Tenerife – what to do on the biggest island of the Canaries

Tenerife. When I told people I was going to work on the biggest of the Canary islands, some people started looking at me as if I was speaking Chinese. Others immediately started smiling and instantly bombarded me with stories of their sun-drenched adventures in Playa the las Americas, or even better, drunken memories of the famous Veronicas strip. Since I’m working as a destination representative for a well-known European travel agency, working in winter – yes, we think in seasons and yes, there are only two: winter and summer. Which basically means summer and MORE summer for me. – almost automatically leads you to: the Canary Islands. A Spanish archipelago off the coast of Northwest Africa known for its hot summers and warm winters or, like a Canario told me, “The land of eternal spring.” – sounds pretty dramatically, but I must confess, the temperatures are indeed very pleasant in winter – Of course, I ended up on the biggest and most famous of all the islands: Tenerife. When I got to know where I’d be working in winter, a couple of images flashed through my head: rows and rows of people on sunbeds, almost as red as a lobster. German schlagermusic playing too loud. Resort after resort after resort. McDonalds, Zara and Starbucks taking over the place. Elderly couples racing the streets with their electric scooters. Basically, images of an island that doesn’t even give the slightest hint of being in Spain.

For the readers that have no idea what I’m talking about, the Canary Islands are the ‘hotspot’ for European holidaygoers. Knowing that those islands have the perfect spring temperatures all-year round, I guess you can already imagine where the image in my head came from… It would be busy. It would be crowded. And it would be very very hard to find anything unspoiled by mass-tourism. At least; that’s what I thought before having ever seen the island. I was very very wrong.

The most popular area in Tenerife is the South Coast, without a doubt. Here, millions – not exaggerating, Tenerife is one of the busiest tourist hubs in the whole world, mainly for European citizens, but also a lot of South-Americans regularly visit the Canary Islands – of visitors enjoy a sunny afternoon on one of the sandy beaches in Playa Las Américas, Costa Adeje or Los Christianos. Sun, sea, beach is what most people have in mind when booking their stay in one of the All-Inclusive resorts or apartments that dot the South Coast. Enjoyable temperatures all year round – again, the land of Eternal Spring, remember? -, plenty of choice on where to sleep/eat/drink and entertainment on every corner. Wether it is watching a drag queen show in the evening, partying until the early hours on the famous Las Américas strip or splurging on a full day shopping spree in the biggest shopping center Siam Mall, being bored is simply not allowed. The perfect place to spend a whole winter during your pension, when North-and Central-Europa is covered in a layer of snow. The perfect place to visit a different English pub every single night and get drunk on cheap alcohol and have loads of fun. The perfect place when wanting a relaxing holiday, with plenty of time to sip mojitos on the beach or at the poolside in your hotel. The perfect place to eat your heart out in one of the numerous shopping centers and to spend money as if your life depended on it. Plenty of reasons to escape the cold winter months in Northern Europe. But is this the Tenerife that conquered my heart in the end?

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Playa las Americas

The answer is no. Even while I’m working in the tourist industry where I spend a lot of my time inside mega-resorts listening to the ups and downs of hotel-life – sometimes even living inside an all-inclusive resort for months in a row -, I still am not attracted to booking a sun-sea-beach holiday. Not because I don’t like beaches or sun or sea – hell yes, I love them…especially looking forward to the Caribbean beaches I’m supposed to discover soon –, but because I like exploring. I like hiking, I like getting lost in the backstreets of a city, I like visiting museums, I like my tastebuds to wonder in which part of the world they are. A holiday or a trip spend only in shopping centers or sun beds by the pool is just not that appealing to me. Luckily, I found so much more in the South Coast alone.

Los Cristianos

My apartment was in Los Cristianos, which is an area with less resorts and more apartments and it still has a little of the old-fisherman’s-town-feeling left. I loved to visit the beach bars in San Telmo that don’t only cater to the European holiday-goers, but instead are filled with a mainly Spanish speaking crowd. Agua de Coco being one of my favorites on the strip – fruit mojito’s…I don’t need to say anything more – and Club Casablanca, ideal to practice your salsa steps before throwing yourself for a wild night on the dance floor. Here’s where I accidentally stumbled into a Bachata-class, only to be pulled inside by an elder gentleman and dragged on the dance floor. Apparently, they where lacking some girl power, so I had no choice but to fly from one dance partner to another during the whole session. Needless to say, I had a blast of an evening. Casablanca has classes almost every evening during the week, going from Cuban Salsa to Merengue and Bachata, for about 2 to 3€ per class. I’ve lived about 3 months in Los Cristianos and if there’s one thing I regret, it’s not taking more classes. – Next time, I promise, you’ll see me twice a week. Pinky promise. –

When all that dancing makes you hungry…you could always grab a bite in La Pepa. Or, after a long day working and you have absolutely no clue what to cook and you live two blocks from the best known food market in the area… – also, living in front of a pizza place is not a good idea – then La Pepa comes in handy. Not on the ground floor like other markets, but on the roof of the Pasarela shopping center, home to delicacies from Asia to South-America. A place where you’ll find a nice mix of locals and tourists, where you can enjoy the sunset with views of the ocean and the pinkish-purple sky. Or a live band, once in a while.

While living in Tenerife, I also ‘discovered’ a dish called ‘Arepa’. Made of grounded maize, these arepas are a type of rolls that could be steamed, baked or boiled and come with a variety of delicious fillings. Originally from South America, but also to be found on the Canary Islands thanks to the many historical ties of the islands with the people of Colombia and Venezuela. When meeting D. – Venezuelan living in the Canaries – he not only made sure I won’t easily forget my stay in Tenerife, but also showed me how tasty the Venezuelan kitchen could be. When you’re eager to get your teeth into some arepas, ‘La Catirita’ in Los Cristianos is a good option. Adeje, a village next to Costa Adeje in the mountains, hosts a better ‘arepera’ than the one in Los Cristianos, but besides having some very good memories of the evening in Adeje, I can’t remember the name of the arepera anymore. Time to go on a little quest for the best arepas in Adeje, maybe?

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Coastline of Los Cristianos
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Los Cristianos

Parque Nacional del Teide

While food, dancing and nice company are some of the main reasons why I enjoyed my time on Tenerife that much, it’s most definitely the fantastic views that made me fall in love with the island. Thanks to volcanic activity some thousands of years ago, Tenerife can boast to have the biggest mountain of Spain. Hell, even the third biggest volcano on earth, if you count from it’s base in the Atlantic Ocean. The view on Pico del Teide, towering over the island, wherever you are, is impressive. Even more when stargazing in the National Park, halfway to the top, while you’re trying to decipher the secrets of the universe.

Driving through the National Park is one of the best ways to discover the mountain in your own pace. The roads are well maintained and offer several stops along the way to enjoy the volcano and, of course, take a shitload of pictures. Go during the day and you can take the cable car or Teleférico all the way to the top. Well, almost the top, the last 200m have to be done by foot and are only accessible with a special permission. – Don’t forget that on windy days the cable car will be closed. – Go during the afternoon and stay long enough so you can see the sunset while standing in the middle of the mountain. The views of the Pico del Teide during the golden hour are just magical.

The most breathtaking way to visit the Teide is ‘by night’. – you’ll see plenty of agencies offering guided tours – Since the volcano is towering over the Canaries, it’s by far the best place to admire the milky way. Because of its high altitude, light pollution doesn’t exist and even clouds aren’t floating high enough to cover your view upon the galaxy. You’ll be glad to defy temperatures close to freezing, even if it’s just to catch a glimpse of millions of tiny lights dotting a pitch black sky.

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Sun going down upon an ancient crater.
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Parque Nacional del Teide.
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More Teide.
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Teide from another point of view + nice company.

Puerto de la Cruz

The South is the driest, hottest and sunniest part of the island, but the North is definitely the greenest and by far the most beautiful. The magnificent El Teide likes to block rainclouds just above Puerto de la Cruz, covering the city from time to time in a cloud blanket. Even though the North is not always as sunny as the South, Puerto de la Cruz still attracts hordes of visitors.

First of all, Loro Parque attracts a huge amount of visitors from all over the island, since it’s one of the biggest zoos in Europe and ‘the best’ according to tripadvisor. I’m not a fan of animals in captivity and especially not of exploiting them in shows – they are famous for their shows: orca shows, dolphin shows, shows with parrots, etc… –, so I’m not going to recommend visiting Loro Parque. You’ll see plenty of advertising around the island and it might seem they take good care of their animals, but think twice before you decide to spend a day inside an animal park that uses dolphins and orcas to entertain humans. – for more information about orcas in captivity, watch the documentary Blackfish – Truth be told, sadly a lot of tourists only visit Puerto de la Cruz for Loro Parque.

Luckily, there’s much much more to do and see in Puerto. Where the hotspots of the South Coast were constructed for the pleasures of the masses, Puerto de la Cruz already exists since the early 16th century. Walking around the old city center is a real pleasure for the eye, filled with old colonial mansions, churches and plazas which teleport you back into the time where Puerto was still a wealthy harbor town. Admire the tropical courtyard of Hotel Monopol, one of the oldest and eye-catching hotels in the historical center. Take a walk along the coastline with it’s black volcanic rocks and strong currents, splashing you soaking wet if you get a bit too close to the rocks. The same can be said of Playa Martianez, a small beach with black sand at the end of the promenade. Perfect for people-watching,– especially the good-looking-surfer kind of people – or pick-nicks, but make sure you’re reading to jump up and run if the waves get too close. – closing your eyes and tan might not be such a good idea after all… –

My favorite spot in Puerto de la Cruz however is El Jardín Botánico, the botanical garden filled with plants and flowers from all corners of the world. Ideal for a little morning walk or to just sit, relax and enjoy nature. Be aware that there’s very little information of the plants itself available, only the names and origin will be on display. – or you could make it a guessing game of where plants originate from, like I did with D. when visiting… – The garden was originally built as a temporary ‘storage’ of all the exotic plants the Spanish would bring home from their conquests in the New World, before shipping them to the capital. After a while, they realized those exotic plants might not survive the cold winters in Madrid… and they left the garden untouched. Excellent idea. El Jardín Botánico in Puerto de la Cruz is not one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, but definitely one of the prettiest. The entrance fee is 3 euros, so that gives you one more reason to visit, if I didn’t convince you yet.

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Tasting wine + horses in Puerto de la Cruz.
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Facade of Hotel Metropol. Beautiful woodwork.
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Coastline of Puerto de la Cruz
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Puerto de la Cruz.
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Botanical Garden + Strelitzia
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Favorite part of the botanical garden.
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Amazed.
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Palmtrees.

Masca

El Teide is obviously beautiful. Who ever sets foot in Puerto de la Cruz, will discover a mixture between new and old, a dramatic coastline and a gorgeous botanical garden. Masca definitely deserves a spot among them. Being a tiny little village towering above one impressive gorge, it’s mainly known as starting point for the Masca-hike. Views from the village are stunning. Of course, the best way to admire all this beauty is to make your way down through the gorge to the coast. The walk down is about 3 hours, depending on your level of fitness. Be careful and avoid descending when it rains, the road can get very slippery.

The easiest way to get to Masca is, of course, by car. However, if you’d like to hike the gorge, it’s better to park your car in Los Gigantes. Once you reached the coast, you can take a small boat back to Los Gigantes instead of hiking all the way up, and you can buy your tickets in advance in Los Gigantes. Maybe you even spot some dolphins on the way back!

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Road to Masca.
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Masca. Not the best picture, but you get my point.

La Laguna

This former capital of Tenerife is by far my absolute favorite city to visit on the island. Yes, I love Puerto de la Cruz and it’s beautiful garden, but La Laguna has this little extra spark I can’t explain. Maybe because of the old city center, now UNESCO World Heritage, built according a grid and stood model for a lot of South American cities? – I do have so many wonderful memories of my time in Latin America, walking in La Laguna was one major flashback – Maybe because of all those grand colonial mansions who’ve been restored, with beautiful courtyards, all open for visitors? Maybe because the city already exists for centuries and is not specifically built for the tourism industry? Maybe because it’s a University city, which already creates another atmosphere? Maybe because all those colorful buildings make you happy, even though it didn’t stop raining for the last 5 hours and you really can’t take any pretty pictures? Maybe because it’s in a valley, in the middle of the mountains?

So many reasons why I adored La Laguna. The best way to visit is just to arrive, park your car – hop off the bus is another possibility – and explore the historical city center. You will definitely spot all the highlights, among which the Cathedral  – La Catedral de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios – and the Iglesia de la Concepción are the most important.

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Romantic diner in the streets of La Laguna.
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Colonial mansion.
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Beautiful courtyard.
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Trees and church.
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Lots of nice little bars in La Laguna.
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Margaritas.

Anaga Mountains

Aaah, Anaga. I wish I could’ve explored more. I wish I could’ve taken a couple of days off, just to hike and explore and enjoy nature. The Anaga mountains are the oldest part of the island – think as: the first lava above sea level – and the wildest, more savage. A mountain range with sharp peaks only to be divided by some green valleys and deep ravines, until you reach the ocean. On both sides. Nature at its best.

Since I didn’t have enough time to really spend some days in the area, I settled with driving around the mountain range and enjoy the views through the windows of the car or during the several stops we made. Don’t forget to stop along the coastline as well, the cliffs and ‘roques’ are as impressive as the mountains. You might even learn a bit pirate history. If I’d had more time, I’d definitely taken a walk through the ancient laurel forests on the tops, tried to get to the lighthouse on the northernmost point or maybe even a little mountain bike tour?

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Anaga roads.
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Deep in the valley.
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Jungle drums.
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If I’m not wrong, this should be the city of Taganana.
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Cliffs and mountains and ocean.
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The road to the rock.
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All the colors of the wind.

 

So, I’m glad to have shared my favorite parts in Tenerife and a bit of my experiences on the island on this blog. One blogpost is not nearly enough to talk about EVERYTHING you could possibly do, but I already gave a small impression of how beautiful the island can be, far from the ‘only sun, sea and beach’ I had in mind when I first arrived. 

 

 

 

 

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