army of storm troopers complete with Delta-class DX-9 space ship won’t raise any eyebrows either. Carnaval is all about having fun, so expect to see some hilarious costumes in the streets! As with my recommendations for Carnaval in Sanlúcar de Barrameda; dress warmly and comfortably (otherwise you will freeze), do a “group” theme with your friends (like the locals), and don’t wear anything you care about (carnaval is such a hot mess…the streets are covered in piss and alcohol so don’t wear nice shoes).
The chirigotas are a big thing in Cádiz capitol (other pueblos in the province have them as well); Wikipedia defines chirigota as “a genre of Spanish choral folksong that are satirical in nature and performed in the streets by costumed performers during the annual two weeks of carnival”. Personally, it’s difficult for me to understand the jokes in the songs because they’re mostly about politicians and public figures that I’m not too familiar with, but it’s definitely something to see! You may have the chance to see some performances if you’re in Cadiz in the daytime during the week of carnaval. I’m always impressed by the intricate and detailed nature of the performer’s costumes and how in-sync the groups are as they perform together on stage. Something many people might not realize is that chirigotas were suppressed during the Franco dictatorship, but the gaditanos (people from Cádiz) have brought the tradition back full-force and better than ever! (also cross-dressing during carnaval is extremely common; check out the video below for one of my favorite performances from this year’s competition in Cádiz):
If you’re planning on going to Cádiz for Carnaval…
I think my first year I made the mistake of trying to go to carnaval in Cádiz just for the big night on Saturday. I took a bus from Sanlúcar at 6pm and returned the next day at 10am…around 5am in Cádiz people started forming lines at the train station/bus station and even though we had purchased a train ticket the day before, we ended up sitting on the floor of the train on the way back. If I were to do it all over again, I’d probably go to carnaval on a week day or Saturday during the daytime to see the parades/chirigotas and save the night celebrations for the Carnaval in Sanlúcar (less crowded). If you want to go to Cadiz for the night only (and don’t want to be stuck there until public transport starts at 8am), I’d recommend going with an organized group like Discover Excursions.
You can visit the local tourism department websites for Cádiz for next year’s carnaval dates and events!