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Carnival on Madeira; Portraits of the Parade in Funchal

Updated on May 3, 2017
Greensleeves Hubs profile image

The author has travelled extensively in the world, and writes illustrated articles about his experiences, with advice on must-see sights

Three Cats
Three Cats | Source
Feathered Fun
Feathered Fun | Source


This page is a photo essay about the carnival which takes place every year in Funchal, the capital of Portugal's Atlantic island territory of Madeira, in the week before Ash Wednesday.

The origins of the Madeira Carnival are clear. Brazil - a former colony of the historic European power - is home to the most famous of all of these events, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, and many Portuguese regions have adopted the style and extravagant parades of Rio for the streets of their own towns and cities. Of these, few are as colourful or as exuberant or friendly, as the island carnival on Madeira.

All photographs were taken by the author during Carnival Week in 2011

Please note, all my articles are best read on desktops and laptops

Newly Discovered Tribe of Aztecs
Newly Discovered Tribe of Aztecs | Source
Extravagant and flambuoyant costumes are the order of the day
Extravagant and flambuoyant costumes are the order of the day | Source

The Carnival Schedule

Carnival in Funchal is not a one-day event. It starts on the Friday when school children parade in fancy dress. Saturday night however, sees the big event, the Allegoric or Main Parade in which hundreds of local people will take part in flamboyant costumes on a succession of organised, decorative floats. During Sunday and Monday, and throughout the rest of the week, artistic groups perform impromptu dances and concerts, and musicans can be heard at venues in the town, including in local restaurants and bars. But on Tuesday afternoon, the second large parade takes place - a much less formalised affair known as Trapalhao, or the Slapstick Parade - and the culmination of this marks the conclusion of the Funchal Carnival.

I think the girl on the right wins on style - and I think the girls on the left know it!
I think the girl on the right wins on style - and I think the girls on the left know it! | Source

Main Parade Participants

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Four girlsThree girlsTwo girlsOne girlOne of the parade groups
Four girls
Four girls | Source
Three girls
Three girls | Source
Two girls
Two girls | Source
One girl
One girl | Source
One of the parade groups
One of the parade groups | Source

The Main Parade

The Main Parade on the Saturday is organised, colourful and spectacular. Mostly it features young girls in gaudy dresses and feathery headdresses, but participants of every age, people in animal costumes and make-up, and also young men dressed in outfits which they wouldn't be seen dead in at any other time, will all join in.

This is a night time event, with people gathering on the sea front road at about 8.00pm for the start at 9.00pm, and the atmosphere among the participants at this time is one of anticipated fun. Over the next three hours, the colourful procession will wend its way through the streets of Funchal, lined three to four deep with spectators.

Tinsel Town
Tinsel Town | Source
Dressed up for the Slapstick Parade
Dressed up for the Slapstick Parade | Source

The Parade Route

The Main Parade on Saturday, and the Slapstick Parade on Tuesday, follow the same route. The starting point is on the coastal road near the Praca da Autonomia, from where the floats go west for maybe 1500m before turning right, and then around the ornamental Infante Roundabout, before heading back east along the Avenida Arriaga and north up Avenida Zarco. Eventually the route takes the participants to their finishing point - the Praca do Municipio, the main square of Funchal where the town hall stands. Here there are small grandstands for the spectators, but the vast majority along the route just sit or stand at the roadside behind flimsy barriers which are designed to keep some sense of order, but without restricting movement too much.

The next batch of pictures of Carnival are taken at the daylight Slapstick Parade.

Spectators - especially the children - will also get into the spirit of the occasion
Spectators - especially the children - will also get into the spirit of the occasion | Source

Chamber of Horrors

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The Slapstick Parade

On Tuesday the Trapalhao Parade, also known as the Slapstick Parade, starts at 4.00pm. Carnival can never be exactly regimented, but this is the most care-free of the parades, characterised by costumes which may be inventive or shabby, and face masks which may be home made or bought in the local shops in the weeks leading up to the festival.

Anyone can take part - there are official groups and floats, but many people seem to just 'do their own thing'. Some will present caricatures of local politicians and celebrities to poke fun at the high and mighty in society, but certainly in the carnival which was witnessed by the author, the predominant theme seemed to be ghouls and grotesques. Look at the photos and see what I mean!

The end of the Slapstick Parade, as with the Main Parade, is in the Praca do Municipio, but unlike on Saturday when the participants tend to just drift away, people today hang around afterwards, to listen to music and to talk, to see awards handed out for the best costumes, and just to prolong the last day of carnival for as long as possible.

Clowning about in the Slapstick Parade
Clowning about in the Slapstick Parade | Source

Spirit of Slapstick - A Bunch of Clowns, A Squaw and a Banana

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Carnival for Everyone

All kinds of people take part in the Madeira Carnival, and the Tuesday Parade in particular is accessible to everyone because of its daylight start, the lack of choreography, and simplicity of costume design. And even if some of the costumes are a bit risque, the pleasure is innocent. No section of the community is excluded - toddlers and children and teenagers, young adults, and the old. The whole island unites for the event.

In the photographs here, the three clowns are not part of the officially organised parade. They are just local children. Children (and adults) will dress up in a very un-self-conscious fashion to watch, and to feel a part of the occasion. The other two photos show participants. The squaw was a member of a local group with learning disabilities. The banana is - well - just sitting on the kerbside taking a rest. As bananas often do. This carnival is for everyone. Even bananas.

For the last batch of pictures, we return to the glitzy and spectacular Main Parade.

Another picture from the Main Parade
Another picture from the Main Parade | Source

Girls in Their Carnival Dresses

Click thumbnail to view full-size


Please feel free to quote limited text on condition that an active link back to this page is included. Photos are copyright

Is the Funchal Carnival Worth Seeing? A Personal View

We will finish with a few more photos from the Main Parade on Saturday, and my personal view of this carnival.

At the time of writing, I have never seen carnival in Brazil or Trinidad, perhaps the two best known events of this kind. Nor have I seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or even the Nottinghill Carnival in my home country. So I cannot begin to compare these or other big parades with the event on Madeira. Madeira is a small island and Funchal is a small town, so I guess the parade is much smaller, but it puts a very big effort into these festivities each year. Perhaps most people who are considering a visit to Madeira would come to see the island's best known attractions - the mountainous landscapes, and the gardens and flowers. In February or March, when the carnival takes place, the weather is mild but not always hot, and rainfall is always a possibility. But the carnival makes this a really good time to visit. Whatever appeal is offered by Rio de Janeiro or Trinidad, or New Orleans, Madeira offers colour and friendliness, and it offers a very safe environment in which the locals come out and just enjoy themselves with innocence and warmth.

The Glitter and Gaudiness of Carnival
The Glitter and Gaudiness of Carnival | Source

© 2011 Greensleeves Hubs

I'd Love to Hear Your Comments. Thanks, Alun.

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    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

      Thankyou so much Duchess. Whether it's the best time to visit Madeira I guess depends upon one's interests. If the flowers and gardens for which Madeira is famous is the main interest, well the weather is hotter and a little more reliable later in the spring. But it's mild in February/March (occasionally a little chilly, but mostly warm or hot) and you'd be really unlucky not to have plenty of sunshine. And the Carnival makes a great bonus for anyone who likes colour, spectacle and photography.

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      Duchess OBlunt 5 years ago

      As a travel page, this is great! Sounds like the perfect time to visit Madeira. It's always good to read (and see) someone's personal experience at a place. Great shots.

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Derdriu, no I didn't dress for the occasion! (Much too self-conscious!)

      You mention 'friendly festiveness', and I guess where Madeira really scores is in its good nature. No one can guarantee safety, but I think the town and island is one of the safest of tourist destinations. For the Main Parade I was walking the streets close to midnight with well over a thousand dollars of camera gear plus money and - though I kept a close watch on it - I didn't feel threatened or concerned at all, either in the crowds or when walking back alone to my hotel. People just turn out for the fun of carnival.

      It's always a real pleasure to hear your comments Derdriu.

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      Derdriu 6 years ago

      Greensleeves Hubs: Thank you for organizing such a beautiful photo essay of Carnival in Funchal. The colors are gorgeous, the costumes are meticulous/horrific/hilarious, and the body language of the costumer wearers does convey friendly festiveness. Did you dress for the occasion too?

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      SunshineToday 6 years ago

      I've never been on Madeira during the Carnival week - but, I think I should make the effort.

      Incidentally, if you fancy another visit to the island, think about trying to coinciding it with the Flower Festival or just before Christmas and New Year. Both are times when the locals demonstrate how good they are at putting a show on!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 6 years ago from Essex, UK

      Glad you like them! Cheers. Alun.

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      shibu thomas 6 years ago

      brilliant photos