Top Things To Do And See During The Canary Islands' Carnival

Gay Pride Maspalomas 2015 | © Ybridex AngeloDemon/Flickr
Gay Pride Maspalomas 2015 | © Ybridex AngeloDemon/Flickr
In the midst of winter, usually around the first week of February, each city of The Canary Islands prepares for the most anticipated festivity of the year: The Carnival. Each area has its own unique way of celebrating, expressing its individual character and spirit during what is recognized as being the world’s second-best carnival after Rio de Janeiro’s. Read on for our guide of what not to miss during this one-of-a-kind celebration in the most tropical corner of Spain.
P1250480 © Jose Mesa / Flickr

The Grand Queen of Carnival Contest of Santa Cruz of Tenerife

The Grand Queen of Carnival Contest of Santa Cruz of Tenerife is one of the main attractions of the carnival. This contest was recognized as being of particular interest to tourists by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Trade of Spain and is even being considered for review by UNESCO to be recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Each contestant wears a sumptuous gigantic costume (weighing more than the contestant’s body weight at times), and there is a specific category for each age group: children, adult and the elderly. Receiving the title of Grand Carnival Queen is a difficult achievement but well worth the effort; the crowds go wild for their queen, and the show is even transmitted live on television in Tenerife.

Gay_Pride_Maspalomas_2015_Drag_Queen_Ybridex_Angelodemon_13 © Ybridex AngeloDemon / Flickr

The Drag Queen Contest Of Las Palmas De Gran Canaria

Hopping over from Tenerife, the next stop is Gran Canaria, one of the most LGBT-friendly places in Europe, and carnival time is no exception. Since 1998, each year they celebrate The Drag Queen Contest to discover who is the best of the bright and boldly dressed drag queen contestants. Platform shoes, wigs of all sizes and colors, heavy makeup and dramatic costumes are a-plenty, and you’re sure to be in for a great time as the contestants fight it out for first prize. This is probably the second-biggest highlight of the festival after the Gran Queen Contest of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Día de los Indianos © HeicoH / Wiki Commons

Los Indianos

After the end of the dictatorship in Spain, many of the local customs and festivities that had been banned underwent a great revival as regions and towns across Spain rediscovered their local heritage. On the island of La Palma, one such tradition is the celebration of Los Indianos, which takes place the first Monday of every carnival. Imagine one huge battle of white talc powder where the only requirement in order to be able to participate is to wear white or beige clothes. In this emblematic white battle, traditionally every participant would wear their finest clothes, in remembrance of the first migrants who returned from Cuba and told the tale of the great fortune they had made in America.

Carnaval Los Gigantes 1995 © / Flickr

Carnival Processions

Once the main contests of the carnival are over, the moment of the grand processions of floats and costumes begin, and the crowds gather to honor the lucky winners and fill the streets with some of the most flamboyant and imaginative costumes you may ever see. When visiting the carnival, bear in mind that the theme changes each year, and people design their costume accordingly. Grab your best kimono or your most colorful hanbok dress if the theme is Asia. Bring back to life Marilyn Monroe or Elvis Presley when the 1950s are back by the Carnival. Each year, you will see people of all ages, shapes and sizes with different costumes carefully selected according to the theme. So don’t hesitate a second, and go to any costume store, letting your imagination run wild as you prepare to bring your favorite characters to life.

The Carnival of Rams

Every year on the island of El Hierro, locals get excited as they prepare for the the Carnival of Rams, a fun-filled event where a group of men disguise themselves as rams and attempt to prank passersby by throwing black dust in their face. Much more fun than it might sound to some, this is a great way to experience one of the most unique traditions of the area. The festivity is a sign of remembrance and celebration of the many shepherds of the island and draws inspiration from the Roman god Faunus, worshipped for bringing fertility to fields and flocks. The close relationship with nature and environmental conscientiousness of people in the area means that celebrations like these continue to play an important role in the locals’ regular life.

Los diabletes de Teguise © CarlosVdeHabsburgo / Flickr

Los Diabletes of Teguise

The parade of Los Diabletes, or clumsy devils, of Teguise in Lanzarote is a weird and wonderful concoction drawing its inspiration from a variety of traditions, both Spanish and indigenous, with a touch of witchcraft thrown in for good measure. A group of men dress up as bulls in red and white clothing, with large tongues hanging from their mouths as they dance around in an attempt to scare the local Lanzarote islanders. As odd and potentially terrifying as it sounds, don’t hesitate to make the trip over to Lanzarote to watch this truly unique event.

5ª Edición Carnaval Canino 2014 Las Palmas de Gran Canaria © El Coleccionista de Instantes / Flickr

Canine Carnival Contest

Dog lovers will be delighted to know that there is a place for their canine friends to take part in the festivities of the carnival too! Owners and pets take to the stage of the Canine Carnival Contest where, true to the spirit of the carnival, both parties wear matching costumes. For instance, if the dog is dressed up as a mermaid, expect to see the owner dressed as a flamboyant crab. More than 4,000 people gather at the Parque Santa Catalina in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in order to observe these original costumes – the display of true canine flamboyance.

Afilarmónica NiFú-NiFá © Mª. C. Mingorance Rodríguez / Wiki Commons

Murgas And Comparsas

Before the declaration of the most beautiful woman of the carnival, which takes places during the Grand Carnival Queen Contest, a special group of musical activities called murgas and comparsas prepare the crowds and set the tone for the celebrations to come. Whereas comparsas are a more traditional song-and-dance performance, murgas typically involve people dressed in costume, singing polemical songs about controversial social topics on which they would like to see change. The songs are all sung in Spanish, but don’t let this deter you from taking part and enjoying the cheerful atmosphere. Quite to the contrary, it will make for a great excuse to befriend some of the locals and ask them to translate the lyrics for you since, as everyone knows, sharing is caring!

The Burial Of The Sardine

Last but not least, the Burial of the Sardine is a celebration that marks the end of the carnival. Grab your black clothes (some men even bring women clothing) and a mask, and flock to the streets of the city with your friends as you join the crowds preparing to take part in the one-and-only Burial of the Sardine. With masked faces, the mourning crowds pull pranks and animate the city throughout the evening as they prepare to lay the sardine to rest. The mood is often enygmatic and mystical but always fun and enjoyable. Although it may sound sad, the islanders are, in fact, in a state of great jubilation as the sardine travels on a float until it reaches its final resting place, where it is greeted by a spectacular pyrotechnic display as it is set alight to commemorate the carnival, which has ended.