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Carnival of Tenerife

Carnival of Tenerife / Carnaval de Tenerife

Carnival of Tenerife

On the island of Tenerife, the capital city of Santa Cruz hosts the world-famous Carnival of Tenerife every year. This frenetic and colorful celebration of life is the largest carnival celebration in Spain and the second largest in the world. 

The tradition dates back to the XVIII century and lasts a full month. The dates vary from year to year, but it is always celebrated leading up to lent, and the party lasts almost a month in its entirety. Here you will find all the information you will ever need on this magical island celebration. The Carnival in Tenerife is, without hesitation, one of the top Fiestas in Spain.

Carnival of Tenerife

When is the Carnival of Tenerife?

Canival queen

The short answer is that the Carnival of Tenerife is held during February and part of March. The exact dates however vary from year to year, but this is the general time frame. 

The Carnival of Tenerife is what is known as a pre-Lenten celebration, and although the carnival technically lasts almost the entire month of February, the festivities really kick-off the week prior to Ash Wednesday. During this week businesses close down and everyone heads out to party.

Queen’s Election Gala is the first main event of the celebration. The Election Gala is the ceremony where the Carnival Queen for the year is chosen. The Queen of the Carnival will lead the Carnival Announcing Parade during the celebration.  

In 2020 the Carnival’s main event in the streets would have been held on Friday, February 21 at 8:00 p.m. This is the day when the major procession would have been held. Decorated floats and cars roam the main streets of the city, accompanied by the carnival and the new queen’s Maids of Honor.

The Tenerife Carnival Comparsa

The next day, the carnival starts up again. On this day the Rhythm and Harmony Comparsas contest are held, filling Francisco la Roche Avenue with the “batucada” and hundreds of party-goers. 

The first carnival weekend closes with the Día Carnival, which begins at 1:00 p.m. This is the best chance you will get to show off your costume in daylight, and the shows and festivities go well into the afternoon.

Tenerife Carnival

About the Carnival of Tenerife

The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife holds the highest consideration for parties granted by the ministry of tourism of Spain. It is considered the second most popular and internationally carnival, after the Carnival of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). In fact, the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the sister city of Rio because of this. 

As we mentioned, Carnival technically lasts almost a month but hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets every year for more than a week, during the hight of the festivities. In 1987 the famous Cuban singer Celia Cruz attended the Chicharrero Carnival with the Billo’s Caracas Boys orchestra, which was attended by 250,000 people

The concert was registered in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest congregation of people to attend an outdoor concert, a record that stands to this day.

In fact, in 2019, more than 400,000 people danced to the rhythm of Juan Luis Guerra during the daytime Carnival on Piñata Saturday, breaking said record. However, organizers were caught off guard, as they were not expecting such a crowd to congregate. and there was no notary on hand to make certify the size of the crowd for the Guinness Book.

The Carnival of Tenerife On January was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest by the Secretary of State for Tourism in 1980 being the only Canarian festival that holds such a distinction, and the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is currently in the running to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  

The two parts of the Carnival of Tenerife

It has two distinct parts, the “official” carnival and the street carnival. The official carnival features over 100 participating groups with an average of 50 members each. These groups that actively participate in the celebration are in charge of getting the party going. Depending on what they do exactly for the festivities they are known as: murgas, comparsas, costume groups, rondallas and musical groups.

The street carnival is the participation of the citizens themselves in the party. 

History of the Carnival

There is good evidence that the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival has been celebrated since the first European settlements in 1605. The first written references, however, are from the XVIII century, through the writings of visitors to the island, and later, through official provisions.

The diary of Lope Antonio de la Guerra y Peña in 1778 includes references to a dance held in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He even mentioned the term comparsas. In 1783 masks that totally or partially covered participant’s faces were vetoed to avoid mingling between the aristocracy and the commoners. In the year 1891 we see the first appearance of the rondalla as a group of the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the Orfeón de Santa Cruz was founded in 1897.

During the dictatorships of Miguel Primo de Rivera (1923-1930), and General Franco (basically 1940-1960), the Carnaval was renamed “Winter Festivities” as a ruse to avoid prohibition. The Carnival continued to be celebrated in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and was the only place in Spain where such a celebration was held along with Cádiz and Isla Cristina.

In 1954, saw the birth of the first Murga as the Afilarmónica NiFú-NiFá. When the Franco dictatorship finally ended the party changed its name back to  “Carnival”.

Tenerife Carnival poster

The Carnival Poster 

Since 1962 a Carnival poster has been made for each edition. Artists of the caliber of Juan Galarza, Gurrea, Javier Mariscal, Dokoupil, César Manrique, Cuixart, Pedro González, Fierro, Paco Martínez, Mel Ramos, Enrique González, Maribel Nazco, Elena Lecuona, and many more have produced artwork to promote the Carnival and have made the reveal of the artwork an event in itself. 

Nowadays, tickets for the different events, especially the Adult Murgas Final and the Queen’s Election Gala, sell out within 15 minutes to an hour. We are talking about over 20,000 tickets, amazing!

Key dates of the Carnival 

The weeks before the Wednesday of the election of the Queen, there are competitions for adult and children’s troupes, lyrical-musical groups, rondallas, the senior Queen, Child Queen, Song of Laughter and adult and children’s murgas.

The official carnival song is also chosen and those that will be candidates for Adult Queen are presented in the noble hall of the Town Hall.

There is also a choreography contest, a costume contest that rewards the most original, and the floats and cars that are going to participate in the procession are decorated. Shortly before Christmas, the Carnival poster is revealed.

Wednesday: Grand Election Gala of the Carnival Queen 

The Wednesday before the weekend of the carnival, the Queen of the Carnival is chosen in a gala that is usually broadcast throughout the country.

During the gala, the candidates parade through the main stage and an official and celebrity jury are charged with choosing the Carnival Queen. 

The elaborate dresses used by the candidates can weigh up to a whopping 200 kilos and participants have to use wheels to move them around. Most of the costumes are so expensive that they rely on sponsors to get made. The chosen queen will be in charge of representing the carnival in the different tourism fairs attended by a representative of the Canary Islands.

Tenerife Carnival Queen 2020

Friday: The Parade Anouncement 

On Friday, all the carnival groups go through the main streets of the city “announcing” the arrival of the carnival. It begins in the Parque de la Granja, and concludes in the Plaza de España. Crossing the Ramblas; Canary Islands Avenue; Plaza Weyler and Calle Méndez Núñez to return to Las Ramblas and from there turn towards Avenida Anaga and end at Plaza de Europa or at the rear façade of the Cabildo de Tenerife.

The queen and the bridesmaids pass in their own float, escorted by the troupes. The murgas and rondallas are scattered around the entourage. Private floats also participate in the parade. In total, they are more than 4 hours to the rhythm of batucadas and other Latin rhythms. At the end, well into the night, the party officially begins on the street.

Carnival Saturday 

Carnival Saturday is a day dedicated entirely to dancing. There are two main stages: Plaza de la Candelaria and another in the Plaza del Príncipe. 

On both of these stages, groups generally perform Latin music, and the party isn’t only confined to these two spots. Every street you go down that connects them will be teeming with party-goers. These side streets are filled with bars and floats with their own music. One of the main streets of the Carnival is the street “Bethencourt Afonso” popularly known as “Calle San José”.

Sunday: Day time Carnival 

Two Sundays are set aside for more family-friendly activities. Most of the Carnival involves partying and drinking but these two days are meant to be enjoyed by families and kids. During the first Sunday, a party is put together for the younger attendees, and activities like costume contests are held. On the second Saturday, there are more PG activities put together but the main attraction is the Carnival piñata which showers partiers with candies and goodies.

Carnival Monday 

This is the main party day of the whole Carnival. The main stage, located in the center of town, hosts a variety of A-list performers, and the music and partying last all day and well into the night. If you are looking to party this is the day you want to be ready for. 

Tuesday: El Gran Coso Apotheosis 

On Tuesday the Gran Coso Apotheosis takes place, a parade that runs along Avenida de Anaga and officially marks the end of Carnival. It is basically one last hurrah. All the carnival groups parade one more time: the floats; the decked-out cars and the queens. On this day the parade happens during the day and a show held especially for tourists, who are brought in by bus from the tourist areas of the island.

Ash Wednesday

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the “Burial of the Sardine is celebrated“.

Everyone in Santa Cruz dresses up in black in mourning of a giant cardboard sardine which is paraded around town before being burned. The sardine is made by the prisoners of the Tenerife II prison. Pretty weird right? It gets even more bizarre.

An event is also held mocking the Curch and many participants dress up as popes, bishops and nuns imitating blessings and other religious rites on many occasions accompanied by objects of a sexual nature. 

Top activities in Tenerife

Find in this article the top ideas to enjoy in Tenerife during your vacation in the island. There are intersting things to do for all: children, couples looking for romance, adventure travellers, or those simply expecting fun or relax.