“I mostly stick to Puerto’s carnival,” I said to a Santa Crucero friend who’d asked if I was heading into the capital for Tenerife’s biggest party of the year.

“But that’s tiny,” She laughed.

Tiny… and that’s despite there being up to 30,000+ people at the nightly street parties in Puerto de la Cruz. That should give you some idea of the scale of celebrations in Santa Cruz.

Arriving in Santa Cruz via the bus station during carnival is like arriving via a portal from another world. You enter the station from a relatively quiet, modern city and emerge into what could easily be a bizarre and unfamiliar post apocalyptic landscape.

But this is no Blade Runner bleakness; this is a parallel universe where Disney and Marvel characters rule the world; the place where vampires, zombies and all types of miscreants go to party and Snow White reveals a dark side, as well as a lot more, by wearing micro skirts that expose her stocking tops.

Costumes are essential keys to the carnaval kingdom and Andy and I had prepared ourselves for entry by donning a monk’s robe (me) and a Hit-Girl (Kick-Ass ) costume (Andy)…or rather Hit-Girl a few sequels down the line. That was a foolhardy comment which earned me a super hero karate chop.

The glass-walled bus station is like an acclimatisation zone and at 11pm on Saturday night the few people in costume (carnival doesn’t hit its stride until much later), aided and abetted by a neon-lit world beyond the windows, added a surreal, slightly trippy feel to the place.

Outside, a fairground ran the length of the port promenade to the centre of the city, a 10 minute walk away. For every ride there was a junk food stall selling churros, burgers and baked potatoes.

11pm is far too early for carnaval and the mix of those in fancy dress and those not was about 50/50. But with every step towards the centre, those not ‘in gear’ began to look more and more like dull intruders in a Dayglo world. In carnival land the tables are turned. A man wearing false breasts, high heels and a lace-panty revealing skirt looks normal, whereas one in a jumper, jeans and sensible shoes looks and feels (I know from experience) odd.

There was a Ministry of Sound set (from 11pm to 6am) at Plaza Europa. By midnight there were still only a handful of people in front of the huge stage as a supporting DJ warmed up the crowd, so we went on a tour of the other carnaval hot spots.

Plaza Candelaria was already bouncing as a young, lively maquinaria band had the crowd in the plaza screaming approval (Latino music wins out every time in Tenerife) and a conga line of police women, cavemen and a flamenco troupe snaked their way through the throng.

The streets running parallel to the square were full of decorated floats blasting out a mix of dance and Latino to the costumed revellers. In front of one a group of dirigible-sized mock Scots in kilts bounced and waddled to the music.

In Plaza Principe butterflies and ladybirds salsa’d to the sounds of another Latino band whilst in the street below the plaza an overweight Marilyn Monroe flashed her knickers to the strains of a Spanish rock band as the statue of Padre José Murphy (I kid you not) looked on disapprovingly.

By 1.30am the centre of the capital was a whirling mass of colour and costumes. We had casually arranged to meet some friends, but there was little chance of spotting them amongst the tens of thousands that packed the streets and even less of trying to communicate by phone. So we continued to shimmy our way through the madness, being stopped every so often by creatures of the night who wanted a brief dance or to have their photo taken, whilst carnaval just got busier and busier.

By 2am the Ministry of Sound party had filled considerably. As Andy and I jigged to Shane Kehoes’ set someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to face a clown who pointed at the bag slung around my shoulder.

“Your mobile phone’s on show,” he said. “You should keep it in your pocket; much safer.” The clown smiled.

It’s a nothing little story, but to me it spoke volumes about carnival on Tenerife. You can talk about the imaginative costumes, the live music and the sheer spectacle of Tenerife’s bigger carnivals, but what really makes the street parties very special is that to experience one is to experience the best of the Tinerfeño character. Carnival is a lot of fun and visually an intoxicating rollercoaster ride, but possibly most important of all, its atmosphere exudes an overwhelming wave of warmth and friendliness.

That’s why it’s so dammed hard to drag yourself away from it until the cocks start to crow.

  1. […] I drew the designated driver short straw and we set off around 10.40pm to give ourselves plenty of time to check out all the venues in the city before heading to Plaza Europa to share the Ministry of Sound experience. As it turned out, driving into the city couldn’t have been easier. We arrived at the bus station car park to find plenty of spaces (the Canarios don’t tend to like paying for parking when an empty pedestrian crossing costs nothing) and with the final touches applied to our costumes, headed off into the surreal pandemonium that is carnival. […]

  2. ZephyrLiving says:

    Is that Andy with the pink hair? I’m not even going to ask for a picture of you as a monk, but I’m hoping you shaved your head in a tonsure…Is that too much to hope for?

    Carnaval sounds like so much fun. I’ve never experienced anything like it anywhere. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    (I raced through your posts hoping for a pic of you two in costume).

    : ) Peace, T.

    • dragojac says:

      That is Andy with the pink hair. I didn´t shave my head but I should have. After having the hood up for a couple of hours I looked like Crusty the Clown when I put it down…it´s probably why monks do it.


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