Even if I didn't know what month it was I could tell when carnival on Tenerife is nearly upon us. In my house, about 3km outside Puerto de la Cruz, I can hear the rhythmic beat of drums floating up the valley from comparsas (carnival groups) practicing in the town.
The drums beat out a clear message – 'carnival is coming, carnival is coming'. With that message also comes a surge of excited anticipation.
Carnival on Tenerife is all consuming fun. For a week in February/March (dates change slightly yearly) forget trying to do anything productive. You might as well give in, embrace carnival in all its hedonistic and flamboyant glory and have a lot of fun.
Experience carnival on Tenerife
Carnival on Tenerife is made up of a series of events which include shows such as galas to elect carnival queens, colourful parades and, my favourite aspect of carnival, street parties.
Although carnival takes place in towns across Tenerife, two of the most interesting for visitors are the carnivals in Santa Cruz, the biggest on the island, and Puerto de la Cruz, a traditional town which is also a tourist resort.
As neither are far apart (just under 40km) I like to flit between both to enjoy my favourite events, starting with the gala to elect the carnival queen in Santa Cruz. It's an epic variety show featuring top Spanish and Canarian pop singers, dance groups and, the highlight of the evening, the carnival queen candidates revealing their wildly imaginative chariot-sized costumes for the first time. When I say epic I mean epic; I've spent seven hours at this theatrical extravaganza, the time whizzing by.
Tenerife carnival hits its stride with the Cabalgata Anunciadora in Santa Cruz, the opening parade which announces carnival in the street has started. It's an electric, vibrant affair consisting of musicians, dancers, carnival queens and dames, and hordes of people in fancy dress costumes. The best bits are being able to see the carnival queen costumes up close and spotting the most imagimative outfits in the parade.
After that, it's time for carnival's street parties to begin.
Carnival street parties on Tenerife
Almost every night for a week, in both Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz, thousands of people put on fancy dress outfits and take to the streets to dance the night away to live bands. The first year I went to a carnival street party I made two mistakes. I turned up too early (parties don't really get going till midnight) and I didn't dress up. It was an enjoyable experience but, as almost every other person was wearing a fancy dress outfit, I didn't feel part of carnival. Dressing up is the key to discovering what carnival is all about... and it's more fun.
I never made the same mistakes again. Over the years I've been a hippy, cowboy, ghoul, vampire, demon monk and William Wallace, complete with painted saltire face. Although there's a theme to each carnival it doesn't matter what costume you wear.
Carnival street parties last almost until dawn, but I usually reluctantly dragging myself away around 5am when they're still going strong.
More carnival parades and events on Tenerife
The carnival event which attracts most tourists from Tenerife's southern resorts is the Coso Apoteosis in Santa Cruz on the Tuesday of carnival week. Traditionally it's supposed to represent the city's carnival closing parade; however, the party continues until the following weekend.
Ash Wednesday sees one of the most surreal carnival events, the Burial of the Sardine. Wailing and screeching 'drag' widows follow a huge silver sardine (usually in full make-up) through the streets before the fish is 'cremated' and sent on its way to fishy heaven accompanied by a firework display. Men wanting to join in with this carnival event should pull on a pair of stockings and slip into a little black number to look the part. It is as mad as it sounds.
The most outrageous and funniest carnival event takes place on the last Friday of carnival week in Puerto de la Cruz. The High Heels Drag Marathon (Mascarita Ponte Tacon) is an event I never miss as it is laugh out loud hilarious. Although there is a crazy race at the end of the night, it's really more about participants teetering theatrically around in vertigo-inducing heels and hamming it up to delighted onlookers. It's become one of the most enjoyable carnival events on Tenerife.
Although the Coso Apoteosis in Santa Cruz takes place on the Tuesday of carnival week, in Puerto de la Cruz the closing parade is on the last Saturday of carnival, which adds an extra dollop of fun to the atmosphere. There's a sense carnival goers give it their all for one last big carnival bash before the whole exuberant shebang is over for another year.
By this point I'm exhausted and usually declare I'll be giving the following year's carnival a miss.
12 months later, the drum beats start and once again a feeling of anticipation and excitement surges through my veins. Carnival on Tenerife is just too addictive to miss.