Calle Ocho: Eight Times the Family Fun at Carnival Miami

What do the Kiwanis Club, a beauty pageant, and merengue music have in common? Make your way to Calle Ocho (March 12, 2017), the Little Havana block party that finishes up Carnival Miami’s weekend festivities to find out. Introduce your kids to Cuban culture, history, music, and food by visiting the world’s most famous village of Cuban exiles.

Calle Ocho (that’s Eighth Street in Spanish) is Little Havana’s main drag, and the center for cultural and political life in Miami, so it’s no surprise that during Carnival, the party moves from affluent Coral Gables to the well-trod Calle Ocho, where musicians perform for hip-swinging crowds, and restaurants and vendors treat visitors of their 19-block span to tasty Cuban and Central American treats.

In spite of thawing political relations with Cuba, Calle Ocho is still the best way to experience the vibrancy of Cuban culture for most Americans.


The events of Carnival Miami are a great excuse to explore the heart of southern Florida. The colorful city of Miami, drenched in funky architecture, Latin food, and sun-kissed beaches, is like visiting a country all its own. The commingling of New England retirees and Cuban refugees over the past century built the city into a funky, urban cultural center.

Take advantage of the cultural options in neighborhoods like hip, artsy Wynwood, and Art Deco Miami Beach as well as spending some time in nature. National Parks on Key Biscayne and in the Everglades provide a window into the natural environment of southern Florida too.

The festival starts in Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, with a weekend of music and street performers; the following weekend brings the crowds northeast to Calle Ocho in Little Havana. Through the week, the corridor between the two areas is packed with visitors and sightseers. Admission to the festival is free, so join the party anywhere along the street.

If you’d like somewhere quiet to sleep off the exhaustion after a long day of dancing, consider quieter South Miami or the area surrounding the airport. For the rest of us, staying as close to Little Havana as possible is best. A beachfront stay in Coconut Grove or Wynwood puts Little Havana a short bus ride away.

The Carnival Experience: Eight Way

During Carnival Miami, which takes place in February or March in the week leading up to the Catholic season of Lent, there are plenty of ways to participate. Plan your trip around the activities you’re most interested in, but try to make time for a more general excursion in Miami along the way.

  • Uno: The Miracle Mile weekend focuses on musical acts, with 30 stages set up along the mile. Interactive games and craft-making stations are perfect for kids who want to stay busy too. This is the opening act to the rest of the Carnival activities.

  • Dos: Throughout the week, a soccer tournament and golf classic keep the ball rolling (as it were); teens compete in the Miss Florida-qualifying Miss Carnival beauty pageant; amateur cooks test their mettle in the cooking competition judged by celebrity chefs, and the Cork and Fork event allows Miami residents to get a taste of gourmet menus presented by top chefs.

  • Tres: Finally, the party moves into Little Havana with a domino tournament in the neighborhood’s famed Maximo Gomez Park, known locally as “Domino Park”. Fiercely competitive senior citizens duke it out in the annual battle, and on pretty much every other day, until the Calle Ocho Festival takes over.

  • Cuatro: The Calle Ocho weekend of Carnival also includes bands and stages, culminating in massive conga lines and pulse-pounding dancing. Want to teach your kids salsa, merengue, rumba, or mambo? This is your chance to get those hips and feet moving in Latin style. Take some of that music home with a stop at Lily’s Records (1419 Southwest 8th St.).

  • Cinco: There’s also plenty to munch on, between the brick-and-mortar businesses that call Calle Ocho their year-round home, and the street vendors that come out just for the festival. Cuban, Salvadoran, Honduran, Dominican, and Puerto Rican flavors provide a culinary trip around the Latin world along the way.

  • Seis: The Cuban Memorial Plaza, in the center of the Calle Ocho route, gives visitors a moment to pause and remember Cuban history and heroes. Seven statues memorialize the Bay of Pigs, the Virgin Mary, Cuban freedom fighters, and political heroes. Elsewhere along the Calle, you’ll see murals and statues representing contemporary Hispanic pop culture icons like Gloria Estefan.

  • Siete: If you need a break from the street festival, stop in to one of the permanent 8th Street fixtures to check out the Cuban wares. You can actually wear the “guayaberas”, the well-known Cuban linen shirts with four pockets and embroidered vertical stripes, at Alfaro’s Boutique. Find your Panama hat and step into style when you make your way back out to the festival.

  • Ocho: In your newly acquired guayabera, grab an Abuela Maria at Azucar Ice Cream, next to Domino Park. The signature flavor mixes vanilla ice cream with chunks of guava and cream cheese, topped with a Maria cookie. Cross to the park to watch the domino champion fall.

Finer Things in Life

With the health-conscious disclaimer not to smoke indoors or near your kids, you don’t want to miss the Cuba Tobacco Cigar Co., where employees hand-roll the namesake cigars before your eyes just to prove they’re not made in Cuba. After all, Calle Ocho comes but once a year.

Planning on attending Calle Ocho? What fun events and festivals are you looking forward to this year? Share with us!

Tags : travel   hip happenings   music festivals   miami   florida   

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