Spanish Fiesta? Si por favor!


Clutching to the tip of the peninsular, the old town of Cadiz in Andalucía, is a quaint, ancient centre brimming with delicious succulent seafood and is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement. Visitors are lured by the town’s tidy plazas and snug cobble streets, not to mention the handful of churches and sights that won’t break the bank.

The Andalusian beaches that crash around the townships perimeter, lure travellers to its icy Atlantic waters in the stifling summers, but there is one event in the height of winter that only the locals seem to know about. Cadiz City Carnival. An imitation of Venice’s famed Carnival, Cadiz turns into one big party for the month of February – a light hearted and unique fiesta that has the whole city involved.

As soon as the winter sunlight begins to dim, music vibrates and pulses on every corner as revellers add final touches on their ‘tipos’ (fancy dress costumes). The heart, soul and creativity of everyone involved results in a dazzling livelihood of amusing and satirical and obligatory costumes. Cadiz Carnival is one of the most eagerly awaited events in the city and most fun-filled and entertaining of all Spanish carnivals.

It was my turn to get into the spirit of things and do as the locals do. I had found my dream costume only days before whilst exploring the picturesque town on Rhonda. I wanted something that would be warm and protect me against the harsh winter elements and there it was. A fat stripper costume. It was a fat suit with bulging arms and legs. With more tyres than the Michelin Man and an overhanging gut with saggy boobs complete with a gstring and see through negligée. It was hilarious. When I saw it, I knew it was perfect.

I started getting ready at 2pm. I had to allow plenty of time for all the makeup which of course was to be heavy and trashy. My blonde wig was securely on and my fat stripper costume was already doing its job of keeping me toasty warm against the sharp Atlantic winds fiercely whipping the coast. As we neared the fiesta, there were floats and drag queens galore.  Everyone was dressed up and colourful and the atmosphere was electric.

Glittering bright lights and thousands of people all in festive mood were screaming, cheering, dancing and singing and just on a natural high. Breathing space in the huddled streets was non-existent. It was crushing. Rows of floating lanterns zigzagged across the streets as Venetian masks swung from trees and small homemade floats squeezed through the tight streets.

Hundreds of festival go-ers in the main square of Cadiz
Hundreds of festival go-ers in the main square of Cadiz

At every turn there was dancing, singing, clapping to the beat of bongo drums. The fun everyone seemed to be experiencing was abetted by huge quantities of alcohol. There were bars with patrons overflowing out on to the streets. This was a true Spanish fiesta. It was pouring with rain but no spirits were dampened, just a lot of soggy costumes and ruined make up. The locals treated you like they’d known for years. Everyone wants photos of you and with you.

There were bands thumping, matadors pretending to have bull fights with shopping trolleys, people somehow sliding through the crowds on skis! There were Supermans, Spidermans, Batmans, Where’s Wally, Mexicans, Sponge Bob, Duffman, Cross Dressers, Transvestites, people dressed as Death, nuns, flamenco dancers, matadors, adult sized babies in oversized nappies with dummies, doctors carrying a fake body on a stretcher, Vikings, people dressed as street signs, msn messenger icons, people who painted themselves to be Jamaicans, Shrek and Fiona, oriental costumes, policeman, fireman, bees, lady beetles, giraffes, tigers, Elvis, cowboys-girls, the list just goes on and on it was just unbelievable!

The plaza leading to the main cathedral oozed with bopping party goers. Sprawled all over the steps and in the vast square, would have to have been a good couple of thousand people. It was so spectacular – it was crazy! People crafted their own music and entertainment and were just having the time of their lives! Smurfs, seven dwarfs, Cinderella’s, priests, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, crash test dummies.

Dancing in the streets
Dancing in the streets

Exploring the buzzing streets, we shadowed the Spaniards and joined in the action attaching ourselves to human trains and conga lines through the crooked streets, dancing, clapping and singing. A spacious park opened before us on the waterfront surrounded by cars with their music pumping. The Spaniards were all having a bit of a boogie and creating their own random dance parties. There were even more people here than at the first square!

People were in trees, climbing on statues, running around and just loving life. We walked along the old wall in search of beachside action despite the pouring rain and the freezing temperatures. It seemed like nothing was too much for this nation of party goers. Bonfires dotted the wet sandy shore with silhouetted bodies bumping and grinding along to uber cool flamenco tunes while fellow gatherers cheered and clapped on. Those who were becoming weary created make-shift shelters by overturning boats and seeking solace under jetties.

4 am – the streets were still electric with action. Come 7am, it was like a cease fire. A few people were stumbling around, but the majority just vanished. I don’t know where to, but everyone was just gone. It was suddenly like an eerie ghost town. The narrow streets were deserted but overflowing with garbage. Broken glass crackled beneath your feet and the odour of sewage assaulted your senses. Small street sweepers whirred into life as fire hydrants were used to wash down the alleys and monuments, the heavy rain still relentlessly slapping the cobblestones. It was like a vivid dream. Suddenly over. Did we really just experience one of the most amazing Carnivals in all of Spain or did we just wake up? The glamour, zest and zazzle of such a fiery fiesta is one to be experienced to be believed.

More locals
More locals

Looking for more Festivals? Download the Crooked Compass Travel App for further inspiration.