Calle Ocho Music Festival

The Calle Ocho Music Festival happens every year in March in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami. We did not plan our trip around this festival but we happened to discover that it would be during our trip. We decided we should check it out since we wanted to see and eat in Little Havana anyways. The festival is the largest Latin American music festival in North America and it is free to attend. It takes place along several blocks on Calle Ocho. There are stages set up every couple blocks with live music. The festival is very crowded and can be a bit crazy as with any concert or music festival. We didn’t spend any lengthy amount of time at any one stage but when we did pass by the stages the music we heard was all very good. There were larger crowds around each stage and lots of people dancing and having a good time!
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We were really there for the food! There are street venders along both sides of the street selling all sorts of wonderful food! You can find any kind of Latin American food you want at this festival. We saw Mexican, Argentinian, Puerto Rican and Cuban to name a few specifics. We spent our time walking down the street in search of great street food to try.
We had some really awesome carne asada- that was the star of the afternoon for us! We saw this meat grilling on a tipi shaped wood fired grill (pictured below) and decided we had to stop at this food stand. We got the steak which came with fried plantains, something similar to coleslaw with fresh cilantro and potatoes. It was a lot of food but we did manage to try a few other things as we walked. We also tried a sweet corn pie which tastes like a corn pudding that is fried like a pancake and then some cheese is melted in-between two patties like a grilled cheese. We also had a fried empanada. Shredded chicken was the only filling in the empanada we had. It was not bad but we were expecting a filling more like what we had in Chile where there was always meat and cheese inside not just the meat. We felt like it would have been better with cheese as well as shredded chicken. This is just our preference and of course different cultures make their empanadas differently. We also only only tried them from one food stand so maybe others had different fillings.
While at the festival, you can see Domino Park and the iconic Calle Ocho rooster statues which you always read about when researching what to do in Little Havana.  It is good to know that a lot of the businesses and restaurants in Little Havana are closed during the festival. You can buy beer and other drinks from some of the bars in the area and from other street vendors. But if you are looking to sit down inside for a meal or a drink you will likely need to leave the festival to find something. We sat and enjoyed our carne asada at the Cuban Memorial Boulevard Park. This is a small park just off Calle Ocho with a memorial to those who fought for Cuban independence. It had a few benches with seating.  A lot of the street food available is easier to walk around with while you eat. You can also find less crowded areas along the sidewalk to stop and eat your food if needed.
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One big thing we definitely noticed was the lack of bathrooms. We were expecting at least one or two areas with porter potties or something since it was such a large festival. We passed a few restaurants that had signs saying $2 or $3 to use the bathroom. We finally came across a couple porta potties tucked back away from Calle Ocho. Those were free to use but were out of toilet paper. There happened to be a vendor selling soft drinks and water right next to these porter potties. He did have napkins he was charging for if you wanted to use some in place of toilet paper. So especially if you are drinking while at the festival just be aware that finding a bathroom may not be as easy or cheap as you expected.
We took an Uber from Miami Beach to the festival. Uber ride share is a great option to help keep your Uber costs down. Do be mindful that the festival is very crowded so the traffic getting there can be a bit crazy. Our Uber driver was able to drop us off within a block or two of the festival and then made sure we knew where we were going. A tip if taking an Uber away from the festival when you are ready to leave-  walk a block or two away so that you can more easily be picked up away from the crowds. If driving yourself to the festival be prepared to pay for parking and we would recommend getting there early before traffic gets too crazy.
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We had a great time at Calle Ocho! Whether you are there for the food, the music or just to have a great cultural experience it is worth a visit if you are in Miami in March. Again be prepared for big crowds. Knowing some Spanish is helpful when ordering food. If you don’t know any Spanish you can certainly point to what you want and still get by. We never felt unsafe or unwelcome while we were there. We saw lots of other tourists as well as locals. Our Uber driver recommended keeping your wallet in your front pocket and for women keeping your purse or bag close to you to avoid pick pocketing. We would second this recommendation and recommend not bringing a large purse or bag, just a small cross body bag for women is a good idea. Again we had no problems but this is just good advise whenever you are somewhere with a large crowd.
Check out or other posts for more information on the Miami Beach area:
-TFWYs
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