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Caretos © Rosino / Flickr
Caretos © Rosino / Flickr
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The Caretos: What It Means If You See These Colorful Monsters in Portugal

Picture of Nina Santos
Updated: 23 April 2018
Spend enough time in Portugal, and you’re likely to see some remarkable and even strange traditions. Travel through the country to the most remote regions, and the likelihood will increase as dramatically as the rugged landscape and ancient towns, especially during holidays. One of the oldest and wildest local traditions is that of the caretos, a ritual where masqueraded figures run through the ancient streets during Carnaval causing rowdy mischief.

Who is inside the caretos costumes? Local men, who run around their towns in a frantic frenzy, wearing wood masks, fringed costumes of red, yellow, green, and black, and leather belts with bells.

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Walking through the ancient streets of Podence, Portugal | © Rosino / Flickr

You’re more likely to see caretos in Tras-os-Montes, Portugal, the northeastern region of the country characterized by rural lifestyles reflective of a time long gone. Stemming from an ancient pre-historic and pagan tradition, the main goal of the caretos is to cause raucous mayhem, and any innocent bystander is easy prey for their shenanigans, yet they’re more inclined to target women. Running around wearing cowbells, the caretos can be seen teasing women, climbing walls, shouting, running off with wine, and ringing their bells as they go.

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Quiet roads entering Tras-os-Montes | © Turismoenportugal / Wikimedia Commons

The town most famous for the caretos is Podence, located 30 kilometers south of Bragança, the regional capital of Tras-os-Montes. In other villages, caretos are known as mascarados and pop up during the winter solstice and after Christmas in festivals called Festas dos Rapazes, which translates to “Boy’s Festivals” and signifies passing from childhood to adulthood.

If you see these colorful monsters heading your way, make sure to get your camera ready because the pictures will likely be a hit with your friends and families, but keep a wary eye open if you don’t like attracting attention. Some say that long ago, the caretos’ tomfoolery knew little bounds, and some may have even burst into neighbors’ homes, but in modern times their mischief-making sticks to the streets in fairly innocent activities.

If you visit Podence and Tras-os-Montes during Carnaval, also keep an eye out for a massive bonfire (it will draw a crowd) meant as a symbolic way of welcoming of Lent, as well as the mock weddings.