Tenerife is nicer than you think! If you’ve only ever been to the sunny and arid south side, the lush and verdant north of the island may come as a pleasant surprise. It’s a big island so it’s relatively easy and well worth the effort to get away from the tourists and find yourself a little bit of green and beautiful volcanic paradise.
Flying from island to island is simple and relatively cheap. I paid about €30 per flight. It takes about 30 minutes to get from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria to Tenerife North airport and there are lots of flights through the day. Be warned – the planes are little! And they have propellors! There are two companies – Binter (the better one I later discovered) and Canary Fly. On this occasion I flew Canary Fly (cheaper fare) – like getting on and off a bus!
Tenerife is the largest and the most populated of the Canary Islands – 43% of the population live here. With nearly 900,000 inhabitants, it is also Spain’s most populated island and the largest and most populous island of Macaronesia – the name for the collection of four archipelagos off the coast of West Africa (the Azores, Madeira and its islands, the Canary islands and the Cape Verde island group).
The capital city of Tenerife – Santa Cruz – is joint capital of the Canaries with Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. Santa Cruz’s annual carnival is world famous and one of the largest in the world. Tenerife is one of the world’s busiest tourist destinations and has two airports one in the north in San Cristobal de La Laguna and a second serving the south of the island.
Tenerife is dominated by the mighty Mount Teide – a dormant volcano which last erupted on 18th November 1909 and the third largest volcano in the world (measured from the base). At 3,718 metres above sea level and 7,500 metres from the ocean floor, Teide is Spain’s highest peak and the highest point in the Atlantic. The summit is visible from almost everywhere you go in northern Tenerife. With only just over 24 hours to spend in Tenerife I decided to make El Teide the main focus of my visit.
I arrived in Tenerife at dusk and picked up my hire car just as the sun was going down. Although I cut my driving teeth in Tenerife – I flew here for work a week after passing my test – this was my first visit for 28 years and the combination of new car, traffic and darkness was a bit nerve-wracking! The drive was stunning. The road hugs the coast and I drove with the sea on my right and the outline of the enormous black volcano rising up in front of me against the dark blue sky. As it got darker the lights of the villages in the foothills of Teide flickered on and twinkled against the pitch black backdrop of the volcano. On my right, down at sea level, lights from little boats lit up the misty area where land meets sea. Sadly no photos as I was driving but it was very beautiful.
I stayed in Guest House Espacio Antares on the outskirts of Santa Bárbara, a pretty little town just inland from Icod de los Vinos. The road was narrow and winding and very dark by the time I arrived. It was a tribute to Google maps that I found the place! I arrived about 9 pm and hosts Nidia and José were so friendly and welcoming, helping me to park and recommending a brilliant restaurant in the town within walking distance. The place was lovely with a few rooms, two shared bathrooms and a kitchen available for guests’ use.
There were lots of little corners and places to sit, a pond with goldfish, a huge yoga room, an amazing garden full of beautiful plants and flowers, and an enormous roof terrace with sunloungers, umbrellas, tables and chairs and a breathtaking view of Teide and the old and tiny vineyards that cover the surrounding hillsides. Nidia told me they had made it all themselves, bit-by-bit and on a very low budget, from an old family property with the intention of creating a place for spiritual and personal development. They host courses and group events here too. The place is full of heart and soul, personal touches and wonderful hospitality. The generosity and intentions of the hosts is evident in every detail and all for €20 a night! I would definitely stay there again.
The recommended restaurant (El Frenaso) was about a 10 minute walk away – all down hill! The town’s orchestra were meeting for practice in the community centre car park as I walked past and there was a good turnout. Competing with the orchestra were the hundreds of frogs making the most incredibly loud noise! Nidia told me that this is a good sign for the environment. The restaurant was large, brightly-lit and, surprisingly, full of local families and only a handful of tourists – all enjoying dinner. I had a huge plate of garlic chicken, ‘papas arrugadas’ (Canarian wrinkly potatoes) with two kinds of mojo picón (a traditional spicy sauce – a red one and a green one) and an enormous salad with olives and tuna, all washed down with a carafe of local red wine served cold all for €15.
The next day I got up early to watch the sunrise over Teide from the roof terrace. There is something special about being awake before the rest of the world. I set off to visit Teide so I drove back up north to the beautiful old colonial town of La Orotava, parked in a scary underground car park, had breakfast of delicious coffee and a Spanish omelette, wondered around the botanical gardens and admired the well-maintained parks and gardens, the cobbled streets and the typical Canarian balconies before heading up towards the summit.
Getting to the top turned out to be harder than it looked as my sat nav attempted to take me up to the summit by the shortest and quickest route possible! There are a lot of roads heading up – most of which you do not want to attempt in anything other than a serious 4 x 4 vehicle! Trying to do a hill start on an almost vertical slope in my little hire car was not at all amusing! I turned around and went back down again and found a slightly better route up! Breathtaking views from the way up though.
Even the recommended route was fairly hair-raising with hairpin bends, sharp drops off the edge of a road barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, often with no barrier, just a crumbling road edge! This road snakes up through beautiful pine forest and there are lots of dedicated places to stop and take pictures or just give yourself a break from driving. You eventually emerge above the tree canopy and realise that you are indeed on a volcano. The landscape changes drastically and becomes something resembling the surface of the moon. Apparently this area was used to film some of the Star Wars movies.
I drove as far up as I could – to the cable car station at 2,356 ms. The rest of the journey must be done by cable car and then on foot. It was a clear day (fairly unusual because of the frequent calima apparently) and so there were lots of cars there. Parking was impossible and because of the short amount of time I had to spend there I decided not to hang around. I took a different road down in the hope that it would be a slightly less terrifying drive (it was!) and headed across the top of the island towards Santa Cruz, the capital. The driving was smoother, wider roads with less dramatic drops but still mountainous countryside with very little traffic. Because of the altitude and conditions in the Canaries there are several observatories on the island and these were clearly visible from the road.
I drove through Santa Cruz, the island’s busy capital – with traffic to match – and headed north past the busy working port to the nearest beach to relax for a couple of hours before heading back to the airport. I went to Playa de Las Teresitas just north of the city on the island’s east coast. For a town beach, it’s pretty good, long and sandy with clear water and shady trees on the sand but it’s slightly disconcerting to have a view of oil rig platforms and huge ships from your spot on the beach! Due to a legal dispute all the many kiosks were closed so I had to queue for about half an hour for a beer and a sandwich at one of only two bars that were open. The temperatures were in the mid-30s and the beach was packed with a very mixed bunch and for some reason a lot of Russians with picnics and vodka! I found a shady spot under a tree and watched the people and the hang gliders.
I felt like I’d made the most of my 24 hours in Tenerife and headed back to the airport for my evening flight out but it turned out to be surprising difficult to leave……..
Next island: Staying in the Canaries, I eventually visit La Palma