The thing about fiestas on Tenerife, or probably anywhere in Spain, is that if you’re a fiesta virgin it can be overwhelming when you turn up not knowing what is going to happen or where the main action will be taking place.
At Real Tenerife we’ve been there, stood in the wrong place, missed the best bits… and then, over the years, sussed out how to get the best out of the endless fiestas on Tenerife so that others don’t have to make the same mistakes we did. Follow our photo guide to the Fiestas del Carmen and the Día de la Embarcación in Puerto de la Cruz to enjoy a wet, wild and wonderful Tenerife tradition.
La Sardinada is held the night before the main festivities (9th July in 2012). It has nothing to do with carnival, neither has it anything to do with setting fire to a giant sardine. It does, however, involve barbecued sardines and Latino music as it’s basically a sardine eating party that starts around 9pm at San Telmo on the promenade in Puerto de la Cruz. Getting hold of your sardine and a glass of wine or beer involves buying tickets from a stall first (about €3 each) and then queueing for a plate of flame-grilled sardines and a chunk of bread before heading to San Telmo’s small beach area for a bit of reggaeton.
Día de la Embarcación (10th July 2012)
There’s no point arriving at the harbour too early as it’s going to be a long day. We get there about 1pm (usually as the traditional folk groups are belting out Canario songs outside Casa Aduana). From then on it’s a case of soaking up the atmosphere by doing circuits of the area.
Between the Harbour and Plaza del Charco
This is a key area for partying. You’ve got Frigata, Hannen and Tasquita, which are magnets for younger revellers. There’s also the best food stall in the universe (well mine) Kiosk California which only appears at Carnaval and for the Fiestas del Carmen (food tip– try a catalan sandwich).
Plaza del Charco
If you fancy picking up a Fiesta del Carmen T-shirt, this is the place. A straw hat is also essential Día de la Embarcación fashion but that might involve buying some beer or a combinado at one of the bars (no hardship) and asking if they sell hats (Ron Guajara is the hat to get). Plaza del Charco usually has boards telling the history of the fiestas and a model of Olde Worlde Puerto de la Cruz in the fountain.
THE liveliest area during festivals; locals spill out onto the street from bars, filling it to capacity as the afternoon progresses. There can be much beer throwing going on here and it might only be for those adventurers who want to experience everything about the Dia de la Embarcación.
El Muelle (the Harbour)
The harbour is a must. Have a stroll along it around 1.30pm to witness total madness with everyone under the age of 20 either throwing themselves off, or being thrown from, the harbour wall into the water. Great if you’re into action photography… but watch out for splashback.
El Muelle at 3pm
Get into a position with a good view of the car park side of the harbour around 3pm. This is when the classic ‘greasy pole’ competition is held with participants attempting to run along a greased wooden pole to snatch one of the 3 flags pinned to the end. From the spectacular falls that ensue, it is not an easy task. One of the events of the day.
The fish and paella stall beside the harbour is tempting, but we don’t think this is the best day to eat there as it is just to busy. Unless you head back into town, go junk instead and pig out on churros from the vans beside the harbour, or pinchos (pork kebabs) from the kiosks specially set up for the fiesta.
If open air raves are your thing, there is usually a dance area set up with mojito stalls somewhere around the lower car park (beside the harbour). This isn’t definite though as the current mayor is an old fogey and anti-youth (amongst being anti-many things). He’s once again banned water pistols, which were a big part of the fiesta for years, and seems intent on sucking the fun out of everything (and no, we’re not fans). So we’ll have to wait to see if there’s a clubbing area this year.
The Virgen del Carmen and San Telmo
Ultimately the day is all about honouring the patron saints of fishermen and mariners, the Virgen del Carmen and San Telmo (St Elmo). Both are carried through the streets from the Iglesia de Francia to the harbour where they’re carefully transferred to waiting boats – that’s the blurb. The reality is it takes an interminable amount of time and if you want a good position, you will have to find a place at the harbour’s edge at least an hour before San Telmo and Carmen arrive at 6.30pm-ish (6.30 is a real approximation as they are real dawdlers).
But the wait is worth it, especially if it’s your first time. If you’re really brave you could stay in the water to watch the pair arrive, be serenaded by Chago Melián and then be transferred to their floating carriages.
But it is mad in there.
After that, a few fireworks go off, birds are released into the sky, the boats go on a wee journey around the bay, returning just as dusk falls. And if you’re still around to see the return, congratulations you are now a bona-fide Fiestas del Carmen veteran.