Tenerife is known for beautiful vistas, great nightspots and luxurious resorts but you can’t say you know Tenerife until you’ve been there for Carnival. This riotous festival is world-famous for its exuberance and wildness and lasts for upto three weeks. It is only beaten by Rio de Janeiro as the top world destination for celebrating Carnival. If you are in the Canary Islands in February, and aren’t afraid of a fiendishly good time, head to Santa Cruz de Tenerife for one of the hemisphere’s biggest celebrations.

Those who participate in Tenerife’s Carnival take it very seriously; some businesses cut back hours or even close while the festival is going on. The dazzling costumes and endless dancing are part of the spectacle and you should definitely consider going in costume, because you might feel a bit out of place in normal clothing. As much fun as the parades and street entertainments are to watch it’s much more fun to join in. Go in drag or as your favourite cartoon character. Don’t be worried about being too flamboyant; with a strong emphasis on cross-dressing and every person trying to outdo the next you have nothing to worry about.

No matter when you join in, you’ll find lots to do, but there are a few events you should definitely keep an eye out for. Purchase your tickets as early as you can as they tend to go fast. The first real spectacle of the week is the Gala Reina, the selection of the Carnival Queens. While the girls are lovely, the main emphasis is on the costume … it’s easy to miss the contestant under the feathers, beads and satin!

There are smaller, though no less extravagant, competitions for the children’s Carnival Queen and for a seniors’ Carnival Queen. For a more performance-oriented show try to hit the Drag Queen of Carnival competition. This can be considered the most popular event with each contestant vying for the audience’s attention and applause.

If you can’t get tickets to any of the competitions head to one of the ‘Mogollones’. These open-air Carnival parties feature live entertainment and Latin and Salsa music. With tens of thousands of attendees this will be one of the wildest parties you’ve ever attended. You can dance from dusk until dawn if you want just don’t expect it to be quiet! Roaming the streets of Carnival you’ll run into everything from clay pigeon shoots to vintage car shows. Everyone has their own idea of what a party should be and they’re eager to share it with you.

After the competitions finish up you can watch the ‘Cabalgata’, the Grand Parade, from the terraces. The winners of the competitions mount floats that are every bit as extravagant as their costumes and they’re joined by dance troupes that have rehearsed for months. If you’ve come unprepared and if need a costume in a hurry you’ll always find plenty stands selling masks and wigs.

The Tenerife Carnival is concluded with the Burial of the Sardine (El Entierro de la Sardina) when a thirty-foot paper mache fish get taken through the streets of Santa Cruz while being mourned by male “widows” in miniskirts and fishnets. The burial of the sardine is a custom celebrated because as in hunting there is a time when one should not hunt and therefore a time when one should not catch sardines. The sardine prohibition comes at the worst time because as Catholics cannot eat meat during Lent they are denied a good source of food. Hence the mourning!

The Burial of the Sardine marks the end of the Carnival and as you head home, while you might be a little tired of the non-stop partying, you’ll probably be planning for your return next year!

Although Carnival is celebrated most vehemently in Santa Cruz de Tenerife it is also celebrated in every town and village throughout Tenerife. Of the island’s main holiday resorts it is Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast where you’ll find the biggest celebrations.

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