Dos & Don’ts of Spain’s #1 Carnival
in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
You have to see it to believe it.
Glitter, flashing lights, riotess beats -the beautiful debauchery of one of Spain’s most cherished festivals is right here in the heart of the Canary Islands. If you’re lucky enough to be celebrating in one of the top Carnaval hotspots in Spain – Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Cadiz, Sitges – get ready to be dazzled. From shimmering, sequined gowns and luminous firework displays to blaring Latin beats and the sensation of thousands of people soaking it all in with you, your senses are sure to be on overload.
But remember as you get down and dirty in one of Spain’s Carnival capitals, it’s more than just a party. Carnival traditions are deeply rooted in these cities, and have lasted and grown increasingly important over the years. There’s a story behind everything from the Queen’s 100kg gown to the mocking refrains of the murgas and, of course, the sparks of a papier-mâché sardine going up in smoke.
1. Do dress up like your friends
11 Smurfs, 7 jellyfish and 23 co-ed Minnie Mouses (Minnie Mice?). No, this isn’t the recipe for a brujas brew, or some crazy Canarian jungle juice.
Carnaval in Spain is not the time to see which of your friends can pull together the best glittery tutu/neon wig/spotted leotard combination. The tradition is to dress up with two to two hundred of your closest compañeros and to take on the town like the bad ass band of bumblebees (or Care Bears, or pirates…) that you are.
Especially in the Canary Islands, it’s typical for boys and men to dress in drag, so boys – don’t be shy about flaunting what ya mama gave you in that new florescent tutu!
2. Don’t Pack Your Favorite Shoes
Carnaval stages and events are set up all around the city and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be wobbly by the end of the night next morning, so you’ll definitely be grateful for your comfy kicks.
It’s also worth mentioning that days of partying and a shortage of porta potties leaves the streets pretty asquerosa (read: disgusting) so don’t pack any footwear that’s near and dear to you.
3. Do Catch the Opening Parade
(La Cabalgata Anunciadora)
The opening parade is a true spectacle, and the first night of costumes, live music and hedonism is a must for the bucket list. Murgas, musicians, dance troupes, floats, and of course the queen and her runners up all wind through the city to drum beats, Latin sambas, comparsas and more. The parade symbolizes the opening of Carnaval, so energies are high and the excitement is tangible.
In Santa Cruz, the 2019 Opening Carnival Parade is scheduled for Friday, 1 March, 2019.
It kicks off around 20:00 near Parque Granja at the Plaza de la República Dominicana, then coils down and over through Calle Ramón y Cajal, on to Plaza Weyler, and finishing at the water on the Avenida Francisco La Roche (near Plaza de España).
I recommend watching the parade from Plaza Weyler, where the atmosphere is a tope. Weyler is in the center of the action, so as the parade tapers off, you’ll find yourself smack in the center of three of the main stages set up all over the city.
4. Don’t Spend All Night in Plaza Weyler
Santa Cruz’ Plaza Weyler is a perfect jumping off point, but it’s definitely not the only place to spend the weekend! There are stages all around the city with DJs, live music, murgas and more. The main stages are at:
Plaza del Príncipe
Plaza la Candelaria
Plaza de la Concepción and
Avenida Francisco la Rocha.
I tend to start at Weyler and work my way down through Plaza Candelaria, rock out on Calle Clavel and then finish up the night dancing myself silly along the marina at the Francisco la Rocha stage.
5. Do Appreciate the Elaborate Gowns of the Queen’s Entourage
Days before the streets fill with merry makers, the Queen of Carnaval has already been selected. The election gala is a spectacle of radiant and intricate gowns adorned with sequins and feathers – some of which weigh more than 100kg! The costumes are so heavy that to move down the runway the nominees require the use of a wheeled mechanism attached from beneath.
The 2019 Queen Election
(Gala de Elección de la Reina)
will be held on Wednesday, 20 February, 2019.
As the Queen and her runners’ up float by on Friday’s opening parade and the Coso Parade the following Tuesday, take a moment to appreciate the stunning detail and the months of work that have gone toward it. The Queen’s role is not only to look stunning for the parades, but to promote tourism for the Canary Islands throughout the upcoming year.
6. Don’t Miss the Murgas
Murgas are a tradition at the very heart of Carnaval. Dressed up in clown costumes and makeup, murgas are musical groups who write and preform folk songs mocking politicians and government corruption.
The murgas practice throughout the year and compete for best lyrics, best costumes, and best performance during Carnaval season. You’ll see various murgas performing throughout the festivities, but I’d recommend checking out the phenomenal team from Afilarmonica Nifu Nifa.
7. Do Check Out the Fair
Along the water headed toward the bus station, you’ll find a perfect excuse to get dizzy without even having one too many Doradas (local beer) or Arehuecas con cola – the fair. While it tends to be overrun with local teens, the fair boasts a pretty legit ferris wheel, tall enough to get some decent views of the seaside city below.
8. Don’t Be Fooled by “Family Friendly”… Carnaval es Carnaval!
Carnaval del Día is said to be family friendly, but don’t be fooled – the only difference between the “Family Friendly” festivities and the bacchanal the night before is that the sun is up and you’re in danger of stumbling over baby strollers.
In Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the 2019 Carnaval del Día is scheduled for
Sunday, 3 March, 2019 and
Saturday, March 9, 2019.
In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Carnival del Día will take place on the first Saturday of Carnaval.
While it’s not necessary to arrive as early as one in the afternoon, be sure to have saved up some energy the night before. Daytime Carnival is a highlight of the festivities and definitely something you don’t want to miss!
9. Do Appreciate the Chicharrero Traditions
Locals take Carnaval seriously, which can be seen even in the smallest details. Every year the local brew (Dorada) creates tons of Carnival-themed promotional materials – billboards, bottles, and even short promotional clips like this gem from 2017’s Caribean themed Carnaval.
The town hall chooses a different theme (which people usually love) and a new publicity poster (which people usually hate). I’ts all part of the spectacle!
10. Don’t Miss the Entierro de la Sardina
Without a doubt, this is my favorite Carnaval event.
Picture this: It’s Wednesday night. The streets and plazas are slowly starting to fill with Carnaval revelers – only tonight you won’t see groups of minions or Avatars or any of the usual subjects. Tonight, every man, woman and child is dressed in a little black dress, complete with fishnets, heels, pearls, red feathered boas, pill box hats and mourning veils – tonight we’re all widows.
In 2019, Santa Cruz’ ‘Burial of the Sardine’
is scheduled for Wednesday, March 6, 2019.
In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the ‘Burial of the Sardine’
will be held on the final Sunday of Carnival.
As you join the line of wailing mourners, you’ll find any number of oversized dildos, penis pendants, rosaries and members of the clergy. Follow the irreverent procession of the giant sardine, wait around for about 2 hours (hey, it’s island time), and as a crowd starts to build along the water, join up to see the giant papier mâché sardine set alight with fireworks and left to burn to a crisp.
In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the Entierro de la Sardina culminate on the Las Canteras coast and burns over the sea, while in Santa Cruz de Tenerife the sardine goes up in smoke in the port beside Plaza de España.
11. Do Be Smart
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is generally a very safe and chilled out town, but when you add thousands of people and loads of booze into the mix, ya gotta be street smart. Watch your valuables and watch out for your friends. Make it a weekend to remember and not one you want to forget!
12. Don’t Just Take My Word for It…
Carnaval de Santa Cruz is hailed throughout Spain, and as any Chicharrero will tell you, Santa Cruz Carnaval is second only to that of Rio de Janeiro. The celebrations have won several awards and in recent years, there’s been a push for UNESCO to declare Carnaval week a World Heritage event.
1980: declared a Tourist Festival of International Interest by the Spanish government
1987: Guinness World Records declared the world’s largest gathering of people to attend an outdoor concert (200,000 people getting down to the iconic Celia Cruz)
2000: Voted the Carnaval Capital of the World, beating out London’s Notting Hill and even the revelry in Rio.
Ready to pack your bags?
Read more about Carnival following the links below!
Party on! Erica ✌💚