What You Should Know About Carnaval in Spain

by Sojourner

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Colorful costumes, big bottles of Don Simon Sangría, and endless singing crowds, only signals one thing: Carnaval season!

From Latin America to Asia, this month is full of parades, dancing, satirical plays, and more, before the Lenten season. Though it has Roman Catholic roots, people pretty much let loose in socially unacceptable clothing before renouncing some luxuries for Lent.

In other words, it’s wild. And my experiences in Spain were no exception.

My first Carnaval was during study abroad in Cádiz where I stayed up until 5am in the rain. Mind you, the bus dropped me off at the venue 4pm the day before and I didn’t pack nearly enough food. I was tired, soaked, and hungry by 2am. I also saw people pee on porch stoops for the first time #memories.

I was more responsible the 2nd time in Logroño and slept. However, it should be noted that each country experience is different. Thus, I’ve put together a list of what you should know, pack, and do during Carnaval in Spain.

Carry a water bottle and food

Even though wine is cheaper than water, Carnaval is not the time to be on a water diet. Spain is known for their wine concoctions such as sangria, kalimotxo (Coca-Cola and wine), and tinto de verano (wine and Sprite). Balancing your drinks with water, and packing snacks like chips, can help you avoid a massive hangover and enjoy the full Carnaval experience. Stay hydrated out there!

Wear a costume and shoes you don’t care about

Carnaval is like Halloween for Spaniards, so everyone and their Señora gets excited for the costumes. I’ve seen groups dressed as Lacasitos or sperm (yes, that bodily fluid) in Cádiz, a couple as WhatsApp messages, and much more.  Get creative or keep it simple, your choice, but just do something! Also, don’t wear your best shoes because there will be crowds of people who will either 1) step on your toes or 2) accidentally spill wine on you. Anything goes during Carnaval in Spain.

Brace yourself for blackface at Carnaval in Spain

While I love most aspects of Spanish culture, this isn’t one of them. Similar to some in the U.S. during Halloween, and even those in The Netherlands who celebrate “Black Pete,” there are Spaniards who just can’t dress up as *insert Black celebrity,* without blackface. I don’t recommend berating someone about it while drunk at Carnaval, because they probably won’t remember it either, however protect your peace and avoid them if you can.

Blackface in Spain is a deeper issue into their oppression and discrimination of African immigrants that I may enlist in some help to write about in the future. It’s not my personal story, but a clear issue. Stay tuned.

Bathroom lines are great for making new friends

When people are having a good time, it’s easier to start casual conversations during Carnaval in Spain. I’ve made quick friends while waiting for food, and in bathroom stalls when I needed toilet paper from the person next to me. Even if you’re only friends for a night, try putting yourself out there. Just make sure you befriend people without blackface…

Bus to the venue and nap

Make sure you rest up before the celebration begins! Siesta time (around 2 to 5pm), or on your way to the festivities via bus, are the best opportunities to nap if you can’t in your own bed. Spaniards live up to the stereotype of staying out all night, and Carnaval is no exception.

Bring your own bottle and drink responsibly

It’s not required to drink, however there will be alcohol consumption everywhere during Carnaval in Spain. Most people buy big plastic bottles of tinto de verano, or sangria, and drink it throughout the festivities. Some stores may be open, but Carnaval can get rowdy and they may close their doors sooner rather than later. Live your life and do what you wish with your body. But be cautious, careful, and understand your limits.


  • “Party stores” aren’t necessarily in every city. When looking for a costume, try a Baazaar (which they will call a “Chino,” another topic for a later date).
  • To get to the Carnaval destination of your choice (especially if you’re going to Cadiz), try looking for the Erasmus “Carnaval promotion” on Facebook. It’s cheap and includes food and alcohol. It’s basically a party bus of locals and study abroad students all going to Carnaval too.
  • If you’re living with a host mom/family, let them know you won’t be returning for awhile. It’s common courtesy and you don’t want them worrying about where you’re at!

Carnaval is not for everyone, especially if you aren’t a “party person.” It can be daunting to stay up throughout the night, and overwhelming to be around large crowds of people for hours outside. However, it’s another way for my favorite part of life abroad: cultural immersion! Try it out, you never know what’ll happen. ​


Thanks for reading!! To be prepared every year, PIN it below for later!

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