To truly understand carnival on Tenerife you have to surrender yourself to a week of unleashed hedonism that will have its wicked way with you before tossing you aside when it’s all over, leaving you exhausted and vowing that never again will you be seduced by its enchanting promises of fun and frolics.
Going local requires you sell your soul to the carnival gods. As veterans of nine tours, we’ve battled our way through zombies, sexy swooping vamps, genital exposing widows (fake ones of both sexes in case you’re wondering) and armies of tottering trannies in high heels in order to survive from dusk till dawn; we’re carnival hardened and have the battle scars to show for it.
This is our Survival Guide to Carnival on Tenerife.
Carnival Costume Preparation
Dressing up is essential for enjoying the street parties; it doesn’t matter what outfit you choose as very few revellers take note of what the theme of carnival is. Silly is good and a man dressed as a woman flashing fake breasts is always a winner; schoolgirls dressed up as schoolgirls is the most ironic costume on show. Throwing on a fake wig and wearing normal clothes reveals some effort but you’ll still feel like you’re on the fringes.
If you’re going to do it like a local, dressing up requires a full costume and preferably lots of make up. Having common themes works really well for two or more people. But you have to be flexible. This year we decided on a Star Trek theme but as two of us were in danger of looking like we were in normal clothes the idea was ditched and we ended up as two vamps escorting a Star Trek officer.
When to Start the Carnival Party
Don’t turn up at a street party before midnight; it’s too early. Assuming you’re over 18 years old and don’t want to join an impromptu botellón (congregation of local youths drinking from ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’ bottles of spirits and mixer) get in the mood by playing some thumping dance music (British or US as you’re unlikely to hear much of either later) and quaffing a few glasses whilst you costume up.
What to Drink at Carnival
If you really want to go local, carry a supermarket carrier bag with plenty of pre-mixed booze and plastic glasses otherwise stick to the army of kiosks selling cañas (glass of lager) and combinados (spirits and mixer). One of the first things to do when arriving at carnival street party zones is to suss out where the best kiosks are as prices for a glass of beer can range from €1 to €2. Combinados should be €3.50 otherwise walk on.
How to Drink at Carnival
With a pumping Latino soundtrack and hordes of revellers in fancy dress swaying to the music it’s easy to become intoxicated by the electric atmosphere. Down the drinks too quickly and you’ll become intoxicated for real. Pacing yourself is the key. If opting for combinados, don’t try to match caña drinking amigos or, like a gin-guzzling friend one year, for you the carnival will be over much sooner than expected.
Downing a load of cañas can be problematic – what goes in has to come out. There are portable loos but as the night progresses they morph from being relatively user friendly into smelly swamps from hell. Toilets in nearby bars are a better option and, as the drinks are similar priced to the kiosks anyway, a bar stop can offer a brief respite from the carnival madness.
Unless you’re blessed with the stamina of youth, there might be a waning of energy at around 3am. At this point a carb hit is very welcome and there are plenty of sinful stalls selling churros, hot-dogs, burgers, catalanas and chips to help you out. A beer and a plate of chips in the early hours may not represent healthy eating but it’s carnival and a time for sinning.
The street parties get very, very busy; you will get jostled and bumped, especially if like us you prefer to ensconce yourself in the middle of the crowd where the carnival high is at its most potent. Be like the locals, stay cool and smile. Carnival is a happy place. Similarly, people will hug you like a long lost brother/sister/creature and shout unintelligible nonsense at you (it doesn’t matter if you speak Spanish or not, it’s all unintelligible). Smile back and shout ‘si,si,si,si,’ (there has to be at least four). It usually does the trick.
Stay as Long as Possible
Never leave carnival before 3am. The later you stay, the odder the sights you see – smurfs sleeping on walls, giant dogs crashed out on benches. Last till dawn and you’ll be rewarded by a sight that resembles the aftermath of a Narnia battle.
Remove Make-Up Before Bed
It’s no fun taking time to wash of all that creative face art at six in the morning but you’ll be glad of it when you wake up as a normal human being again a few hours later… and you won’t have ruined a set of bed linen.
The main carnivals in Tenerife (Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz) have just finished although there are smaller versions in towns until the middle of March. The carnival dates for 2014 for Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz are 28 February to 9 March.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+