Those who know Tenerife will know that there is more than enough to see and do on the island any time of the year. But coincide your holiday with Carnival time and you also have the chance to witness one of the world’s greatest party spectacles.
Not only is it a time to let your hair down and help yourself to your wife’s wardrobe, it’s also a chance to see the real Tenerife at play… and boy, do they like to play.
Some claim that Tenerife’s Carnival is second only to Rio. In fact, in 1987, the Santa Cruz carnival was mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records for hosting the largest open-air dance, with more than 200,000 people collectively shaking their funky stuff.
It’s become something of an obsession to be part of the festivities, which date back to the Spanish conquest in the late 15th century. Almost every year since then the merriment has proceeded in one form or another. Even during the turbulent times of Franco when ‘Carnival’ was banned, Tenerife simply renamed it ‘The Winter Festival’ and carried on regardless.
One of the biggest events is the crowning of the Carnival Queen, a culmination of local heats, incessant TV interviews and costume strutting. A great deal of blood, sweat and creativity – plus the occasional hissy fit – goes into the design of the colossal dresses with the contest just as much about the garment as it is about the girl.
During the afternoons extravagant floats, musicians and dancers parade under an eclectic blend of new and old architecture along the shorefront Avenida Maritima. Each subsequent costume pushes the boundaries of elegance and enormity with head-dresses reaching two storeys into the blue sky.
Whilst daytimes are more about watching, when night falls so do the inhibitions. You’ll find pockets of Tenerife holidaymakers from all over the globe joining in the melee, clearly conspicuous amongst the throes of lithe, hip-swaying locals. A cacophony of sounds burst from live bands on every plaza in the capital, while gaily-lit kiosks keep the throngs supplied with copious amounts of alcohol, sizzling meats and sweet pastries. It’s a barrage of noise, a kaleidoscope of colour… and a contagion of unrivalled fun.
View Tenerife fiestas in a larger map
Tenerife Carnival really is something that every visitor should take part in if they’re on the island during February, but remember, if you do go you’ll find those that stand out are the ones who aren’tin fancy dress!
The theme for 2013 is Bollywood so fashion yourself a sari and head north to Santa Cruz. The main parade (El Coso) takes place on February 12th (Shrove Tuesday) followed by the bizarre Burial of the Sardine tradition on the following day, and the big finale on February 17th.
With so many people flocking to the party, parking can be a nightmare so ditch the hire car and hop on a bus with the rest of the revellers. During Carnival, the 111 leaves from Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos every 20-30 minutes.
While preliminary events start in mid-Jan, the main Carnival programme runs from Feb 6th to the 17th. For more info see www.carnavaltenerife.es (Spanish only).
While Tenerife Carnival in Santa Cruz is undoubtedly the biggest, noisiest and most flamboyant celebration on the island, the locals don’t need much of an excuse to break out the song and dance routines, eager to party at the drop of a hat. Here’s a rundown of ten of the other top Tenerife festivals and fiestas you can find at various times of the year.
29th Canary Islands Music Festival – 11 Jan – 15 Feb
One of main events in the European classical music calendar, this archipelago-wide festival showcases some of the biggest names at the awe-inspiring Tenerife Auditorium and other venues throughout the archipelago. More details.
Local carnivals – Febrary and March
As well as the monster that is Santa Cruz Carnival, Puerto de la Cruz also holds its own humongous version involving lots of fireworks, cross-dressing and general silliness. Other towns too pull down the work shutters for a week or so for their own local carnival.
Easter parades – 24-30 March
While many Tenerife towns host colourful parades during Easter week, one particular event worth catching is the Passion Play re-enactment held in Adeje, when tens of thousands turn up to witness the compelling and somewhat brutal street drama.
Corpus Christi flower carpets – 6 June
La Orotava is the place to head in June during the annual Corpus Christi celebrations where artists painstakingly create carpets of sand and flowers depicting religious scenes on the town hall plaza.
Fiesta de San Juan – 23-24 June
Held in Puerto de la Cruz, the Fiesta de San Juan features folklore, music concerts, beach bonfires and a traditional ‘purification of the goats’ when the bearded beasties don swimming trunks and take a sunrise paddle in the sea (okay… I made the bit up about the trunks).
Virgen del Carmen – 16 July
This week-long celebration of the patron saint of fishermen takes place during early August in many fishing harbours along the coast such as Los Cristianos and culminates in fireworks, live bands and a general street knees-up. A statue of the virgin is first paraded through the streets before being plonked in a boat and sailed along the coastline followed by every fishing boat in the vicinity.
Heineken Jazz Festival – July
Three weeks of top jazz (and a little blues) in various venues throughout Santa Cruz featuring many famous names from around the world. A must for lovers of smooth sounds and small venues. More info here.
Virgen de Candelaria – 14-15 Aug
The east coast town of Candelaria is the place to be during this homage to the patron saint of the Canary Islands. Pilgrims from all over the island trek for miles to attend the religious procession, take in the folklore exhibitions and watch a re-enactment of the time when the virgin appeared before the Guanches, Tenerife’s original inhabitants.
Fiesta de San Andres sledge runs – 29-30 Nov
One of the most bizarre and noisy celebrations takes place along the steep streets of Icod de los Vinos, Chio and several other villages who have climbed on board the tradition. In honour of the arrival of the new wines, teenagers and older (alcohol-fuelled) daredevils speed down the streets on home-made sledges while onlookers quaff local wine and roasted chestnuts.
King’s Day parades – 5 Jan 2014
The three Kings are to the tenerife’s children what Father Christmas is to UK children, the providers of shiny-wrapped presents. While every major town on the island hosts a King’s Day evening parade on January 5th complete with camels, horses and other livestock, the 6th is when the gift-opening excitement reaches a frenzy in Tenerife households. Adeje, Guia de Isora and Los Cristianos are three of the big ones in the south and west.