By Daniela Ortega, Contributing Reporter
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – Known as Carnaval, Carnival, or even Mardi Gras, a celebration that always takes place a week before lent, in this case in Miami, from March 1st to March 10th, all over the city.
Music, food, drinks, dance, and even sports, a celebration of the many different Latin American cultures that fuse and come together in our wonderful city, form a festival that is now “the largest Hispanic festival in the country,” also known as Carnaval and Calle Ocho Music Festival.
It all started seventy years ago, when a group of Miami youngster decided to form an affiliate of the Kiwanis International Foundation here. With hopes of getting noticed and heard for who they were, they decided to celebrate their Hispanic roots with a musical celebration known as the Calle Ocho Music Festival, that has been taking the city by storm for the last 35 years.
Today, the experience has a dramatic positive impact that takes over the city for an entire week, and moves around $40 million. In addition, a large part of the profits benefits children’s foundations by providing school supplies, summer camps funding, etc. Events star from mid February and some are held even in April, but most are concentrated on the first week of March, when “carnaval” is celebrated worldwide.
The official Carnival starts with a sister event on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables on March 2nd and 3rd since early 10AM; however, that is only part of the experience. For example, for all the foodies, the “Cork and Fork” events happen in Coral Gables as well, where famous Latin Chefs, such as Ingrid Hoffman, provide intimate culinary experiences like tastings and cooking demos.
In a way, a sort of smaller version of the Food and Wine Festival. For sports and game lovers, activities such as domino and gold tournaments are happening during the week.
Like with most events, the best and most spectacular are saved for last. The weeklong indulgent celebration of the glory, the joy and liveliness of Hispanic cultures ends with a black tie gala that takes place in Parrot Jungle the night of March 8th, and of course, the Calle Ocho Music Festival on March 10th.
Some say that more than a million have gathered with those 24 blocks in Little Havana for a day of unrivaled family fun reminiscent of their Cuban roots, or if it not the case, the culture they have been accustomed and now love as part of Miami’s heartbeat.
The music festival lasts all day from 10AM to 7PM, VIP accommodations with parking, souvenirs and a Buchanan’s open bar are available for those willing to pay extra.
Live musical performances are a go on every block, and two major food contests take place, “El Croquetazo,” and “Cuban Wars,” the contest for the best croquet and Cuban dishes between chefs from Miami to Tampa.
The festival itself is free, even though it benefits many with the profits from its paid events, but its advantages go far beyond that. The celebration of Latin-American cultures and vibrant enjoyment that comes with being Latin has made Miami the cosmopolitan melting pot and flavorful city it is today.