The Essential Guide to Celebrating at The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival

Tenerife Carnival is second only to Rio de Janeiro! It is famous all over the world for its colorful and vibrant celebrations and parties. Here is everything you need to know about celebrating carnival in Tenerife!

February 21th, 2020

March 1st, 2020

Days to start


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▷ What is the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival?

Every year more than 250,000 people head to Tenerife to the gorgeous capital city of Santa Cruz to celebrate carnival! The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival claims to be the second most popular carnival in the world after Rio. It was however voted the Carnival Capital of the World beating Rio, Notting Hill and New Orleans!

The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival dates back hundreds of years. It is the quintessential party in the Canary Islands and the most anticipated date of the year. While most of Europe celebrates carnival in the winter Tenerife is the warmest place in all of Spain, so it’s gorgeous warm weather makes it the perfect place to celebrate carnival!

▷ When is the Santa Cruz de Tenerife 2020?

The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival is a pre-Lenten carnival that takes place over an entire month! The main week of carnival is the week prior to Ash Wednesday when the celebration kicks into high gear. During this week businesses shut down and everyone heads out to party.

The 2020 dates for the Tenerife Carnival begin on February 19th 2020 and finishes on Saturday the 1st March 2020.

▷ Where is the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival?

Santa Cruz de Tenerife also known as Santa Cruz is located on the northeast coast of the island of Tenerife. Tenerife belongs to the Canary Islands, which is a Spanish archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean about 1300 kilometres from the mainland of Spain and about 210 kilometres off the north western coast of Africa.

▷ How do they celebrate the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival?

tenerife carnival people choreography dance

Tenerife Carnival is inescapable! It’s when the whole city gets wild and lets loose. The carnival begins with several competitions like awards for the best Murgas (musical troupes) and many other singing and dancing competitions. There is also the crowning of the Carnival Queens.

After the crowning of the Carnival Queens is when the party begins in Tenerife. For two weeks the streets of Tenerife are filled with colour, costumes and joy. Tenerife Carnival is jam-packed with numerous parades, shows, concerts, masquerade balls, and non-stop parties.

Everyone both young and old gets into costume and hits up the streets of Tenerife for long nights filled with lots of feasting, socialising, dancing and an insane amount of drinking. The motto of Tenerife Carnival is that “no two carnivals are equal!”.

▷ History of Carnival of Tenerife

What is the history of Tenerife Carnival?

The origins of the Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival date back to the 15th century. Carnival was brought to the island after the Spanish Conquest in 1492. Like most carnivals it was the last chance for a feast and giving into excess before Lent.

In the 19th century Tenerife Carnival has become more official and the first competitions were added to the carnival. Masquerading had also become popular, allowing one to become anonymous so they could hide their social class or take part in some anonymous debauchery.

The first official Tenerife Carnival to be organised by the city was in 1925. However shortly afterwards during the Franco dictatorship, attempts were made to cancel the carnival. The celebrations continued, just under the name “winter parties”. However, when Franco died in 1980, the carnival returned to its original name.

▷ Tenerife Carnival Music

tenerife carnival pretty feather suits

Along with carnival, the Spanish also introduced many other things including music. One style of music was rondall, a medieval Spanish acoustic musical genre that was popularised in Mexico. Another type was murga, a type of musical theatre that came from Uruguay. As well as comparsas, which is live conga music that came from Cuba.

These exotic music types are still a main feature at Tenerife carnival today.

Carnival Groups

There is something you should know about the carnival of Tenerife and that is that the carnival groups are all different.

What is a carnival group?

A carnival group is exactly as it sounds, groups of people who work together creating ideas, costumes, music, choreography and who march together in the parade.

What is a Murgas?

The “Murgas,” are Spanish carnival groups that feature satire artists who perform songs about current political and world events.

What is a Rondallas?

The Rondallas are carnival groups that consist of only guitars, bandurrias, lauds and octavinas.

▷ Choose your carnival

Tenerife Carnival is split into two parts. There is the official carnival and the street carnival. The official carnival features over a hundred carnival musical groups; murgas, comparsas, rondallas that features the official program for scheduled events.

The street carnival is where you can just hit the streets and can get lost enjoying more spontaneous carnival celebrations. The streets are filled with thousands of costumed people every day.

▷ The 2020 Tenerife Carnival theme: The Coquette ’50s

Every year Tenerife Carnival has a theme which is used as inspiration for the parades and costumes. The official theme for the 2020 Tenerife Carnival is The Coquette ’50s!

▷ 2020 Tenerife Carnival Events Schedule

Friday 24th January 2020

  • Event: Inaugural Gala of Carnival 2020
  • Time: 9:30pm

Thursday 20th January 2020

  • Event: Phase 1 – Murgas Infantiles Competition
  • Time: 7:00pm
  • Place: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos 

Friday 31st January 2020

  • Event: Phase 2 – Murgas Infantiles Competition
  • Time: 7:00pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Saturday 1st February 2020

  • Event: Phrase 3 – Murgas Infantiles Competition
  • Time: 7:00pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Sunday 2nd February 2020

  • Event: Festival Coreografico 
  • Time: 5:00pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Monday 3rd February 2020

  • Event: Phrase 1 – Adult Murgas Competition
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Tuesday 4th February 2020

  • Event: Phase 2 – Adult Murgas Competition
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Wednesday 5th February 2020

  • Event: Phrase 3 – Adult Murgas Competition
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Friday 7th February 2020

  • Event: The Final of the Adult Murgas Competition
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Saturday 8th February 2020

  • Event: Musical Groups
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Sunday 9th February 2020

  • Event: Gala for the Election of the Kids Queen
  • Time: 6:00pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Wednesday 12th February 2020

  • Event: Gala for the Election of the Carnival Queen
  • Time: 5:30pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Friday 14th February 2020

  • Event: La Cancion de la Risa
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Teatro Guimera

Saturday 15th February 2020

  • Event: Competition of Comparas
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Sunday 16th February 2020

  • Event: Festival de Rondallas and Costume Competition
  • Time: 11:00am and 5:00pm 
  • Where: Auditorio de Tenerife and plaza de Candelaria

Tuesday 18th February 2020

  • Event: Concert of the Group Lirico Musical Los Fregolinos
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Teatro Guimera

Wednesday 19th February 2020

  • Event: Gala for the Election of the Carnival Queen
  • Time: 9:30pm
  • Where: Centro Internacional de Ferias and Congresos

Thursday 20th February 2020

  • Event: Festival de la Zarzuela 
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Teatro Guimera

Friday 21st February 2020

  • Event: The Opening Parade – The Cabalgata 
  • Time: 9:00pm
  • Where: Avenida de Francisco La roche

Saturday 22nd February 2020

  • Event: Ritmo and Armonia 
  • Time: 9:00pm
  • Where: Avenida de Francisco La Roche

Sunday 23rd February 2020

  • Event: Concert of the Group Lirico Musical Los Fregolinos /Costume Competition/ Daytime Carnival – Carnaval de Diat
  • Time: 11:00am
  • Where: Plaza del Principe

Monday 24th February 2020

  • Event: Street Carnival Santa Cruz

Tuesday 25th February 2020

  • Event: Performance by Afilarmonica Ni Fu – Ni Fa
  • Time: 11:00am
  • Where: Plaza del Principe
  • Event: Agrupacion Lirico Musical Los Fregolinos Time
  • Time: 12:00pm
  • Where: Plaza del Principe
  • Event: Coso Apoteosis – The parade of the carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
  • Time: 4:00pm
  • Where: Avenidas de Francisco La Roche and Avenida Maritima 
  • Event: Dances and performances of great orchestras
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Where: Candelaria Square

Wednesday 26th February 2020

  • Event: Burial of the Sardine/ Entierro de La Sardina
  • Time: 10:00pm
  • Where: Juan Pablo II

Thursday 27th February 2020

  • Event: Festival de Rondallas
  • Time: 8:30pm
  • Where: Teatro guimera

Friday 18th February 2020

  • Event: Kids Parade 
  • Time: 6:00pm
  • Where: Parque Garcia Sanabria
  • Event: Festival Galardonas 
  • Time: 8:00pm
  • Where: Plaza de La Candelaria 

Saturday de Pinata, 29th February 2020

  • Event: Carnaval de dia
  • Time: 1:00pm
  • Where: Plaza del Principe, Plaza Espana and Plaza de la Candelaria 

Sunday de Pinata 1st March 2020

  • Event: Performance by Afilarmonica Ni fu – Ni Fa and La Zarzuela
  • Time: 11:00am
  • Where: Plaza del Principe
  • Event: End of Carnival and Group Parade 
  • Time: 6:30pm
  • Event: Fireworks
  • Time: 9:00pm

▷ February 19th, 2020 – Election of the Carnival Queens

Every year on the Wednesday before Carnival weekend a Carnival Queen is selected for the Tenerife Carnival in a spectacular Gala. This magical night is so popular that it is even broadcast not only on national TV but internationally too! A Carnival Queen is selected from a few different categories including children, adults and even seniors!

The Carnival Queens are always made a focal point during the parades, riding the floats while looking glamorous. The contestants take this event very seriously! The costumes are incredibly expensive and can even weigh up to 200 kilos! Wheels are used to enable them to glide across the main stage.

This event grows bigger and more grandiose every year! Feathers, shimmering sequin, lots of different colours, textures and fabrics go into the costumes which are all inspired by fairy-tales. The costumes look even more dazzling on the beautiful wearers. The aim of the show is to elect a Carnival Queen who embodies the passion and joy that the Tenerife people have for their festivities.

▷ February 21st, 2020 – The Cabalgata

The Cabalgata is the opening parade and opens the carnival with a bang. It is a vibrant parade that features the carnival queen, murgas, dance groups and more. The atmosphere is electric as everyone excitedly enjoys the start of carnival.

Parade Route: The parade takes place from the Parque de la Granja, passing through Las Ramblas and ending at the Plaza de Europa. After the parade there is a massive street party that lasts until dawn.

▷ Carnival Saturday, February 22nd, 2020 

Saturday is a more relaxed day where people will go to watch some open-air music concerts. The music ranges from Latin tunes all the way through to DJs. It’s a great day to wander the streets and be part of the crowd. The concert venues are the Plaza de España, Plaza de Príncipe and Plaza de Europa.

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▷ Sunday, February 23nd, 2020 – DayTime Carnival

After dancing the night away you must muster up the strength to attend one of the highlights of carnival – the Daytime Carnival! In 2008 Tenerife City Council had the great idea of making a Daytime Carnival for people of all ages and families to enjoy. This idea was originally met with scepticism until the next day when 250,000 people of all ages attended!

All over you will see groups of friends and families stream by you wearing fun and crazy costumes, having a great time and making the most of carnival! There are daytime dances, lots of stages set up around the city with live performances. There are costumed dance parties taking place everywhere! There are plenty of great food and drinks to enjoy and generally just a lot of merrymaking occurring!

▷ Carnival Monday – February 24th, 2020

This is another great day to hit the streets up and see some live music. Many of the main stages feature world class DJs. There were plans to make this day an official electronic music festival, but they didn’t officially go ahead. However, it is still like an electronic music festival.

▷ Shrove Tuesday – February 25th, 2020 – The Closing Parade

The closing parade is known as the Coso Apoteosis announces the end of carnival in Tenerife. The Tenerife Closing Parade is the absolute highlight of the carnival. The parade attracts the most crowds from all over the world who come to witness this spectacle.  The Closing Parade features all the Carnival Queens and all the Carnival Groups. It is an amazing spectacle full of colour, costumes, floats, incredible dance routines and music. The parade takes place in Anaga Avenue.

▷ Ash Wednesday – February 26th, 2020 – The Burial of the Sardine

This is the first day of Lent and on this day is an event that officially closes carnival known as the Burial of the Sardine. This is one of the most surreal carnival celebrations that occurs around the world. It sees the burial of a giant papier-mache sardine.  The Sardine is paraded through the streets of Tenerife, followed by men dressed as priests and women dressed as widows, and they all pretend to mourn the sardine. The sardine is then thrown into a huge bonfire, set alight and a huge firework show officially closes the carnival.

▷ Tenerife Carnival Street Parties

tenerife carnival men women dresses carnival

Every single night of the week during carnival tens of thousands of people take to the streets to party. The street parties are some of the wildest you’ve ever been to! Everyone dresses up in fancy-dress. The parties kick off around midnight and go right through until dawn.

The best street parties occur on the opening and closing weekends, as well as carnival Monday.

▷ Tickets for Tenerife Carnival

Most of the events at Tenerife Carnival are free to attend. Most of the parties occur on the streets and there are loads of open-air free concerts.  If you want to watch some of the competitions, then you will need tickets for these. The Crowning of the Carnival Queen is a popular ticketed event and you must purchase a ticket early. Tickets will be available for purchase from

▷ What to Wear to Tenerife Carnival?

You absolutely must dress up for carnival in Tenerife! In fact, if you don’t dress up then you will be the odd one out. People go all out for their costumes in fact so much so that some locals will have 5 or 6 costumes every carnival for different events and will even go home and change between festivities.

However this doesn’t apply when watching the parades, most locals won’t dress up. It’s mainly for the street parties. If you feel a little shy many people may just pop on a wig, mask or funny hat, but you’ll have no reason to feel self-conscious when you will be surrounded by Cleopatras, superheroes, clowns, animals, Disney characters etc.

Lots of people dress up in the carnival theme however you can wear whatever you like. But you can expect to see because the theme is coquette 50’s some epic 50’s fashion, a few Marilyn Monroe’s, Grease Lightning, an Elvis or two and other cool outfits associated with this theme! Check out some cool 50s costumes on Amazon to get inspired. 

Don’t worry if you arrive unprepared as there are plenty of street vendors selling costumes, wigs and masks all over the place. Also Winter in the Canaries is very mild compared to the rest of Europe, but that doesn’t guarantee that it will be warm! February temperatures are unpredictable and can mean cool coat weather, or bikini beach weather.

▷ Which Gran Canaria Carnival? Las Palmas or Tenerife?

Carnival in the Canary Islands occurs all over the archipelago. The islands are an explosion of music, colour, fun, parades, costumes, dance troupes and outdoor parties during carnival! The Islands are home to not one but two of the best carnivals in the world Tenerife and Las Palmas!
We love both carnivals and can highly recommend both carnivals, so choosing between them is going to be a personal choice. To help you make your decision read our Ultimate Guide on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival. 

Highly Recommended! – Viareggio Carnival!

We highly recommend if you are already planning on attending carnival, that you extend your trip and visit two of the world’s best carnivals! Unfortunately, most carnivals take place at the same time, in the days prior to Lent. But Viareggio Carnival in Italy occurs not once, but five times in the lead up to Lent! So, it’s one of the only other pre-Lenten carnivals in Europe that you can also visit!

And what is more fun than celebrating carnival once, is celebrating it twice! Viareggio Carnival is one of world’s most renowned carnival celebrations, and rightly so because this Italian town puts on a carnival that is like nothing else in the world! What separates this carnival from the rest, is their awe-inspiring floats! Viareggio Carnival holds the title of having the ‘world’s best carnival floats!’ No other carnival even comes close!

And at Viareggio, carnival is just icing on the cake! Because this carnival takes place in gorgeous Tuscany, one of Italy’s best regions! A region that is famous for its art, architecture, history, culture, picturesque landscapes, great food, great wine and the best of Italian hospitality, that you can enjoy while experiencing the magic of this carnival!

Read Our Ultimate Guide to Viareggio Carnival here.

▷ How to get to Tenerife Carnival?

By plane: Tenerife has two major airports, Tenerife South Reina Sofia International Airport (TFS) located about 60 km away from Santa Cruz, in the south of Tenerife. And Tenerife North Los Rodeos International Airport (TFN) which is located close to Santa Cruz. 

There are over sixty airlines companies servicing these airports with connecting flights to many major European cities. Reina Sofia is the larger airport open 24/7 and has over 9 million annual passengers. Los Redos is predominantly only domestic flights with a few international options.

From the airports a taxi to Santa Cruz will cost about  €60 from Reina Sofia and €15 from Los Redos. Or alternatively you can catch the Bus Line 111 from Los Redos and from Reina Sofia you can take bus lines 102, 108, and 109. Line 340 connects between the two airports.

By boat: The Port of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is one of the main ports of Spain. You can reach the city with a Ferry that connects Santa Cruz de Tenerife with Cadiz, in Mainland Spain, but the trip will take about two days and Is operated by Acciona Trasmediterranea. Of course you can also take a ferry to travel between the islands.

▷ How to get around Tenerife Carnival?

The best way to get around is to go on foot, which is why we recommend booking your accommodation close to the carnival. Lots of roads will be shut, carnival traffic is crazy and there is no parking anywhere. But if you are not staying close or you want to explore more of the island then get a quote for a rental car here.  If you are staying further away there are buses that are cheap and fairly regular going around the island of course you can take a Taxi/Uber. Or you could rent a bike or scooter. To rent a bike or a scooter get a quote here.

tenerife carnival beautiful woman dressed in flowers

▷ Where to stay Tenerife Carnival?

There are plenty of options for accommodation in Tenerife. From luxury resorts, hotels, B&B, private rentals, inns and hostels. It all comes down to your budget and the level of comfort you are seeking. We recommend booking your accommodation in Santa Cruz de Tenerife so that you can be close to the action, and you want to be able to walk from your accommodation to the party easily! 

If you want to be close to the party then book accommodation near Weyler, Calle Anaga and Teatro Guimera. But if you are looking for something close to the action that offers some peace and quiet so you can get some sleep, then stay around Las Ramblas. If you haven’t yet booked your accommodation then we recommend doing so asap because a huge amount of tourists that come for carnival and in this small city accommodation books out quickly. Check out some accommodation deals here.

However, if you have no luck finding accommodation in Santa Cruz then consider staying about ten minutes up the hill in the UNESCO World Heritage city of La Laguna. This charming city is absolutely worth exploring and full of charm. You can check out some accommodation deals for La Laguna here. 

▷ What to do and see in Tenerife?

Carnival is just the icing on the cake in this bustling capital! This handsome and friendly port city is one of Europe’s most promising destinations when it comes to having it all, a Spanish city, beach, historic architecture, awesome shops, brightly painted buildings, sublime natural landscapes, museums, art galleries, amazing restaurants, bars, cafes, tropical parks, hiking trails and on top of all that are the super friendly locals!

In fact back in 2012 The Guardian newspaper named Santa Cruz as one of the best five places in the world to live back in 2012! Because of the city’s deep natural harbour it has led to a period of wealth which can be seen in the many stunning historic buildings around the city. Santa Cruz’s main beach is ‘Las Teresitas’ considered the most beautiful beach in Tenerife due to its gorgeous golden beach filled with palm trees and a stunning back-drop of the Anaga mountains.

In town head to Plaza de Espana close to the harbour which is the biggest Plaza in the Canary Islands. Between there and Plaza de Candelaria you will find excellent shopping. Calle de Castillo is actually the main shopping street. For a lively nightlife head down to Avenida Anaga on the waterfront. Don’t miss the Mercado de Nuestra Senora de Africa which is a lively food market.

Visit the Auditoio which is the most iconic building in Tenerife and has a style similar to the Sydney Opera House. Also close to the port is one of Tenerife’s water parks, the Parque Maritimo Cesar Manrique which is an area of about 22000 square meters filled with saltwater pools. Next to this is Palmetum of Tenerife, a huge botanical garden with some of the biggest collections of palm trees in the world. Another great Santa Cruz park is the Parque Garcia Sanabria. 

A main monument of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, a stunning church that dates back to the 16th century, in fact it was one of the first churches to be built on Tenerife. Also see the Iglesia de San Francisco which is considered the best example of Baroque architecture in the Canary Islands and contains a number of impressive artworks.

There are plenty of great museums in Santa Cruz like The Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre which contains the cannon that shot off the arm of Admiral Nelson, Guanche mummies and an impressive collection of archaeology and biology. Or check out Tenerife Espacio de las Artes, a fabulous contemporary art museum.

▷ Take a Tour

Honestly there is so much cool stuff to do and see in Tenerife, we definitely recommend doing some sightseeing when you are there. If you check out Viator  or Tours by Locals you find loads of different excursions, day trips and sightseeing tours. Everything from gastronomic tours, whale watching, cycling or exploring national parks, see here. 

Or if you are incredibly lucky and are able to take a longer vacation then just coming out for carnival, take a look at Tour Radar, as they have lots of different itineraries for amazing vacations around the Canary Islands, which we highly recommend because it is such a unique part of the world.

▷ Is Tenerife Safe? 

Tenerife is generally a very safe place to visit but be aware of pickpockets! Especially during carnival when there are big crowds and it is easier to get your stuff stolen.

So be aware of your valuables at all times or even leave them back at your hotel and only bring some cash with you. Or check out Amazon and invest in one of these travel safety accessories, like a fanny pack hidden under your clothing to store your essentials in. 

Read our ultimate guide to Cadiz Carnival here. 

Don’t forget to follow us @_carnivaland

Before you go!

We can’t stress enough the importance of travel insurance. Being protected on your travels gives you an irreplaceable peace of mind. Don’t learn the hard way about the importance of travel insurance. Never travel without coverage. Get a quote through our recommended insurance provider, World Nomads.

What is the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana?

festival of the virgin of la tirana

Fiesta de la Tirana is an annual celebration that takes place in La Tirana, which is located in the Tarapaca Region of northern Chile. This celebration occurs to honor the Virgen del Carmen. This celebration is the biggest localized religious event in Chile and attracts around 250,000 visitors to this tiny village of 1500 inhabitants.

The visitors come to dance, hear music, pray and pay homage to the Virgen del Carmen, who is the national patron saint of Chile. Over 207 religious brotherhoods from Arica to Copiapó,  participate in this event. This is a beautiful celebration that attracts visitors from not just all over Chile, but from all over the world!

Because this celebration is so large, and the town only has 1500 inhabitants, during the celebration, community-based systems of commerce, housing and healthcare are put in place. Law enforcement is brought in from surrounding areas. Furthermore there is a mandatory dry law on during the celebration, with alcohol checkpoints at every entrance, to avoid public drunkenness.

When is the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana?

The celebration begins on July 10th at 10pm and finishes on July 19th. There are 10 days of celebration. The dance celebrations are organised around the feast day of the Virgen del Carmen,

Where is the Festival of the Virgin of La Tirana?

The celebration takes place in La Tirana, Chile. La Tirana is located in the Tarapaca Region in Northern Chile, and is about 45 miles from Iquique, a coastal town on the pacific.

What is the history of Fiesta de La Tirana?

festival of the virgin of la tirana

The story about the origin of The Festival of La Tirana dates back to 1540, when an expedition led by the discoverer of Chile – Diego de Almagro, arrived in the area. It was there that they met an Incaican Princess named Huillac Humu, who due to her hostile attitude towards the Spaniards was known as La Tirana or the tyrant in English

But La Tirana ended up falling in love with one of her Spanish captives named Almeyda. She was so in love with him that she even wanted to marry him and become a Christian. Her community was so outraged that they killed both the princess and her lover.

Around 1650 Antonio Rondon built a hermitage next to the cross of her grave. In the 18th century a little town and church was created in that location. Today there is a Museum – Museo de La Tirana located in front of the church. The lovers remain buried in the place where the festival is celebrated.

While today La Tirana Festival is a celebration that is done in the name of the Virgen del Carmen, it still has many traditions that stretch back centuries to the indigenous Andean people. The masks, costumes, music and dance all have historical significance. Descendants of these indigenous persons still travel to the festival to make promises to the saint and to receive blessings.

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How do they celebrate La Tirana Festival?

festival of the virgin of la tirana

La Tirana Festival is celebrated with lots of religious ceremonies, local instrumental music performances, dance performances and parades. The celebrators dress in colorful traditional clothing and the events are an incredible combination of European, Mestizos, Creoles and Indian culture.

The festival has about 250,000 visitors who come to make offerings, promises, give thanks and pray to the Virgen del Carmen and receive blessings. She is the protector of Chile and believed to be the guardian of the armed forces, navy and police. Believers make their promise to her and are obliged to complete their promises.

Dancing for the Virgin

festival of the virgin of la tirana

Dancing plays a major role in the celebration of Fiesta de La Tirana. Dance groups known as bailes come to dance before the Virgen del Carmen, who is located in the sanctuary at La Tirana. Dancing before the Virgin is a very emotional experience. There are about 200 official dance groups from all over the country, who come to announce they have returned to fulfil their promise to her.

With so many dance groups, the performances run for days, and are scheduled around the clock. Every different dance group is assigned a specific entry time to see the Virgin, and they have 20 minutes to dance before her. The temple doors officially open on July 10th, and the bailes and pilgrims dance before the Virgin from July 11th until Jul 14th.

But before visiting her they must first dance at the plaza located at the entrance to the town, then in front of the statue of Cruz del Calvario (Calvary Cross), where a priest formally welcomes them and blesses the group. It is a sensory mosaic filled with lots of color, sound, energy and movement. The atmosphere and energy is electric and the central plaza is filled with thousands of dancers.

The dancers are dressed in the most beautiful costumes with lots of glitter and color. They enter the temple accompanied by their band and banner. Romantic melodies of vintage ballads, boleros and waltzes fill the air and where the songs of one dance group ends, another begins. The dancers offer their blood, sweat and tears to the Virgin.

Dancing for the Devil

festival of the virgin of la tirana

One of the most important parts of the festival is the Danza de los Diablos, which in English means the Dance of the Devils. This was brought to Chile by Bolivian salt miners.

Throughout the festival you will see many people wearing fearsome costumes and masks, which are done to chase the demons away. The demon masks have bulging eyes, curling horns and bright colours.

The Feast Day of Virgen Del Carmen

festival of the virgin of la tirana

You could say that the eve and feast day of the Virgen del Carmen, is like New Year’s. The eve of the feast is a special time. In the morning, the bishop celebrates Mass for the representatives of he armed forces. By 9pm at night, the square has filled up with large crowds who eagerly await midnight and the official start of the feast of the Virgen del Carmen.

At midnight the celebrations begin with people waving balloons and lights, orange lanterns float into the sky, the band plays music and firework displays surround the city. The dance groups take turn dancing and singing, and everywhere you look people are socializing and in good spirits. People stay up all night and dance groups continue performing in the square well after sunrise.

At 9am a major event takes place in the square. The statue of the Virgin, a smaller one from the temple, is lowered into the square. Hundreds of colored ribbons are attached to the base of her pedestal which are thrown to the audience, who hold them and sing while she is lowered. This is then followed by Mass.

At 2:30pm, a procession of the image of the Virgin parades its way through the streets, followed by statues of St Joseph who is her husband, and of Jesus. At each block, dance groups have the opportunity to sing to the Virgin, walking backwards, in front of her, so that they don’t turn their back to her.

Big crowds line the streets and follow the procession throwing confetti and shouting “Viva La Virgen”. The procession goes on for about seven hours, before it returns back to the temple. Inside the sanctuary some associations have been given the honor to sing before the larger statue of the Virgin.

Saying goodbye to the Virgin

festival of the virgin of la tirana

While the dance groups don’t leave La Tirana until July 19th, the farewell song and dance to the Virgin, begins midnight after the 16th July. The goodbye dances can be even more emotional than the entrance dances, you will often see dancers crying. They are done in the same order as the entry dance and continue for 24 hours a day until the 19th July, except during Mass.

One week after the groups have departed La Tirana, they gather together in their home cities for a fiesta chica. This is a follow-up dance to La Tirana. Its purpose is to bring the devotion and joy of La Tirana, back to their own streets.

How to get to La Tirana?

The majority of people will travel to La Tirana from the coastal city of Iquique which is about 45 miles from La Tirana. You can fly to Iquique from Santiago in about 2.5 hours, and then take a taxi to La Tirana, which will take around 40 minutes. You can also reach La Tirana by road from the northern cities of Calama, Arica and Antofagasta.

Accommodation for the Festival of La Tirana

It is super important that you book your accommodation well in advance because there are limited hotels. There are also some private accommodation rental options and many locals will open their houses for the celebration. A lot of temporary housing is installed during the celebration for many of the dance groups.

Check out some accommodation options here.

For more information about tours, things to do, sightseeing tours, day trips and more click here.

Before you go!
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