In all Trasmediterranea destinations there are good reasons for putting on (or taking off?) your disguise. Choose your vessel and you can't go wrong.
The story is played out every year. And it's never the same as the year before. A tense calm envelops certain parts of Spain in early February and, curiously enough, they are all near the sea, a short walk from the harbour. The sequins are waiting in the wardrobe, ready to shine; the music is practices over and over again, and every carnavalero worth his salt goes to sleep with a smile on his face, which will break out into laughter towards the end of February, and it will be non-stop partying in early March. Better soak up a good guide so that you don't die (laughing) in the attempt. What is it about the sea that makes it get along so well with disguises?
In the capital of the island, clocks don't exist while the Carnival spirit is around. Time becomes measured by how long the body can stand up to the endless partying. Take a deep breath. The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival is based on the theme, with a new tribute every year. This year, the party is all about cartoons, so if you're looking for a costume and you want to get it right, use your imagination like a child.
This Carnival, which is said to be the second most famous in the world, with only Río de Janeiro ahead of it, has been recognised for its International Tourist Interest and actually begins a lot earlier than the day marked in red on the calendar as a public holiday, being divided into two completely separate parts: the official carnival (indoor events, buy your ticket now) and the street carnival (simply hit the street). Between both types of carnival, you can take a break on Las Teresitas beach, which is near enough to all fun so that you don't feel too lazy about getting back to it, but far away enough for you to enjoy the winter sun without getting a headache.
As proof of its fame, here's an interesting fact: in 1987 the Cuban singer Celia Cruz performed during the Santa Cruz carnival. They say that 250,000 people broke the Guinness world record that day for the largest number of people to attend an open-air concert. The official programme includes around one hundred local folk groups. Before they start to perform the Queen will have already been elected, with the candidates squeezed into costumes that weigh on average 150 kilos. That's why you see those little wheels peeking out below the fantastical skirts. La Bodeguita Canaria is always a good idea for stopping and refuelling, by the way.
At the same time, the street carnival lives up to its name: thousands of people ready to have a good time every day boasting their carnival costumes. They dance to the rhythm of local and improvised dance bands filled with Caribbean influences and encouraged by the guaranteed good weather. Here the fun goes on night after night for almost two weeks. On Carnival Saturday, there are simultaneous performances in the plaza de la Candelaria and the plaza del Príncipe where you can be amazed by the sheer luxury of those impossible costumes that are perhaps what makes this fiesta stand out from other similar ones. You have to find out what a murga, a comparsa or a rondalla is, these bands with an average of 50 people onstage. Any local will be more than happy to give you a few pointers on the spot. Carnival is happiness that's catching, so say the mythical Filarmónica Ni Fu-Ni Fa. With that name, how can you resist?.
Carnival Tuesday is the other main day, but it's more about being out in the street. From early afternoon, the rhythm and the colour of the carnival parade, known as the Coso, encourage the entire city to join in the party. People and groups that melt together into some kind of multicolour snake. The best place to find a spot is in calle Bethencourt Alfonso, which everyone calls calle San José. Alongside the floats with their own music that fill the adjoining streets, the traditional chiringuitos offer churros and potatoes with everything as the must-have food supply. As Carnival draws to an end, the city goes into mourning to accompany a giant papier-mâché sardine made by the inmates of Tenerife II prison, which is then set on fire. Making mourning fun as the final curtain falls.
Without leaving the Canary Islands you can dance all night at the Real Nuevo Club Náutico and Casino La Investigadora which set the atmosphere, but the famous thing about Carnival in Santa Cruz de La Palma is the Monday: the city relives the arrival of the Indianos, emigrants from the islands who had returned to the Canaries. A caricature of the nouveau rich, the Indiano without an education who went to South America and came back thinking that they were better than everyone else. Santa Cruz awakes covered in talcum powder, as a metaphor for the power of laughter and La Negra Tomasa is worshipped as an emblem and a character. And while we're on the subject of local traditions, try the restaurant Chipi-Chipi. With that name it could only be a family-run concern. First of all, grilled pork; for dessert a Príncipe Alberto. You're welcome.
Here practically everyone goes out to party on the Saturday night. Precisely for that reason a true resident of Cádiz will tell you not to bother. You can enjoy the atmosphere with just as much fun on any other day of the carnival but with a lot less stress.
So, now we've seen what no to do, let's see what you must do: see the carrusel de coros in the square (that's it) on the first and second Sunday of carnival (that's right, carnival goes on for a long time here) and on the Monday, from midday. This is a great time to look for “chirigotas ilegales", the name given to those who do not take part in the Official Carnival Groups Competition, in other word, who do not enter the Falla theatre. El Selu, Quique Remolino or los Carapapas are legendary names that you will constantly hear. The romanceros are another form of caricature event in danger of extinction. A good idea is to enjoy the carrusel de coros with a glass of muscatel in one hand and a cone of fried fish in the other, available from the thousand and one fryers around the area.
Another great time to enjoy the carrusel de coros is on the Friday night in the crowded barrio de La Viña. Amid the laughter and the noise in El Corralón, locals will order a freshly-made roast chicken and chips sandwich, a delicacy that is as simple as it is tasty, only beaten by a bag of pork scratchings in El Manteca. Many others eat sea urchins and oysters at the fishermen's stalls. Don't get it wrong, diets and carnival simply do not go together. If you're looking for something more sophisticated, the barra de El Faro leaves everyone with a full stomach at a reasonable price. Still got some breath left? Every day, there's the medley competition on the tablao in calle La Palma: improvisation and loadsa artistry are combined amidst bars where you can order practically anything you would like. Literally.
La Fiesta del Invierno Cálido is what they call it and it gets off to great start even before the main event. The weekends before the big parade are when you can sample fideos capuchinos (noodles), potaje perchelero (stew) or berza y arroz carnavalescos (cabbage and rice dishes). An ode to seasonal cuisine. If we look at costumes, the pasodobles are possibly what differentiates things here, and the final of the music group competition takes place in the open air, in the central plaza de la Constitución. So you don't have to worry about buying a ticket. Nor do you have to worry about the aftercarnaval: a café Santa Cristina overlooking the bay from the Parador de Gibralfaro or a Victoria beer in the still innovative Muelle 1 are appealing options that are always there. And if you're a traditionalist, El Pimpi has taken a new step with El Pimpi Marinero: seafood and cocktails with views of the Roman Theatre and the Alcazaba. A pass with honours.
Who said they don't have a carnival in the Balearic Islands? Among the options available to travellers, we can start in Ferreríes, a charming village halfway between Mahón and Ciutadella. Spontaneity sparks off a street parade to the tune of the Cornet and Drum Band. But who are we trying to fool? Here the make-up and wigs used for the carnival costume competition are the perfect excuse for the traditional torrada: sobrasada, botifarró, cuttlefish, meatballs... Fuel to give you the best performance in the costume ball at midnight. And if you've any time left over for walking, cycling or horse riding along the camí de cavals, so much the better. Centuries of the natural history of the island are there for you to see.
A short ferry trip away, Palma de Mallorca dresses up for Sa Rua, the parade of floats and colours, and for Sa Rueta, the children's version of it. The best pushing/visibility ratio is on the avenida Jaume III, and you will certainly want a drink afterwards, try the Cultura Club for indie music and eye-catching decor or the Sala Assaig to discover new talent performing live. Music for all tastes but if you can avoid the pachanga and the chunda-chunda, that would be best.
It's best not to take any notice of the doom and gloom merchants who talk about a time of anxiety in the carnival of this autonomous city. The costumes, a lot of them individual but many too in groups, show that the party spirit is still in full swing. Here too, the words of the songs are all about protest, with irony as the main ingredient of the chirigotas and jocular criticism playing the main part in ditties, pasodobles and medleys. And as Melilla is not somewhere you would visit often, make the most of the opportunity to try Rusadir monkfish casserole, whether in Los Salazones restaurant or in any other that you will be sure to find nearby. That's the great thing about small cities.
To the rhythm of batucada drumming from an ironic dance troupe, the holding of the Drag Queen gala has made Las Palmas Carnival into a gay-friendly destination with a worldwide reputation, since it was the first carnival to hold such an event back in 1988. The street fiesta answers with its chiringays: chiringuitos or pop-up venues created by the island's night clubs where the mixed atmosphere goes on until dawn.
Once the awards have been given out, the party kicks off in parque Santa Catalina. Dancing takes to the street in the mogollones, the very heart of the carnival days or carnestolendas. You could also be one of the 200,000 people who every year accompany the big parade or Gran Cabalgata from the castillo de la Luz to parque San Telmo. The latest thing in recent years has been the Daytime Carnival , renamed this year, it seems, as Yesterday's Carnival. When lunchtime arrives the historic city centre becomes one giant bar: “Don't stop the music”, scream Los Chancletas, los Rockefeller or los Legañosos, long-standing murgas from yesterday and today. As Carnival draws to an end, the funeral procession laughs to avoid crying at the Burial of the Sardine. After the figure has been set on fire on Las Canteras beach, the last mogollón of Carnival begins. There's no excuse for not giving it your all.
As the Fabulosos Cadillacs sang,
“carnival throughout life, let silence become carnival”
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