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Hundreds of thousands of masked revelers dressed in every color of the rainbow pack the streets to dance, sing, pick a queen, catch concerts and generally bask in the perfectly over-the-top extravagance of the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival. Sounds like fun, huh? Only Rio’s Carnival makes a splash and a few nights of carnival partying will make you swear Santa Cruz deserves second place to none.
The carnival itself its centuries-old (it goes so far back many can’t agree on a set date), the theme changes every year, Franco banned it, judges choose a carnival queen (who goes on to represent the Canary Islands and the carnival at fair around the world), and there are singing contests, and Celia Cruz set the record for the largest outdoor plaza concert ever. It’s a hectic celebration. How do you make sense out of it all? Well, that might be your impossible, but we’re here with a Tenerife Carnival insider’s guide to help you find your way through all this madness.
Know the theme
You don’t want to arrive and wonder why everyone is dressed as fantasy characters and your broke out last year’s Halloween costume. Look up the theme ahead of time and dress accordingly.
Check the schedule
As hectic as it is, the carnival actually does a nice job of establishing a solid schedule for all the attendees not looking to dive in without a plan. The schedule gives times and places for all the major carnival events so you can pick and choose based on what grabs your interest most. The festival usually covers 11 days in early to mid-February, but there’s a quick respite in between Ash Wednesday and the final weekend (Piñata weekend). Plan accordingly.
Early bird gets the room
The city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife isn’t that big. The non-carnival population is just over 200,000. The flood of people who come to party in February means that room-hunting is a competitive game, to say the least. Our advice: Scout out your room early and pull the trigger. Every day you wait is a day lost to another attendee. Check out the widest selection of rooms in the Santa Cruz de Tenerife area and get started.
Oh my God we lost Sarah!
Parting and large crowds have a funny way (not actually funny) of making friends lose each other. Finding your friend through packed streets full of people in masks and costumes is a needle in a haystack type deal. The remedy here is a well-planned “we lost someone” procedure. We suggest a designated meeting point that everyone goes to in the event that you lose one or more group members.
It’s really obvious until the bright lights, loud music, and generally ecstatic vibe sweep you off your feet. Just remember that even though the carnival is an extraordinary event, your alcohol tolerance does not rise to the occasion. Know your limit. Being drunk in such a chaotic scene could become a real danger. Fun and safety have to go hand-in-hand.
The Carnival and what else?
Maybe you need a day off from the insanity. Maybe you’re curious about the Canary Islands. Your curiosity is more than understandable. You can hike through multiple national parks, climb a volcano, visit historic port cities that were critical when the islands were a major stopping point in transatlantic trade, and you can hop on a boat and see the dolphins, pilot whales and humpback, and sperm whales that flock to the islands.
Carnival festivities take a lot out of you. If you’re not putting food in consistently, you’ll find yourself with an empty tank soon. Food on the islands is definitely worth sampling. Potato dishes are very common, as is ropa vieja (a shredded beef dish). Wine from the islands is world-famous so match up a glass with a full plate and recharge.