Calabar Carnival | The Pride of Nigeria

Calabar Carnival is an annual carnival held in Cross River State, Nigeria. The carnival holds every December and was declared by the then governor of Cross River State, Mr. Donald Duke as an activity to mark Christmas celebration yearly. He said his vision for creating the festival was to make Cross-River a home of tourism and hospitality in Nigeria and Africa. The quality of the festival has grown over the years making it Nigeria’s biggest carnival and an internationally recognized festival. It used to be a month-long event that began on the 1st of December, until the former governor of the state, Benedict Ayade reduced it to two weeks after he was elected. During the 2017 carnival, Former governor Benedict Ayade said in his speech that the carnival is to showcase Africa as the richest continent and a blessed place where the young ones should be proud to belong. The carnival has always been entertaining and colourful as different competitions take place and huge cash prizes are won. Calabar which is also known by the name Canaan 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 and Falls as well as the creeks of the Cross River.

History of Calabar Carnival

The Calabar Carnival started in 2004 by former governor Donald Duke of Cross River, as a way to promote tourism and improve the local economy. According to Osima-Dokubo, “the carnival aimed to include more aspects of local heritage and culture and at the same time strengthen the capacity of the locals to participate in an economically beneficial way.

Participants of Calabar Carnival

The event hosts local and international musicians, actors and actresses, politicians and other notable men and women. Some of the entertainers who have attended the carnival include Lucky Dube, Akon, Fat Joe, Young.

When is Calabar Carnival?

When is the 2022 Calabar Carnival? Calabar Carnival runs over the whole month of December! Yes, you heard that right it’s one whole month of celebrating carnival 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 Canaan 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.

Africa the birthplace of carnival!

What is the history of carnival? My fellow carnival lovers, many of you may not know that the beginnings of carnival are thought to have started in Africa! That’s right many, believe that carnival 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.

How Calabar Carnival 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 Carnival’s attractions. There are ceremonies, concerts, art shows, street parties, masque events, sporting events and non-stop parties.

The Calabar Carnival Programme

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

Calabar Carnival Events

Calabar Carnival officially begins with a Tree-Lightning 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 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.

Here at Carnivaland we recommend you check some of the local Nigerian artists out if you haven’t heard of them it’s worth having a look on YouTube as they won’t disappoint.

Calabar Carnival African Food Expo

Do not miss the Calabar Carnival African Food Expo. This is 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 place 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.

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 favorable for the environment. The event culminates in a street party held in the evening
  • 31st December: New Year’s Eve Fireworks display.

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 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 for best costumes, music, floats, choreography and of course the most prestigious award for the “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

Calabar Carnival has five major competing bands that are each comprised 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 by its distinctive aqua marine 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 Nigerian carnival costumes, Calabar costumes and Calabar dances. 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 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-proclaim to be the most entertaining band and they know about the importance of Calabar Carnival 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 to Stay in Calabar?

There are plenty of hotel options in Calabar from 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 it’s also during the Christmas period.

How to Get to Calabar?

  • By plane: You can fly to Calabar by flying to Margaret Ekpo International Airport. The airport doesn’t connect to any international cities but is serviced by flights mainly from Lagos and Abuja. Most international flights land in Lagos and from Lagos it is about an hour flight.
  • By Road: Calabar is a 12 – 15 hour drive from Lagos. There are various car and transport companies that travel from most areas of Nigeria and other major cities including Lagos, Abuja, Yola, Harcourt and Yola on a regular basis. These companies include Cross Country, ABC Transport, Peace Mass Transit, The Young Shall Grow and Elim Tours.
  • By Boat: There is actually a regular boat service from various parts of Cameroon’s coastline that transports both people and vehicles.

How to Get around Calabar?

There are plenty of buses, cabs and motorcycles available to move around the city. The roads are well paved and tarred in Calabar and there is less traffic on the roads compared to cities like Lagos, so it is relatively easy to move around.

What to Do and See in Calabar?

Calabar in southern Nigeria, sits 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 with the aim of giving 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 mountain this serene and picturesque environment is worth the visit.
  • Agbokim Waterfalls: This fall consists of seven streams and each cascades over a steep 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 artifacts 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 Eflik 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 with the aim of getting economic crops into
  • Slave Museum: This museum contains very rich information on slave trade activities that were popular in the 15th

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 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. It’s 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.