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Fishnets, Facepaint and Sardines-on-fire in Santa Cruz

One of the most important events in Tenerife’s calendar is the Santa Cruz Carnaval, which is linked to Easter and originates from the old Catholic tradition of feasting before giving up your favourite things.

Carnaval in Tenerife is like Rio with a bit of island style; packed with scantily clad ladies wearing luxuriant plumes, riding on floats and bursting with Latino music. There’s a tradition of cross-dressing because, when it was banned by General Franco in the 20th century, festivalgoers wore hoods and masks to conceal their identities.

Today, the celebrations take place in the island’s capital city, Santa Cruz, and in the nearby town of Puerto de la Cruz, where the spirit of Carnaval spills out into the streets and revellers gather around the main city plazas in fancy dress to dance until dawn. Local bands play maquinaria music (melding different styles of music) alongside DJs who pump out the party tunes to keep the festivities going.

Colourful parades attract onlookers to the city streets to see some of the more flamboyant costumes and dance styles. This is a chance for people who didn’t attend the Gala Election to glimpse the gorgeous Carnaval Queen contestants and their entourages. Although the Gala Election can be gruelling (the costumes are so large and complex that they’re often mounted on wheels and harnessed to the contestants), the audience and judges select one Carnaval Queen to enjoy the spotlight for the next 12 months.

While it’s de rigeur to wear fancy dress at Carnaval, revellers also embrace a more sombre atmosphere for the Burial of the Sardine (Entierro de la sardine) on Ash Wednesday. This is a Spanish tradition meant to end the festivities, but which instead involves burning a giant papier-mâché sardine that wears falsies and lipstick!

While in Puerto de la Cruz, the High Heels Marathon is a male-only drag race where guys stumble and struggle through an obstacle course wearing three-inch heels and fishnets…

If you’re worried about what to wear, take heart:  Carnaval organisers choose a theme for every year. This year, the streets were filled with hippies, peace symbols, tie-dyed colours and psychedelia for the theme of Flower Power, while the Queen tackled issues at the Elections including student protests and nature conservation. Themes from recent years have ranged from magic, horror films and Carnaval history to honouring the beloved local street musician, Don Enrique González.

If you’ve got a taste for celebration, book your holidays to Tenerife ahead of next year’s celebrations, and prepare to be Carnaval-ed….