The Calabar Carnival is without a doubt the biggest, best and longest tourism event in West Africa. It attracts over two million revellers 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!

The History of Carnival

The beginnings of carnivals are thought to have started in Africa! That’s right many believe that carnivals began some 5000 years ago in Egypt and Sumeria. Carnival was celebrated by many pagans societies across the world and was even adopted by the Roman Empire which spread it across the world. It was again adopted by the Catholic Church and the celebrations spread even further to the Americas and even as far as India. It’s hard to believe that this global phenomenon celebrated in over 52 countries had its humble beginnings in Africa.

The African influence on modern-day carnival!

African cultures have had a massive impact on carnival celebrations around the world! They have contributed to the many different carnival music styles that developed from rhythmic drum beats including samba, soca and steelpan.

The bright colourful costumes that you see in Brazil or the Caribbean carnivals were also influenced by African slaves who used to dress in masks, feathers and other decorative items. Even many types of carnival dances developed from African cultures.

How the Calabar Carnival is Celebrated

Africa’s best carnival 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.

The Month in which Calabar Carnival is celebrated

The Calabar Carnival runs over the whole month of December. Yes! you heard that right it’s one whole month of celebrating that begins on the 1st December and finishes on New Year’s Eve the 31st December.

Where Calabar is Located

Calabar which is also known by the name Canann City is located in Southern Nigeria. Calabar is 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.

The history of Calabar Carnival

The origins of Calabar Carnival started back in 2004 when Governor Donald Duke, the former governor of Cross River State, Nigeria, decided it would be the perfect way to boost tourism and the local economy. 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 one of the youngest carnivals in the world.

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 with 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 Five Bands of Calabar

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 which interpret that year’s theme and set the tone for the rest of the band’s outfits.

Bayside Band (Blue)

Bayside Band is led by the creator of Calabar Carnival and the former governor Donald Duke. It is known for 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 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 band 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-proclaimed to be the most entertaining band! Masta Blasta is the largest of all bands with well over ten thousand 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.

What to do and see in Calabar?

Calabar in southern Nigeria is located near the Cameroon border and is the capital of Cross River State. There is plenty of amazing attractions to see in Calabar including:

Kwa Falls: A tropical paradise, this waterfall is located in a narrow steep gorge on the Kwa River. Although this waterfall is spectacular, even more inviting is the gorgeous beach at the edge of the pool which it flows into.

Tinapa Business and Leisure Resort Calabar: This is the first integrated leisure and business resort in Nigeria. Created to give tourists a dream experience in one visit. Located by the Calabar River it is a world-class facility where visitors take advantage of retail wholesale and recreational activities.

Cross River National Park: This is one of the top ecotourism destinations in This is one of the most preserved tropical rainforests in West Africa. Here you can see rare birds and animals in their natural tropical rainforest habitat

Obudu Mountain Resort: Located in the highlands of Cross River State a gorgeous place to visit. With miles of rolling mountains, this serene and picturesque environment is worth the visit.

Agbokim Waterfalls: This fall consists of seven streams and each cascade over a cliff.

National Museum Calabar: This building was formerly the Government House during Colonial rule and was built in Britain and shipped in parts to Calabar in the late 1800s. This museum is filled with old relics, documents, furnishings and artefacts and is a great place to learn about Efik history.

Chief Ekpo Bassey’s House: This ancient house in Calabar stands out for its history and the affluence of Chief Ekpo Bassey, who was the Kingmaker of the Efik tribe and a politician during the colonial era.

Dukes Town Church: This is one of the oldest churches in Nigeria and the first site of Christianity teachings on the arrival of Missionaries in

Drill Rehabilitation Centre: This wildlife initiative was built to preserve the lives of the almost extinct Drills which are a rare endangered species of Primates in

Botanic Gardens: Built in the 1880s and was created by the British to get economic crops into

Slave Museum: This museum contains very rich information on slave trade activities that were popular in the 15th

Calabar boasts way more than most people are aware of. If you find yourself in Calabar for carnival then you must visit some of these places. Check some tours here.

Is Calabar Carnival safe?

Yes! The Cross River State 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 attend this carnival.

The Calabar Carnival is truly colourful and exhilarating and amongst the very best in the world.

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