Hispanic Festivals & Events in South Florida, Tampa & Orlando
By Carlos Harrison
It's hardly surprising that a state discovered and named by Spaniards would be home to an armada of Hispanic fiestas and events – and centuries after Juan Ponce de Leon and other Spanish explorers first set foot on Florida’s shores, the state definitely lives up to its heritage.
Hispanic festivals run year-round and statewide in Florida. And there are new ones being added all the time. Here’s a listing:
Carnaval Miami/Calle Ocho
This is it! South Florida’s premier Hispanic event of the year, including what bills itself as the “largest block party in the world,” happens in the heart of Little Havana. It actually stretches over 10 days of beauty pageants, sports events, food and concerts, culminating with Calle Ocho, a 23-block street festival. It’s grown to include live salsa, merengue and Caribbean music on 30 stages, and claims to draw a million people.
Information: Call 305-644-8888, visit carnavalmiami.com
Miami Salsa Congress
Five days. Five hundred performers. Five thousand fans. This is non-stop salsa action, showcasing world-renowned international dancers strutting their stuff and showing others how. It happens at the beginning of August. Highlights include dance workshops, concerts, all-star DJs, parties and, of course, exhibitions by some of the world’s best dancers.
Information: Call 305-220-7115, visit miamisalsacongress.com
International Hispanic Theatre Festival of Miami
Hispanic theater doesn’t get better than this. It heats up in mid-July. Theater companies from Latin America, Europe and the United States present a series of Hispanic-themed plays and staged readings at multiple venues in Miami and Key Biscayne.
Information: Call 305-445-8877, visit teatroavante.org
Art Basel Miami
It may not be specifically Hispanic, but it attracts enough Hispanic artists, vendors and buyers to qualify as a showcase for what’s hot in the Latin art world. Art Basel lands at the first week of December at venues throughout South Florida, from Wynwood to Miami Beach.
Information: Call 305-674-292, visit artbasel.com
This is a spinoff of Art Basel, held in Miami’s Design District the same week of December. It attracts a broad range of international dealers and exhibitions, along with the not-to-be-missed parties and art talks.
Information: Visit designmiami.com
Mark your calendar for June 6 and 7, for a world premiere by Miami dance star Rosie Herrera and works by Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro. In Ballet Hispanico’s words, it “explores the contemporary Latin soul through works that fuse ethnic dance with classical and contemporary techniques.”
Information: Visit ballethispanico.org
Miami International Film Festival
International means global, but films, stars and directors from Spain and across the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Americas are a major part of what puts MIFF on the map. It runs for better than a week in early March, with so many films, talks and after-parties it’s impossible for anyone to attend them all. There are also plenty of red-carpet celebrity-sighting opportunities, and chances for Q&A’s with filmmakers and the actors who bring the stories to life on the big screen.
Information: Call 305-237-3456, visit miamifilmfestival.com
This is exactly what the name says – the Cuba of yesteryear, brought to life again. It’s got reproductions of some of Havana’s iconic settings, from the El Encanto department store to the Havana Cathedral. There’s Cuban music and a dance contest, and chances for collectors, the curious and, yes, the nostalgic, to gather up unique Cuban-themed memorabilia, guayabera shirts, prints, flags, paintings, books and jewelry. Cuba Nostalgia happens in May.
Information: Visit cubanostalgia.org
Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood
April may be the month that will bring May’s flowers, but in Hollywood it’s time for Latin food and live music at HispanicFest, on Hollywood's Tyler Street. There’s Hispanic pop music on two stages, dance lessons, kid's entertainment and more.
Information: Call 954-214-2457.
Hollywood Beach Latin Festival
Summertime fun, with Latin flair. This August event features international and local entertainers, Latin food, and arts and crafts displays on the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk.
Information: Call 954-921-3404, visit hollywoodlatinfestival.com
!Viva Broward! Hispanic Heritage Festival
Hispanic Heritage Month is also the time for !Viva Broward! It’s got all sorts of live Latin music, Hispanic food and festivities over a weekend in mid-October at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.
Information: Call 954-776-1642.
Hispanic Heritage Season
Hispanic Heritage Season runs from September through mid-November, with multiple events celebrating the city’s rich Hispanic history, old and new. Its mission, in the words of its organizers, “is to foster, promote, and preserve the Hispanic heritage and culture in the Tampa Bay Area.” And that includes Hispanics from throughout the Americas and the Iberian Peninsula. There are poetry and poster contests, the selection of a cultural ambassador and at least one gala.
Information: Visit tampahispanic.org
Come on everybody, can you do the conga? In November, Tampa’s Al Lopez Park is the scene for music and dance by national and international performers, along with food, art, a beer garden, traditional cigars and a domino tournament. It’s a free and fun fest for the whole family.
Information: Visit congacaliente.com
Cuban Sandwich Festival
For real Latin flavor – heh heh – it’s hard to beat Tampa’s annual Cuban Sandwich Festival in March. It includes live music, art and cultural exhibitions and, of course, the sandwich competition that gives the two-day festival its name. Restaurants and sandwich makers from across the country challenge each other to make the very best Cuban sandwich in the land. Categories include traditional, non-traditional and “popular vote.”
Information: Visit thecubansandwichfestival.com
Festival del Sabor
What, more food? Yes! “Festival del Sabor” means “Festival of Flavor,” and this annual event lives up to the name in September, in the heart of Tampa’s original Hispanic neighborhood, Ybor City. There’s food, folkloric dancing, food, music, food, arts – and did we mention food? Music includes salsa, merengue, mambo and Colombian cumbia, along with Latin rock and fusion. Food includes an “arroz con pollo” contest. That’s chicken and yellow rice, with winners named in the best tasting and most creative categories.
Information: Call 813-259-8475.
Gasparilla Pirate Fest
Arrrr, mateys! January is when Tampa celebrates its plundering at the hands of the pirate Jose Gaspar. It begins with a re-enactment of the invasion, with a flotilla led by the fully-rigged pirate ship Jose Gasparilla. The colorfully costumed pirate “krewes” celebrate their successful takeover of the city with a parade, sharing their wealth by tossing beads and doubloons to the spectators lined along the route. The party continues with a street fest, with live entertainment on multiple stages.
Information: Visit gasparillapiratefest.com
Tampa’s Ybor City honors the Cuban, German, Italian, African-Cuban, Jewish and Spanish immigrants who first settled the neighborhood in 1886. The street festival started as a “verbena” – a day of rest – for the workers who rolled cigars in the neighborhood’s noted factories. Now, nearly 70 years later, the free festival involves closing down La Setima (7th Avenue) and filling the street with food, music, exhibits and entertainment.
Information: Visit ybor.org
Now over a decade old, Flan Fest involves fierce competition and satisfied sweet-teeth. Past contests have pitted as many as 40 participants against each other, all putting their best flan forward. The creamy Latin custards compete for cash prizes in presentation, appearance, traditional and non-traditional categories. The fest isn’t just for flan-makers, of course. It includes flan sampling, a flan eating contest and flans for sale. It’s all conveniently scheduled to take place during Fiesta Day, right on Ybor City’s main thoroughfare.
Sant' Yago Knight Parade
Bright lights, Ybor City. Staged for more than three decades by the Krewe of the Knights of Sant’Yago, the nighttime parade features brilliantly lit and decorated floats, bands, costumed “pirates” and the king, queen and royal court of the Sant’Yago Krewe. It’s part of Tampa’s list of Gasparilla Festival activities, usually falling a week or two after the “invasion” and Pirate Parade.
Information: Visit kreweofsantyago.com
Puerto Rican Festival and Parade
In mid-March, Orlando Festival Park becomes Puerto Rican Festival park, a place to celebrate the connection to the Isle of Enchantment. The parade is followed by a family-style fiesta, with play areas for the kids and national and international salsa, merengue, hip-hop and reggaeton artists performing simultaneously on multiple stages.
Orlando Salsa Congress
Put on your dancing shoes and salsa, salsa, salsa. It’s four days and nights of live music, more than 50 workshops, more than 30 dance performances per night, pool parties by day, and salsa and bachata dancing at night until at least 4 a.m. It’s all wrapped around the Fourth of July holiday.
Information: Visit orlandocongress.com
Multicultural Dance Exhibition
Orlando clearly is a great place to move your feet to a Latin beat. The University of Central Florida holds an annual one-day Multicultural Dance Exhibition on its campus in early April. It features dance workshops and a pool party by day and social dancing, performances and food at night. Free for UCF students and $10 for non-students.
Information: Visit ucf.collegiatelink.net
Festival Calle Orange
It’s billed as Central Florida's largest Hispanic festival. It started as a primarily Puerto Rican festival but now includes people from Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. For what? To eat, drink and dance in the streets of downtown Orlando. In 2013, the city closed off 10 downtown streets for the festival, put up four stages and hosted performances by more than 40 recording artists from around the world. And talk about family friendly: One entire street is dedicated to children’s activities.
Information: Visit calleorange.com