Andalucía Fiesta Spain Travel

Cadiz Carnival: A Step-by-step Guide

February 13, 2013
Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

If there’s one festive tradition I’ve kept since moving to Spain, it is Cadiz’s Carnaval. Given that this year marked my hat-trick, I’d like to think that I now have a good case for assuming expertise on the anarchic event. Those of you that have been before know the drill. Those of you who haven’t will either have:

  1. Stayed away on purpose
  2. Not had the opportunity or enough ganas to actually make the trip or
  3. Have no idea what I’m going on about.

To the former, I understand your disaffection – it is no doubt to a certain extent justified and the likely reasons for it will be addressed. To the rest of you, allow me to guide you through the crammed and cluttered alleyways of Cadiz while giving you a thorough and honest step-by-step compendium of the unruly and manic street-thrash that is Carnaval.

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta, cathedral

Cadiz Cathedral

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

The Basics

The principle is simple. Turn up in a daft-looking costume and join the colourfully clad masses to form one giant, stumbling, booze-guzzling party monster that permeates Cadiz’s streets for an entire weekend.

The effects are simple too. Drinking from noon onwards in the company of hundreds of thousands of other similarly cracked and self-intoxicating socialites results in very blurry vision and widespread disorientation on an extraordinary level. It is sheer anarchy, on a colossal scale.

But what makes Cadiz Carnaval so fantastically different from any other fancy-dress blowout is its distinctly fertile imagination; costumes will often relate to trending and controversial news topics without even so much as a whiff of self-acknowledged ignominy. Though the event is best known for its chirigotas – satirical groups of performers who dress identically and serenade other revelers with witty refrains about politics, current affairs and everyday life. Each chirigota – whether made up of professionals, family members or friends – has a wide repertoire of songs and typically station themselves on steps or high walls where everyone can watch. Even if you don’t understand Spanish it’s not hard to tell that they’ve been practicing for weeks. It’s a pretty big deal.

What not to wear

The obvious answer here would of course be ‘normal clothes’. Though there’s a lot more to it than that. Skimpy t-shirts/shorts/vests/ generally anything that shows a bit too much skin is a massive no-no. As a rookie, you’d be forgiven for turning up dressed in your used-once-only-at-Uni Baywatch costume – we are in Spain after all – but Cadiz is an island, and – during the winter – pummelled by winds from both the Atlantic and Mediterranean. In other words it’s fucking freezing. Lose the Speedos and take the Top Gear jumpsuit instead.

Now earlier I alluded to there potentially being several downsides to Carnaval. Well there are, although in my humble opinion these are far outweighed by the upsides. A major one of these downsides, however, is the matter of answering to nature. Obviously, it is less of an issue for boys than girls, owing to the relative ease with which we can find a deserted and already piss-strewn doorway. Not that I’m condoning the act – there is just simply no alternative. Girls face a much more problematic task, though I tend not to ask where and how. At any rate, by the early hours the streets are absolutely inundated with pure liquid gold, so do not wear shitty €3 pumps bought from a chino if you’d like your feet to remain dry and pee-free. A sturdy set of trainers/boots are the way to go.

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

What to bring

If you should decide to take a bag, or have been involuntarily appointed inebriant-keeper for the day/night, you will no doubt be wondering how to keep weight down. First off, pack extra alcohol. Decanting spirits from glass bottles into plastic ones and then mixing with coke will significantly reduce the load by a few kgs. Also take plastic cups and don’t forget those emergency beers either. Now that the important part’s taken care of, cram a hoody (and an extra pair of socks if you actually did buy some shitty €3 chino pumps) and plenty of munchies in there and you’re all set.

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Last year’s Edward Scissorhands costume was part of the ‘Tim Burton’s characters’ theme. Bumped into this fella whose hands were a lot better than mine.

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Tweedledum never did find Tweedledee

Who not to go with

  • People that are likely to constantly whine, moan and walk about with a face like a smacked arse. It will only massively piss you off and probably ruin your night.
  • Mates that just want to get their end away – you’ll rapidly lose patience with them and wind up storming off and then feeling guilty when the next day you find out that they spent the rest of the night alone.
  • Scroungers. They’ll slurp all that boozy-goodness up and you’ll be left tipple-less before you know it.
Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

A mere drop in the litter-laden ocean

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

How not to get lost

Forget phones. If the signal isn’t jammed then actually managing to meet someone somewhere via your mobile when lost is futile – nobody knows where the smeg anything is when there’s that many people about. If truth be told, keeping all your troops in tow for the event’s entirety is a rare feat. This year, my band of merrymakers and I began as a mere threesome and thankfully ended as one, though we had for several hours in between been part of a much larger brigade. Of the hazy memories in my first year, I can recall wandering alone for what I thought had been about fifteen minutes. Next day my friend told me I had been lost for almost three hours. So this year’s result was definitely a better one.

Getting lost or losing friends at Carnaval is inevitable, unless, as I have now learnt, you decide to create a group theme so original that it would be impossible to lose each other. Take these happy carousers for example:

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Favourite of the night!

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Also rather impressive

And I think that just about covers it. I suppose my final word of advice would be to just make sure that if you’re going to do Carnaval then do it properly, and accept it for what it is. There’s nothing refined or pretentious about Carnaval – it is a no holds barred, debauched and raucous piss-up which in its latter stages is unreservedly disgusting. But it is one of the most epic fancy dress parties on the planet. And that’s surely worth investigating isn’t it?

Cadiz, carnaval, carnival, spain, party, fiesta

Have you ever been to Carnaval in Cadiz or any other larger-than-life fancy dress street party? What did you think? Would you go back?

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  • Cat of Sunshine and Siestas February 14, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I am totally the whiny type, so I stay home. By 3am, I’m tired of stepping on broken glass and getting peed on!

    • Josh February 15, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Yeah it does get a little tiresome. Just best not to look down I find!

  • tsuhelm February 14, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Am definitely a 2 – no money – wife is also a factor and after being left with kids it could well be my last trip on earth but maybe worth it!
    My first night solo in Cadiz was the last night of Carnaval in 2006 (or 7! life in Cadiz can be blurry), was amazing experience and I have vowed to do it again only this time with friends. Solo was a confusing affair, even after half a year a night of slight indulgence was enough to addle internal map of Cadiz, the little alleys move around I’m sure. Now fill those alleys up with piss heads, sorry, party goers, all constantly flowing back and forth in huge tidal surges, watch out for dangerous undercurrents and try not to get stuck in whirlpools of beer N wine.
    Final piece of advice: Get really lost, start getting scared, just go straight in any direction. Cadiz is on a peninsula, old part where the Carnaval is, is on the end, you have to be blind drunk and amazingly unlucky to make it to the new part without hitting the sea. Use this to always find your way again.

    • Josh February 15, 2013 at 8:35 pm

      Cheers for chipping in! You were very brave to tackle Carnaval solo – I expect that is an even better experience! It eliminates the possibility of losing friends all together!

  • Bill S January 5, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I’m writing a fiction piece in which Carnaval in Cadiz is a scene. I have a hazy memory of a witch burning on the beach late one night. Can anyone tell me the name and/or website for research – it’s a tradition in Cadiz I believe. Thanks in advance.
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    • Josh January 9, 2015 at 11:20 am

      If I knew Bill I would tell you. Sorry! Good luck though, sounds terrifying!

  • Bill S January 5, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    To anyone who’s interested…the burning at the end of Carnaval in Cadiz is the burning of the Greek god Momo – the personification of sarcasm and patron of writers. Appropriate given the anture of Carnaval in Cadiz.
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