Tenerife and the other Canary Islands are a popular winter getaway for warmth and sunshine. And every February in Tenerife, you’ll also find one of the biggest carnival celebrations in the world. Carnival in Tenerife is celebrated in various towns across the island but the big one is in the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Apparently Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s carnival is the biggest in the world after Rio de Janeiro! And the celebrations are everything carnival should be. They’re colourful, flamboyant and features lots of music, dancing and a little mayhem too.

Carnival 2018 in Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Every year, there’s a different theme. 2018’s is Fantasy, which itself represents all of the above so it’s set to be a real spectacle. The city already starts preparing for carnival in January but celebrations don’t properly kick off until February. This year, the carnival takes place between 7 and 18 February.

In this post, we look at what you can expect. Other carnival celebrations in Tenerife such as those in Puerto de la Cruz, La Laguna, Los Cristianos and La Orotava tend to follow a similar programme to Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s. They’re just on a smaller scale and can end up being more accessible to tourists. There are also carnival celebrations on the other Canary Islands. We’ve got links for more information on these at the bottom of this post so just keep scrolling down.

Carnival in Tenerife | Travel Blog | DriveSpain.com

Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival 2018’s poster

Pre-carnival contests

Tenerife’s carnivals feature an array of murgas (theatrical musical bands), rondallas (similar to choirs) and comparsas (dance troupes). They all perform in costume… And if you’re coming along to see them during one of the parades, a great way to join in is to dress up yourself!

Even before the official carnival begins, murgas compete to play a role in the main festivities. Each murga will perform a song, which will have a humorous or satirical theme. The winning song will then become the carnival’s theme song for the year. There are actually two types of competition: one for children and one for adults. So presumably, there are two theme songs. Unless you speak Spanish, it might be difficult understanding the lyrics but that won’t stop you enjoying the spectacle of it all. This year, the competitions take place between 17 and 27 January.

All the contests are held at the International Fairs & Congress Centre (or Recinto Ferial). You can buy tickets (which range from €1 to €5 depending on the event) at carnavaldetenerife.com. The website is only available in Spanish. But you should be able to find more information and advice on getting tickets at the Tourist Information office in Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Carnival kick-off with the election of the Carnival Queen

The main festivities kick off on Wednesday 7 February with a gala to elect the Carnival Queen. Here you’ll get to see all the candidates in full costume show off in all their finery on stage. And as you can tell from the picture at the top, the costumes are pretty spectacular! I can only imagine how much work and care has gone into making them. They’re massive too! Apparently, costumes often weigh over 100 kilos and are 10 times the size of the person ‘wearing’ it.  Indeed, the costumes are so big that the candidate usually has to be wheeled out onto the stage. Naturally, during the parade, they’ll be on floats.

For the winner of the Queen’s crown, it’s a very special honour as they will go on to represent the carnival at tourism fairs around the world. I guess that means she gets to keep the outfit!

The carnival contests are a full-on family affair. In addition to the Carnival Queen, there is also a Reina de Los Mayores (Queen for the over 60s) and a Reina Infantil (Queen for the children). I’m not sure you’ll get to see them at the gala (they’re elected before the big gala) but you will see them at the parades.

The gala is also held at the International Fairs & Congress Centre. Tickets to attend the gala cost €10 and €15 (the €15 tickets get you into the special zone).  It starts at 9.30pm and goes on for about four hours so if you weren’t planning to stay in Santa Cruz that night, you might want to…

Cabalgata: The first parade

On Friday 9 February, the opening parade takes place. It features the Queen, her bridesmaids (several of those not quite making it as Queen), the older Queen and younger Queen as well as the various murgas and other musical, dancing and costumed groups. All you need to do to take part is to go to the streets. Check with tourist information or with your hotel for the best points to see all the action.

Once the procession is complete, the street partying begins! And the partying doesn’t really end for another week… Head to one (or try them all!) of the city’s main plazas where there will be plenty of music and dancing with bars spilling out onto the streets. Kiosks selling food will be in abundance too so you won’t go hungry. There will also be fireworks.

Coso Apoteosis: the Carnival parade

Actual Carnival Day, which is Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day to Brits, falls on Tuesday 13 February. And on this day, the queens, dancing troupes, street bands, decorated cars and floats, and drummers all come back for the closing parade. It’s called the Coso Apoteosis. Pretty much more of the same thing as Friday – perhaps, however, with a little more spark and shimmy (if that’s possible) as carnival will be coming to a close for another year. The parade starts at 4pm (usually along the seafront by the marina but check with the local tourist information office for confirmation) and finishes at Plaza de la Candelaria where there will be bands to continue the music for dancing. As with the first parade, there will be another fireworks show.

There is a section where the parade passes that is seated, which you can buy tickets for. However, it looks like tickets are no longer available for this year’s on carnavaldetenerife.com. However, there are tour companies who may still be selling tickets as part of a package. It’s also worth checking the Tourist Information office there for more information.

The Burial of the Sardine and the beginning of the end of Carnival

Oddly enough, a big sardine is what represents carnival festivities on what is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar (the day after Shrove Tuesday/Carnival day). The sardine is carried through the streets and followed by a procession of mourners (you can don some black and follow too if you like) before it’s set alight. There’s likely to be lots of mock weeping but mostly, it’s another good reason to be out and part of a spectacle. You can also expect more fireworks, music and dancing to finish off the night.

There is a great blog post about the Burial of the Sardine at: islandmomma.wordpress.com.

Piñata Chica – Carnival’s last hurrah

The actual closing of carnival happens at the weekend where the stages already set up around the city for carnival festivities are used again. There’s more music, more dancing, more food and drink and of course, more merriment!

Getting to Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife is north of the island, just a short drive from Tenerife North Airport. Most international flights go to Tenerife South Airport and most tourists tend to stay in the beachside resorts in the southern part of the island. Outside carnival period, the capital is a great place to visit for some culture, shopping and a wander in some its more historic parts. There is also a pretty golden beach nearby at Las Teresitas.

Carnival in Tenerife | Travel Blog | DriveSpain.com

Las Teresitas beach near Santa Cruz de Tenerife

If you’re planning to drive to the capital during carnival period, start early – you may also find it easier to find a parking space in one of the city’s public car parks. There are a few by the marina as well as one by the main bus station on Avenida Tres de Mayo by the roundabout at the intersection with Calle Fomento. For more information on Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s carnival, go to the official website: carnavaldetenerife.com. And if you are planning to go and stay in the city, book your accommodation NOW if you haven’t already!

Celebrating carnival in the other Canary Islands

For Gran Canaria, visit: guidetocanaryislands.com/fuerteventura-carnival-2018 for details, locations, dates and themes. If you are feeling a little put out that it’s just the females getting to compete for queen, don’t worry – in Las Palmas, there is also a Drag Queen gala on 17 February. Tickets are €10. You can find more information about the carnival in Las Palmas by visiting: lpacarnaval.com. One Gran Canaria food specialty is the ‘tortitas de carnaval’, which are as close to pancakes as you’ll get here if you’re missing them!

In Lanzarote, you’ll find carnival festivities in Arrecife, Costa Teguise, Puerto del Carmen and Playa Blanca. Visit guidetocanaryislands.com/lanzarote-carnival-2018 for more information including dates and themes.

Over in Fuerteventura, carnival celebrations take place in Puerto de la Rosario, Corralejo, Caleta de Fuste and Morro Jable. Visit: guidetocanaryislands.com/fuerteventura-carnival-2018 for more information, dates and themes.

Carnival in La Gomera take place in San Sebastian de La Gomera and Valle Gran Rey. Visit: guidetocanaryislands.com/la-gomera-carnival-2018 for more information, dates and themes.

There are also carnival celebrations in El Hierro and La Palma… Check with the tourist information office at the airport for details.

Top image © Philippe Teuwen/Flickr