Spring is coming, which means that the festival and parade season is snapping at its heels. Don’t feel that it’s Rio or bust if you’re looking for a street-based celebration in the first quarter of the year, though. Point yourself towards Miami’s Little Havana district this March 12th and you’ll find the 40th annual Calle Ocho festival, one of the largest celebrations of Pan-American culture in the world.
Running each year since 1978, Calle Ocho is the culminating event of Carnival Miami, a 10-day celebration for the city’s sizable Hispanic population that will run from March the 3rd until Calle Ocho closes the event. Named after the street in which the festivities take place (Miami’s SW 8th Street – or Calle Ocho to Spanish speakers), over a million people are expected to pile into the streets and dance the night away to the sound of salsa, as well as merrily munch their way through countless treats provided by hundreds of street food vendors and corporate sponsors. With 19 blocks in the district closed down to accommodate the party, there’s little point in even trying to avoid the fun.
The Kiwanas Club arranges Calle Ocho, and indeed the entire Miami carnival. A charitable organisation dedicated to assisting underprivileged children in the community, The Kiwanas Club provide food, school supplies and summer camps to the young people that need it most. Corporate sponsors fall over themselves to get involved in such a case, including McDonalds, Coca-Cola and – fittingly, given the locale– Bacardi.
So, what actually happens at Calle Ocho? You’ll see couples, families and individuals dancing in the street. You’ll hear Latin musicians of every possible genre entertaining the assembled masses with a selection of salsa, hip hop, jazz and reggae. You’ll eat a variety of Cuban and Caribbean delicacies, with samples and sales on every possible corner. And most importantly, you’ll get the experience the pride that these Miamians take in their heritage, with just about every attendee celebrating together while draped in a flag that denotes their country of origin.
Why not make a real holiday if your trip to Miami by taking in the entire carnival? You’ll get to enjoy the Miss Miami beauty pageant, a charitable run, cooking competitions, dominoes matches and countless friendly sporting tournaments such as 5-a-side football and a golfing classic. Alternatively, if you fancy getting your name in lights, you could attempt to out-do 1988’s record-breaking conga line for the number of participants. Guinness acknowledged 119,986 people unable to control themselves any longer that year, so bring some friends with you to help out. Don your most comfortable dancing shoes and prepare yourself for a day and night of passion and colour that you’ll never forget.
Arriving early means that you can also check out carnival at the Mile on March 5th and 6th. Hosted on the Miracle Mile (a 30-minute drive from 8th Street), this two-day festival will delight music lovers and art aficionados in equal measure, as Miami’s finest examples of each discipline gather to entertain the assembled masses for the weekend. Arriving for carnival on the Mile also leaves you time to enjoy the rest of the event during the week, and explore the glorious surroundings of Miami during this most celebratory time of the year – check out our city guide for more tips on how to fill your time!