Everything You Should Know about Calabar Carnival (2019)


The Calabar Carnival is known as the pride of Nigeria. For the entire month of December, the city of Calabar puts on numerous carnival events.

Calabar is a city in Cross River State, coastal South Eastern Nigeria. The original name for Calabar was Akwa Akpa, from the Efik language. The city is watered by the Calabar and Great Kwa Rivers and creeks of the Cross River.

The Calabar Carnival Festival in Nigeria also tagged “Africa’s Biggest Street Party“, was created as part of the vision of making the Cross River State in Nigeria, the No. 1 tourist destination for Nigerians and tourist all over the world.

The Calabar Carnival is without a doubt the biggest, best and longest tourism event in West Africa. It attracts over two million revelers and features participants from over 25 different countries. The Battle of the Bands and Street Parade is even broadcast to a television audience of around fifty million!

In this post, we highlight everything you should know about Calabar Carnival, Africa’s biggest Street Party, as well as the programmes for the carnival in 2019.

How is the Calabar Carnival celebrated?

Carnival Carnival

Africa’s best carnival, the Calabar Carnival is a month-long celebration filled with exciting events. The highlight of Calabar Carnival is the Street Parade that features the Battle of the Bands. The Parade is only a slither of Calabar Carnivals attractions. There are ceremonies, concerts, art shows, street parties, masque events, sporting events and non-stop parties.

When is the Calabar Carnival 2019?

When is the 2019 Calabar Carnival? The 2019 Calabar Carnival runs over the whole month of December! Yes, you read that right. It is one whole month of celebrating that begins on the 1st December and finishes on New Year’s Eve the 31st December.

Where is Calabar?

Calabar which is also known by the name Canann City, is a city in south-eastern Nigeria. Calabar is actually the capital city of Cross River State. Calabar sits adjacent to the Calabar and Great Kwa Rivers as well as the creeks of the Cross River.

History of Calabar Carnival

The origins of Calabar Carnival started back in 2004 when Donald Duke the governor of Cross River, Nigeria. The then governor decided it would be the perfect way to boost tourism and the local economy of the state. He wanted to turn Cross River State into the number one tourist destination for Nigerians. He wanted to create a carnival that would heavily showcase the local heritage and the Calabar Carnival was a wild success! Today the carnival attracts millions of visitors throughout the entire month of December and has given the local economy a huge boost.

Ironically the biggest and best carnival in Africa, the birthplace of carnival, is actually one of the youngest carnivals in the world.

The 2019 Calabar Carnival Programme

Calabar Carnival Calendar

The Calabar Carnival has kept the same timetable of events since it first began. The main carnival events occur in the last two weeks of Calabar Carnival. It is divided into four parts which are:

  • 1st – 10th December: The Millennium Week
  • 12th – 17th December: Sports Week
  • 19th – 24th December: The TINAPA Family Festival
  • 25th– 31st December: Carnival Week

2019 Calabar Carnival Events

Calabar Carnival officially begins with a Tree-Lightening ceremony. In the first three weeks of carnival there are musical performances, food competitions, a solidarity march, street parties, fashion shows, a prestigious essay writing competition, art shows, traditional dances and masque events.

Some of the main events include J’ouvert Band fetes, the crowning of the Carnival Kings and Queens for each band, the Christmas Party Cultural Carnival, the children’s carnival, the Mary Slessor Golf Charity Dinner and the Annual Ekpe masquerade festival.

Calabar Carnival Sports Week

The Calabar Carnival wouldn’t be complete without adding sports to it! During carnival you can watch the popular soccer tournament the Carni-Cal Cup. There is also the a popular golf tournament, a boat regatta and various other sporting events.

Calabar Carnival live music performances

There are many musical concerts throughout carnival that feature performances by local and international acts including Luke Dube, Fat Joe, Young Jeezy, Nelly, Kirk Franklin, Two Face Idibia and P Square.

Calabar Carnival African Food Expo

Do not miss the Calabar Carnival African Food Expo! This an absolute highlight of carnival! You will be able to try some amazing meals that you have most likely never had before! The air is filled with so many intoxicating aromas.

Calabar Carnival Christmas

Because Calabar Carnival takes in the month of December it also includes many Christmas festivities. This gives Calabar Carnival that extra magical feeling that you only feel once a year during Christmas. Make sure you check out the Christmas Village that is set up for Calabar Carnival.

2019 Calabar Carnival – Main Carnival Week

Carnival week is the final week of Calabar Carnival and when most of the highlights take place. It is the week that draws the most tourists. Some of the more popular events include:

  • 27th December: The Bikers parade occurs in the morning
  • 27th December: Miss Africa beauty pageant occurs in the eventing
  • 28th December: Calabar Street Parade & Band of the Year Competition
  • 29th December: Wonders on Wheels occurs in the evening in Calabar Stadium and displays vintage cars
  • 30th December: Green Carnival occurs in the morning and displays actions favourable for the environment. The event culminates in a street party held in the evening
  • 31st December: New Year’s Eve Fire Works display

The 2019 Calabar Carnival theme: TBD

Carnival Carnival

Every year a theme is chosen for the Calabar Carnival. Last year the theme was “Africanism”. The carnival theme was selected to unify Africans both within the continent and beyond. It is also intended to showcase the African story in a positive way to the world.

The Cross River State Governor has challenged the carnival groups to really promote African cultural heritage in their parades. He hopes Calabar Carnival will tell the African story from an African perspective, and bring global attention to the plight of Africa.

The Calabar Carnival Parade

A carnival theme guides all the carnival bands who have to interpret and then represent this theme through their costumes, music, dances, floats and displays.

The Calabar Carnival Parade features 50,000 costumed revellers who perform in five major carnival bands and 10 non-competing bands. The parade sees the carnival groups compete against each other in hopes of winning the title for the Best Band.

The parade takes place over a 12km parade route and it is quite a spectacle. It is filled will colour, sparkle, DJs, live musicians, steel bands, incredible floats and costumes. Hundreds of thousands line the streets to watch the parade and the atmosphere is electric.

The 2019 Calabar Carnival Band of the Year

The Carnival Parade terminates at the UJ Esuene Stadium and is followed by the award ceremony for the ‘Band of the Year’. Expert judges hand out various awards are handed out for costumes, music, floats, choreography and of course the prestigious “Band of the Year”.

Around 15,000 spectators fill up the stadium another 10,000 spectators surround the stadium and the event is broadcast to a television audience of over 50 million people! So as you can imagine that winning the title of best band doesn’t just get you a nice cash prize but also nation-wide fame!.

The Five Bands of Calabar

Carnival Carnival

Calabar Carnival has five major competing bands that each comprises of about 10,000 participants. Each band can be distinguished by different names and colours. Each band has up to five kings and queens that are dressed in large scale costumes that interpret that year’s theme and set the tone for the rest of the bands outfits.

Bayside Band (Blue)

Bayside Band is led by the creator of Calabar Carnival and the former governor Donald Duke. It is known by its distinctive aquamarine colour and allows anyone to join the band even foreigners.

Freedom Band (Yellow)

The Band of Freedom is defined by the colour yellow. This band has always been ranked in the top three bands ever since the carnival first began!.

Seagull Band (Red)

Seagull Band is recognised by its distinctive red colour. It has been described as being the most stylish and co-ordinated band. The band is also known for its patriotism and everything about the Band relates to Nigeria. They are fiercely proud to show off their roots.

Passion 4 Band (Green)

Passion 4 Band is known as the Green Band and is actually the most successful band of all time! It has won the competition more than any other band. The band is often regarded as being the most outstanding of them all. The band is also the only bands that has two sections – one for children and another for adults.

Masta Blasta Band (Orange)

Masta Blasta Band is known as being the orange family! They self-proclaim to be the most entertaining band! Masta Blasta is the largest of all bands with well over ten thousands members from all corners of the world. They are famous for their inclusivity!.

Where does the Calabar Carnival take place?

Pretty much all the Calabar Carnival events occur in the city of Calabar. The majority of events take place in the Calabar Cultural Centre and the Calabar Stadium. The parade marches through many city streets in Calabar.

How to get to Calabar?

Carnival Carnival

The easiest way to get to Calabar is to fly to Calabar Airport named Margaret Ekpo International Airport. Calabar is only an hour flight from Lagos. Additionally, Calabar can easily be accessed via bus or car from other areas in Nigeria.

Where to stay in Calabar?

There are plenty of hotel options in Calabar from the budget all the way to luxurious hotels. Prices range from $3 to $90US a night. We recommend booking early because two million people attend this carnival and its also during the Christmas period!

Is Calabar Carnival safe?

Yes, Nigeria doesn’t have the best reputation of being the safest country but the Cross River Government places safety as a top priority. They have assured residents and tourists that adequate security measures are in place. This can be seen by the fact that participants from 26 different countries that attend this carnival.

However, pickpocketing is common so be aware of your valuables at all times or even hide your valuables in a safe place like a security pocket. Its even better during the more crowded events to just leave them back in your hotel room.

Here at Carnivaland we believe that this carnival is one of the best, most colourful and exhilarating carnivals in the world.

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance being protected on your travels is an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Never travel without coverage.

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