Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, with an area of 2045 km² and a population of 700,000 people. Tourists here are waiting for many attractions, entertainment, interesting cities. The island is divided into a southern coast with a dry climate and golden beaches, and a wetter and windier northern coast, whose black sands under steep cliffs remind of the volcanic origin of Tenerife. In between, Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide, rises to 3,718 meters.
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Video: The beauty of the island of Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital and main port, is located in the southeastern part of the island in a beautiful bay. Its February carnival is the most lavish in Spain. At 8 km to the northeast stretches the Ppaia de pas Teresitas, a wonderful strip of golden sand with the fishing harbor of San Andrea, famous for its fish cuisine. History buffs can go deep into Tenerife, to the former capital of La Laguna – now a university town with several museums and beautiful mansions of the XVI-XVII centuries.
Delightful eye the oldest resort of Puerto de la Cruz Here, on the rocks of dark lava mushroomed high-rise buildings have grown, and the lack of beaches make up for the lack of swimming pools in the rocks at each hotel. Even more appealing are the large salt ponds of Lago Martianez, praised by the Lanzarote artist César Manrique. The city’s botanical garden, Hardin de Aclimatacion de Orotava, is full of subtropical plants. In Parque Loro is the world’s largest parrot nursery and dolphinarium.
In the vicinity of La Cruz, the Valle de la Orotava, a stunning cliff at Teide, which descends to the water, is interesting. If you take the vertiginous drive (27 km) to the Mirador de Humboldt Lookout (named after the naturalist scientist Alexander Humboldt), you’ll get a great view of the banana groves. The nearby town of La Orotava is known for the beauty of its traditional wooden houses with intricate latticed balconies and shady patios and the Baroque church of La Concepción. Casa de Los Balcones are two seventeenth-century mansions built of local pine, which now house the Artesania-Iberoamericana Crafts Museum.
The northern area of El Sauzal is famous for its fine wines. Follow the signs to Casa del Vino La Baranda (open: Wed-Sat 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wed 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. in summer; 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in winter, free admission; www.cabtfe.es/casa-vino). You can find out how the wines are made, taste some of them and buy your favorite ones in the local store. There’s also a bar and restaurant with a great view of the coast. The neighboring town of Tacoronte is famous for the figure of Christ, Cristo de los Dolores, XVII century.
You can also visit the second most important city of Tenerife, La Laguna, which is considered the cultural capital of Tenerife.
West of Puerto
The coasts to the north and west of Puerto de la Cruz are very picturesque. The sleepy Icod de Los Viños is famous for its botanical wonder, Drago milenario, a giant dracena (Draecana draco) that is 800 years old.
Moving further west, you head towards Garachico. After 6 km, there is a dizzying descent. From the road you have stunning views of the compact little town of 6,000 people. Garachico is located on a small peninsula. Mighty ocean waves crash against the steep cliffs. The peninsula was formed from volcanic lava and rocks after an eruption in 1709 that destroyed most of the town and residents. The best views are from the observation deck (mirador de Garachico).
The eruption spared the perfectly preserved 16th century castle, Castillo de San Miguel. This is an ideal place for evening entertainment in the spirit of the Middle Ages. There is no beach here, but there are several spacious pools set into the cliffs, which is quite satisfying for visitors to the town. Garachico is a little gem: neat little houses with pretty balconies line the narrow cobblestone streets, and old churches line the charming squares. Libertad’s main square is beautiful. It’s lovely to sit in the shade of the trees and admire the church of Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles and the 16th century Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, which is now a cultural center. The former convent of Santo Domingo of the 17th century is home to the Museum of Modern Art.
About 8 km behind Buenavista del Norte is the westernmost point of Tenerife, Punta de Teno. From here you have panoramic views of Homer, as well as the huge cliffs of Los Gigantes. Return to Buenavista and follow the sign to the interior of the island to Masca. Be very careful – this road is not suitable for inexperienced and nervous drivers.
At first the road climbs up hillsides and it’s tiring to drive, but not scary. But everything changes when the entrance to a valley with dizzyingly steep slopes opens up in front of you. The road was not built until 1991. Until then it was only possible to get to the picturesque town of Masca by donkey. The most picturesque views of Tenerife await you. However, the driver will not have time or opportunity to admire them. The road runs along the slope of a green mountain gorge complex zigzag with sharp turns. The road is quite narrow and sometimes you have to reverse to let the oncoming cars pass. Stopping at Musk is not just a pleasure, but also a huge relief. Relax at a restaurant and enjoy the views before taking the equally challenging road south to the main road to Santiago del Teide. In July 2007, Masca was hit hard by forest fires. Residents had to be evacuated. Even today you can see the charred remains of houses and charred trees, but on the whole the small town is back to life.
A little further south, turn to the resort of Puerto de Santiago (there’s a nice beach here). Walk along the pier, admiring the picturesque cliffs, which are 800 meters high. These cliffs are rightly called Los Gigantes. A small fishing village turned into a lively resort. It is a popular diving center. Although the black volcanic beach here is small, you can always swim in the artificial bay with sea water.
The central part of the island
In the center of Tenerife is Teide National Park. There are four wide roads leading to it, so it’s easy to get to the park from anywhere on the island. The road through La Orotava is well signposted. But if you’re coming from the north, take the more scenic route through La Esperanza. Beyond the small town begins the dense pine and eucalyptus forest of Vosque de la Esperanza. At 4 km to the south is the town of Las Raíces, where Franco met with other conspirators in 1936. There is an obelisk to commemorate the event. The road rises higher and the temperature drops. The views become more and more picturesque. To the east, you’ll see the gleaming white domes of the Teide Astronomical Observatory (open: April-December ch 10 a.m.-12 p.m., by appointment only; tel: 922-605-207 / 200; www.iac.es). The air here is exceptionally clean, creating ideal conditions for astronomical observations. The main focus of the observatory is the study of the Sun.
At the entrance to El Portillo Park there is a tourist center (open daily 9.00-16.00). At the center you will get information about daily walks (independent and organized). The 4 hectares of the national park are home to a wide variety of native plants. Along the road that runs through the park, there are observation decks (miradors) that offer beautiful views. If the five-hour climb to the top is too much for you, the Teleferico cable car can be used. The station is 8 km from the tourist center, next to the Teide Parador, the only hotel in the park. To avoid queues at the cable car, arrive early. If a strong wind blows, the cable car does not function. Teide is the highest mountain in Spain, at 3,718 meters above sea level. It is very cold at the top, and most of the year there is snow.
Most of those who get to the top by cable car usually do not go far from the station. People with heart and lung diseases should not climb the summit, as the oxygen content in the air is reduced by half. It is possible to approach the crater, but this requires a special permit. The permit can be obtained for free at the national park office (Calle Emilio Calzadillo 5, Santa Cruz, tel.: 922-290-129; Mon-nm 9.00-14.00). For this you will need your passport. You will also have to show your passport at the summit.
Teide is in a huge depression (caldera) of a larger volcano. More precisely, there were two volcanoes in the park, which formed two calderas separated by the unusual rocks of Los Roques de Garcia, next to the parador. Lava and ash erupted from the volcanoes at different times – this explains the differences in the texture and color of the rocks. The green color gives the rocks their copper oxide. The green rocks are called Los Azulejos (the Izulejos).
Turn left at Boca de Tauqué Miracle and you will reach the town of Vilaflor. Or you can go farther, to the mirador Quío, which offers a stunning view of Las Naríses del Teide (the Nostrils of Teide). This stark landscape was created after the 1798 eruption.
17 km south of Santa Cruz is the town of Candelaria, which has a rich religious history. A huge basilica, built in the 1950s, towers over the town (open: daily 7.30-13.00, 15.00-19.30, admission free). The basilica contains a statue of the Virgin Mary, who was worshipped by the Guanches long before the first Christians arrived on the islands. The statue itself and the ancient church were lost in 1826, when the ocean took the patron saint of the islands. The magnificent new statue is the object of a two-day Romería de Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria pilgrimage that takes place in mid-August. During this time, the process of the conversion of the Guanche to Christianity is reproduced. In the square in front of the basilica along the seashore are statues of the seven Guanche chiefs who lived on the island when it was conquered by the Spaniards.
Just south of Candelaria is the small working-class town of Huymar. In the vicinity of the town you can see stone terraces, resembling the bases of the pyramids. Not surprisingly, the ethnographic park “Pyramids of Huymar” is located here (open: daily 9.30 – 18.00, entrance fee; www.piramidesdeguimar.net). This park was created by Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian who lived in Tenerife from 1994 until his death in 2002. During that period, Heyerdahl studied the pyramids of Tucume in Peru. After discovering the steep pyramids of Huymar with flat tops, he thought they were places of sun worship for the Guanches. The Canary pyramids are very similar to those found on the other side of the Atlantic.
Another Norwegian, shipbuilder Fred Olsen, bought this piece of land and helped set up a research center on it. Here you can see models of Heyerdahl’s ships, a video about the ocean voyages of the ancients, as well as other audio-visual exhibits. In addition, you can also examine the pyramids themselves. It is still unclear if they were actually built by the Guanches, but you can visit the park and make up your own mind.
Most tourists coming to Tenerife go to the resorts of Los Cristianos and Playa de las Américas. Los Cristianos used to be a small fishing port with a tiny beach. Today, it receives hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. The remains of the old town are still preserved in the port area, although it is very difficult to find old houses on the busy promenade among the British and German bars and restaurants. The port is still active. Ferries to El Hierro and La Gomera depart from here. The southern beaches of Playa Los Cristianos and Playa de las Vistas are very comfortable for swimming – they are protected from the waves and the sea is shallow.
Los Cristianos is separated from the neighboring resort by the Montaña Chayofila volcano. Playa de las Americas emerged in the 1970s and quickly turned from a bare, lifeless coast to an expensive, energetic, crowded modern resort. There is no center of any kind at this resort. The roads are poorly marked, and the directions are most often determined by the names of the hotels. The large beach of Playa de las Vistas is between the expensive Mare Nostrum resort hotel and Los Cristianos. But the main beaches – Playas de Trois and Playa del Bobo – are on the north bank of the Barranco del Rey. Behind this channel of the parched river is the tourist office, and behind it is Veronicas nightlife center with hundreds of discos and nightclubs.
On the other side of Playa de las Américas begins Costa Adeje. On this strip of coastline, hotels lined up right next to each other, fast-food joints and entertainment venues give way to spacious, intelligently designed, expensive resort hotels. Vacationing here is much more comfortable and enjoyable, though more expensive than next door.
The small port of Puerto Colón in San Eugenio is a center for water sports, glass-bottom boat rides, and trips to dolphin and whale habitats. The yellow submarine will help you take a 45-minute underwater walk. Most interesting are the shipwrecks, with flocks of fish, including huge stingrays, swimming among the wrecks. A little away from the port is the large Aqualand water park.