Discover the magic of Carnival in Tenerife

A complete guide to the biggest event of the year in Tenerife: Carnival. Find out about all the events that take place during Carnival in Tenerife.

The carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is always spectacular

The beginning of lent is celebrated in different ways all over the world. There are all kinds of traditions, most of which have a vague religious element to them, but most of which sprang from a desire to have a good time before the austerity of lent kicked in. In the UK, we celebrate Pancake Day, and I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘Mardi Gras’, which means ‘Fat Tuesday’, which involves feasting and parades. You’ll have seen pictures of the legendary carnival in Brazil. But did you know that carnival in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, is officially the second-best carnival celebration in the world?

Luckily for us, it’s slightly closer to home than Brazil, but still has a fascinating history and an incredible atmosphere. It lasts for days on end and all kinds of different events are held. Want to discover carnival in Tenerife for yourself? Read on to find out about how it all started and what to see if you’re on the island during Tenerife carnival 2020, or getting planning your trip to Tenerife carnival 2021.

History of carnival in Spain: Tenerife

The Canary Islands carnival is thought to have been celebrated in some way, shape or form ever since the Spanish colonised the archipelago, at the end of the 15th century. Thanks to their strategic location in the Atlantic, they quickly became an international melting pot.

Ever seen pictures of the carnival masquerades in Italy? Well, it seems that a group of Italians rocked up on the island of Gran Canaria and started their own masked carnival.

From there, carnival celebrations started to spread to the neighbouring islands, including Tenerife, getting bigger and bigger, with different traditions and cultures melding together on different islands to produce what is, today, a hotch-podge of fun but arguably fairly eccentric traditions.

The carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is now a world-famous event, and one that you should be a part of at least once in your life.

Tenerife carnival dates

The dates of Carnival change every year, just as the dates of Easter do. In 2020, the Santa Cruz de Tenerife carnival officially starting to warm up on the 8th of February, the biggest days being Monday the 24th and Tuesday 25th of February, and everything winding down on the 1st of March.

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting one of the best winter holiday destinations in the sun during February, then you’ll get to see the magic happen for yourself. Oh, and carnival is all about dressing up, so make sure you take a costume that’ll fit this year’s theme, ‘musicals’.

If you’re planning ahead for next year, then the biggest days of the Santa Cruz carnival will be brought forward slightly, as Shrove Tuesday falls on the 16th of February. The perfect excuse to escape winter.

Things you can’t miss during carnival, Tenerife, 2020

Every city and town in Tenerife has a celebration to open the carnival for the year, and they like to make it last.

One thing that you’ll see around Tenerife throughout the festivities are the comparsa groups, which are singing groups that wear incredible costumes and mainly sing about current political and social issues, often being pulled around on floats or trailers pulled by tractors.

A murga is the comic equivalent of a comparsa, with these groups singing songs that make the crowds chortle.

On Tenerife specifically you can witness a curious tradition called the mataculebra. This tradition came to the island at the end of the 19th century with people returning from Cuba who had learned these traditions from the slaves living on the island.

This is a dance which represents good and evil and was a criticism of the slave culture that survived for so long in Cuba. It’s one of the biggest events of Carnival Monday.

The election of the Carnival Queen is another highlight. Contestants wear incredibly elaborate, impossibly heavy dresses and compete for the crown, awarded to the most beautiful, spectacularly dressed woman. This celebration has been dubbed an event of tourist interest by the Spanish government.

The carnival procession itself, however, is probably the most unmissable part of the celebrations. There’s always a theme, and people from all walks of life and all ages take part in the spectacular parade.

When the parade is over, the last event of the festivities (barring the pinata a week later) is the Burial of the Sardine, on Ash Wednesday.

People set their sparkly costumes aside, wear black, and a giant model of a sardine is paraded around the town, and then burned. People pretend to cry and mourn, and it is a sad moment, marking the end of the fun for another year, but it’s still hilarious.

Things you should know when visiting the Santa Cruz Tenerife carnival

If you’re planning on experiencing carnival in Tenerife for yourself, then you’ll need to plan well in advance.

This is one of the most popular celebrations in the world, so accommodation fills up quickly and can get very pricey if you don’t plan ahead.

Other than that, you’ll need a sturdy pair of dancing shoes and plenty of energy to dive head first into the festivities.