Second-only to the Rio Carnival in Brazil, Santa Cruz de Tenerife puts on the glitz
A huge, colourful fish – made mostly of paper – is paraded through the streets of Santa Cruz de Tenerife on Ash Wednesday each year, before being ‘buried’ (actually cremated) to the melodramatic wailing of thousands dressed in mourning black.
It sounds bizarre, but it’s only one of the amazing events in a fortnight or more of madcap dressing-up, singing, dancing, drinking and parading which makes up the carnival of Tenerife, reckoned to be the biggest in Europe.
The Tenerife Carnival in 2020
The annual festivities lay claim to standing only second to Rio in the carnival world, and Santa Cruz emphasises the point by having the Brazilian city as one of its official civic ‘twins’.
The event entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1987 for hosting the largest crowd to attend an outdoor concert, more than 200,000 for a show featuring salsa star Celia Cruz, and if you fancy joining the fun for 2020, the festival proper runs from February 19 to March 1, beginning with the competition to choose the carnival queen.
Each carnival has a theme – in 2020, it is the 1950s, with particular emphasis on the pin-up style of the decade – and there are always plenty of shops offering costumes, wigs and make-up to help enter into the spirit.
Although you might see snow on the summit of Mount Teide, temperatures at that time of year can reach the mid-20s, and during the week visitors can enjoy daily parades and street celebrations, including a special procession for children, and concerts in theatres and outdoors ranging from folk music to opera.
The night-time demise of the fish, identified as a sardine, is a reference to the “chicharreros” nickname of the townspeople and their local sea-fishing industry, and the festivities conclude on the following Saturday with another huge parade and an impressive fireworks display.
Tenerife outside carnival time
If you are in Santa Cruz outside carnival time, you can still experience a flavour of the event at the Carnival House exhibition centre, at the Barranco de Santos, open daily with a display of costumes, posters and videos, and a chance to try on masks and wigs and play some of the instruments.