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‘Weeping widows’, a giant paper sardine and Nelson’s bloody nose!

What could connect ‘wailing widows’ (fortunately, not real ones) processing along the streets behind a giant painted paper sardine and the site of a bloody battle that ended in defeat for Britain’s most famous naval hero?

The answer is Santa Cruz, capital of the island of Tenerife and the Canary Islands, and home to the second biggest carnival celebrations on the planet!

Within easy distance of CLC World’s luxury resorts, Tenerife, if you were thinking of skipping a visit to Santa Cruz, then don’t.

Around half the island’s total population live in and around Santa Cruz, which strangely, shares the accolade of capital of the Canary Islands with Las Palmas, its island neighbour, some 90km away (as the crow flies).

Lying just 300km off the north west coast of Africa, the city of Santa Cruz is a must-see visit if you’re staying at one of CLC World’s six resorts. This cosmopolitan city has much to offer with pedestrianised streets full of cafés and restaurants. Tenerife itself currently attracts some five million visitors a year. At just four-and-a-half hours’ flying time from the UK, you can revel in soaring temperatures and an almost complete absence of rainfall!

Santa Cruz is often overlooked by tourists who stick to the beaches and attractions in the south of the island, which are guaranteed to give you a brilliant holiday. In contrast, the city offers cultural highlights (an opera house as architecturally unique as Sydney’s) and a fascinating history, just one example of which is the sound thrashing meted out to Britain’s most famous naval hero, whose fleet was left in tatters (along with his right arm) in the city’s harbour.

Legend has it that the ‘Cañon Tigre’ (Tiger Cannon), which fired the infamous shot at Admiral Horatio Nelson during the Battle of Santa Cruz in 1797, is the one you can still see on display in the underground museum at the Castle of San Cristóbal.

The world’s 2nd biggest carnival

The home of the world’s biggest street carnival, is, of course, Rio de Janeiro on Brazil’s eastern seaboard. But little Santa Cruz has consistently managed to hold onto the title of second place with its festivities, which usually take place every February.

As with most street events, even one of this size, there are official events and unofficial ones. Carnival proper this year is provisionally slated to start on 27 February and will last until 10 March. Last year’s theme was Fantasy and this year, after an online vote, the theme is The Deep Sea.

If you’re intending to go along – if only to say “I was there” – then it’s best not to go in your hire car, simply because you might not be able to park. Use the special buses which are laid on by the city authorities to get thousands of people to the festivities.

These are the main dates for what is always a fantastic spectacle. If Rio’s a bit far, then Santa Cruz should get your vote.

  • 27 February: the gala celebrating the election of the Carnival Queen
  • 5 March: The giant parade on Avenida Francisco La Roche
  • 6 March: Entierro de la Sardina (or burial of the sardine) on Calle Juan Pablo II
  • These events are so popular that booking tickets is advisable. For visitors to the carnival, probably the most intriguing event, not to say weirdest, is the burial of the sardine, or Entierro de la Sardina. This is meant to signify the end of carnival and parodies a funeral procession, symbolising the burial (and burning) of the past, accompanied by regeneration and the birth of the new. Whatever it’s actually meant to symbolise, it’s great fun!

    Not everything is carnival-based. If you’re on Tenerife, you should also watch out for:

  • 27 Jan, anniversary of the city becoming the island’s new capital
  • 3 May, the city’s formal day (mainland Spanish troops arrived on 3 May, 1494).
  • 25 July, the day of St James the Great which also celebrates the defeat of one Horatio Nelson!
  • A great way to see the city is on an Open Top Bus which sets off from Plaza España. Jump on, jump off at your leisure. There’s also a tram service (but be aware, it doesn’t cover the whole city).

    One of the strangest buildings you’ll come across in Santa Cruz is the home of the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, the Auditorio de Tenerife. Reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House, its repertoire extends way beyond just the classical.

    Santa Cruz is also home to a collection of mummies, and these didn’t come from Egypt. The original inhabitants of the islands practised the art of mummification and you can see them at the Museum of Man and Nature.

    Any discussion of a city’s attractions should always touch on where or what to eat and drink. The ‘wheres’ are too numerous to mention, but chief amongst the ‘whats’ is to make sure you try ‘wrinkled potatoes’. Not very glamorous-sounding, but ‘papas arrugadas’ are a special variety, cooked in their skins and presented ‘con mojos’, that’s with sauces that are usually fairly fiery.

    Santa Cruz has more than enough to tempt even the most discerning traveller. Throw in the second biggest carnival celebrations in the world and you’re onto a sure-fire winner and it’s just up the road from CLC World’s luxury Tenerife resorts!