For two weeks in Cádiz, Spain, Carnaval takes over the streets of the city. I went this weekend, and it was an experience to say the least. Here are some tips on how to survive Carnaval at night:
- Wear a costume. If you don’t wear a costume you’re going to look like a weirdo who didn’t get the memo. It’s very popular for groups of locals to all dress up as the same thing. We saw a giant group of old men dressed as Donald Trump, trashy looking wigs and all. You certainly don’t need to go out and buy a costume, but you really do have to dress up. I wore all black, put my hair in two mini buns, drew some whiskers on my face, and called myself a cat. I spent zero dollars and a lot of time scrubbing eyeliner off my cheeks, but it passed as a costume!
- Get drunk. Usually I’m a supporter of the mentality of “I don’t need alcohol to have fun,” but here, it’s different. Unless you enjoy being pushed around in a giant crowd of people while sober, I would highly recommend that you get drunk. When I first arrived at Carnaval, I was dead sober. Wrong move people. At night (at least the night that I went) there’s no music, no activities; just a bunch of people standing around in costumes getting drunk. Much more enjoyable with a little alcohol. Also you won’t pay as much attention to how dirty the streets are if you’re intoxicated which is an added bonus.
- Buy alcohol before arriving. Luckily my friends and I did one thing right, and it was pre-buying our booze. Go to some grocery store or Chino (not being racist, that’s actually what they call sketchy supermarkets run by Chinese people here) and buy some cheap liquor and mixers before you get to Carnaval. There are places to buy alcohol at the event, but it’s likely more expensive, and you’ll have to spend 70 minutes pushing your way through a mob of people to get anywhere.
- Wear close-toed shoes. At night, people throw their empty liquor and beer bottles on the grounds of the streets, because it’s just too logical to throw them in the trash. So unfortunately, there’s a TON of broken glass all over the streets. Not to mention, the streets are eternally sticky from the gallons of spilled alcohol. Also, watch out for plastic bags. People throw them on the ground and I swear they try to grab hold of your ankles and pull you down to get trampled.
- Don’t bring ANYTHING valuable. People are packed into the streets like sardines, and if you have anything of value, you’re bound to lose it or get it stolen. My friend had her wallet inside of her zipped purse and it either got lost or stolen throughout the course of the night. I would highly recommend ONLY bringing your keys, a little cash stashed somewhere safe, and alcohol of your choice.
- Take public transportation. If you’re staying outside of the city, like I did, take public transportation if at all possible. My group stayed in a little city called El Puerto de Santa María about a twenty-five minute taxi ride away from Cádiz. Cádiz is actually an island, so you can take a ferry there for about 2 euros. It’s about a twenty minute boat ride and is a super cute experience. There are also trains running from the suburbs to Carnaval during the night, but they don’t run from 12-4 AM. So plan on staying out late, unless you want to spend 35 euros on a taxi.
- Prepare yourself for… cultural differences… There were some very off-putting costumes from my viewpoint as an American. I think the ideas of what is socially acceptable and culturally appropriate here are very different than those of America. I saw a lot people dressed in Native American chief outfits, stereotypical Asian clothes with their faces painted yellow, and even black-face makeup. The people in this picture were dressed in “Asian” attire and were carrying signs that said “Lestaulante,” like Restaurante but with L’s instead of R’s. The menus consisted of pictures of puppies and kitties. Needless to say, none of these costumes would fly in the states, so all of us Americans were very taken aback by them. However I think there are a lot of cultural differences in this aspect. I’m sure it’s not meant in a racist way because Spain doesn’t have quite to history of exploiting these groups of people like the United States does, but definitely acknowledge that costumes like these are normal here and aren’t meant to offend people.
- Go during the day! If you’re not a huge crowd person, like myself, or want to experience more activities and cultural events, go to Carnaval during the day. There are tons of families walking around during the day, and there are different singers, performers, and more planned activities to do during the day. People are still dressed up, but it’s not absurd to wear normal clothes during the daytime.
- Get away from the crowds and visit the beach. The beaches in Cádiz are famous for being some of the best, and they certainly live up to their reputation. Take a walk along the beach no matter if it’s suntanning weather or not, because they really are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so blue before.
- Stay in one of the neighboring cities. I honestly had the most fun staying in El Puerto de Santa María out of the whole trip. It’s a super cute little beach city with lots of affordable bars and restaurants along the river. The locals are very friendly and are willing to give out restaurant recommendations. For being a smaller city, it actually had great nightlife too. We found a bar/discoteca called Blue where we managed to crash a bachelor party. Felicitaciones al novio!
While some of my tips may seem a little sarcastic and critical, I did still have fun at Carnaval. Just know what to expect going in, come prepared (DRUNK) if you’re going at night, and make sure you bring lots of friends and stick with them!