Cadiz Carnival 2019
How to do Andalucia’s most OTT street party in comfort and style
It’s Carnival in Rio meets Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a uniquely Spanish twist.
Cities all over mainland Spain shake a sequinned tail feather in the lead-up to Lent but nowhere out-razzledazzles Carnaval de Cadiz.
Cadiz Carnival Dates 2019:
February 28-March 10
For 11 days and nights over February/March - depending when Easter falls - this enchanting Andalusian seaside city is filled with colourful floats and elaborately-costumed street performers acting out satirical comedy skits set to music, song and dance.
The festival is five centuries old and takes its cue from Venice Carnival. It was introduced by Italian merchants during the Golden Age of Spain when all the treasures from its New World colonies came through the Port of Cadiz.
The performances by over 300 groups of artists are X Factor-slick. They rehearse all year for a big song contest which climaxes with a televised ticket-only Grand Final on the eve of Carnaval. Then they take their compositions into the streets so everyone has a chance to enjoy them.
There are two carnival parades, all the best gastronomy is on show and the final wrap party is marked by fireworks and the burning of a symbolic witch.
If you don’t speak Spanish you probably won’t get the jokes but you DO have to like being part of a deafening, jostling, boozy crowd. If that’s you, scroll straight to What to Wear and Programme Highlights.
7 Ways to Avoid the Cadiz Carnival Crowds
If, like us, you’re a bit put off by queues for loos and nowhere to park or sit, read on.
1. Go for the second weekend
It’s just as much fun but way less crowded than the first weekend, when the Old Town is a human traffic jam of locals and visitors from all over the world. The action starts from midday over both weekends when you will hopefully enjoy some of the region’s glorious winter sunshine.
2. Go on a week night
From the Tuesday to Friday the city returns to work so you can do the sights comfortably during the day and get back into carnival mood after dark – there’s loads going on.
3. Go for Mini Carnival
This year there’s an unofficial extra day to enjoy the festivities – Carnaval Chiquito on Sunday March 17, a great opportunity to enjoy the colour and spectacle in comfort.
4. Go by train
Don’t even think about driving in the Old Town during Carnival Fortnight. Many roads are closed, underground car parks are rammed and forget all about on-street parking.
The solution? Catch a train. They run almost hourly to Cadiz from Jerez de la Frontera and several other beach towns along the Costa de la Luz including El Puerto de Santa María, San Fernando and Puerto Real . The journey takes a max 35-to-40 minutes and you don’t have to worry about drink-driving. Check train times
5. Go by boat
A regular catamaran service plies between to Cadiz and El Puerto de Santa Maria or Rota. The journey across the Bay of Cadiz takes 30 minutes.
6. Stay Elsewhere
You’ll pay more for a Cadiz hotel at carnival time - and that’s if you can find a vacancy. It makes sense to stay in Jerez or one of the other towns with a rail or ferry connection where you are more likely to pay low or shoulder-season rates.
7. Book Early
Sound advice if you do want to be on the doorstep of the action. Cadiz hotels start taking bookings a whole year ahead. Make sure it’s located in the Old Town, which lies at the tip of a 7km isthmus, otherwise it’s a taxi ride or a long walk.
What to wear for Cadiz Carnival
It’s not obligatory but if you go sin disfraz – without disguise - you’ll feel like an outsider. There are cheap Chino stores all over Spain where you can buy masks, wigs and more complete getups. If you’re in a group it’s fun to wear matching costumes.
Cadiz temperatures in February range from a sizzling record high of 25C to a nippy night-time low of 3.2C .
You’ll be on your feet for hours as even bar and restaurant seats are in big demand.
What to Eat
Sea urchins, crispy shrimp fritters, spit-roasted sardines, fried bread with cod roe, fried fish and cured meats are top carnival cuisine to try.
Where to see it
It all happens in the streets and main squares of the Old Town and around the Central Market in the Barrio de la Viña. There’s also a marquee at the Puerto América leisure marina which rocks until la madrugada (early hours).
What you’ll see
You’ll come across 6 groups of performers during this anarchic celebration, playing all kinds of medieval instruments like lutes, kazoos, reed whistles and gourds.
Chirigotas The knockabout comedians and satirists who perform in groups of 10, sending up public figures and topical issues with inventive lyrics and gags.
Comparsas The most serious songsters, they perform more elaborate pasadoble arrangements in groups of 15 max, employing wit and irony rather than slapstick.
Choros The choirs feature up to 35 performers. They parade through the city on floats accompanied by lutes and guitars.
Cuartetos The smallest of the groups, these musical comedians go about in foursomes acting out skits.
Romanceros Solo performers who often carry comic signs to explain what they're singing about.
Ilegales Amateur singing groups who don't compete in the contest, often made up of families or workmates.
Cadiz Carnival Programme Highlights 2019
Thursday February 28
Carnival lights switch-on, 22.00
Friday, March 1
COAC Song Contest Grand Final, Gran Teatro Falla. Stay up until dawn watching the action on a big screen outside the theatre in Plaza Fragela. Afterwards everyone goes for breakfast and then to bed to rest up for the big night ahead. If you don’t have the staying power don’t worry – all the acts are reprised in the streets.
Saturday March 2
Battle of the Coplas. Choirs on floats perform around the Central Market from 14.00.
Official Carnival Opening. In 2019 poet and singer-songwriter Joaquín Sabina will do the honours in Plaza de San Antonio, 20.30. Break out your fancy dress and join in.
Daytime. The buzz focuses around the Central Market from 12.30.
The Big Carnival Parade. Pick any stretch of the Avenida Principal to watch this eye-popping procession of floats, costumes and outrageous acts, starting 17.30.
Fireworks at San Sebastian Castle, 11.30pm.
Monday March 4
Hangover Monday. It’s a public holiday in Cadiz and you can catch more riotous action day and night.
Tuesday March 5
Burning of the Carnival God Momo, the personification of satire and irony, Plaza de San Antonio, 21.00. Saturday March 9
Daytime. A celebration of the city’s famous fried fish adds a gastronomic slant to Carnival.
The Comic Parade features the most humorous groups and starts around 22.30
The festivities draw to a close with the burning of the witch Piti on La Caleta beach and fireworks from San Sebastián Castle.
Sunday March 17
Carnaval Chiquito A mini version of Carnaval from midday onwards provides a more laid-back chance to enjoy the spectacle before it packs up for another year.
Pick up a programme from the tourist office, mapped below
Future Cadiz Carnival Dates
If you’re too late for this year’s event, why not book up now for next year?
Carnival 2020 February 20 – March 1
Check out future dates here.
Where else to see Carnival in Cadiz Province
There are carnival events going on in most towns and villages of the province. Check them out here.