Unfortunately, Tenerife is still seen by many as a destination only for holiday packages. Or as an island packed with elderly people from the UK. They couldn’t be more wrong!
By limiting your view of the Canarian island of Tenerife to the image that you see in holiday catalogs, you’ll miss a little slice of paradise filled with natural wonders, unique hiking opportunities and a laid-back lifestyle suggesting that the Caribbean is very close.
I was lucky enough to live and work on Tenerife for several months over Summer and I can’t wait to share Tenerife’s highlights.
Tenerife’s Main Attractions
The Teide Volcano
Mount Teide is not only Tenerife’s most obvious attraction (you can see it from almost any point on the island), but at 3718m it’s also the highest mountain in Spain. The lunar landscape around the volcano is truly unique and can’t be found in any other part of Spain. Many visitors say that it reminds them scenes from Star Wars movies. Leisure options around the dormant volcano abound including:
- hiking to the peak and spending a night in a mountain hut with spectacular views over Tenerife and neighboring island La Gomera. Wake up at sunrise to hike up the last few meters to the peak.
- For those who prefer a softer experience, there is a cable car which will take you to the Upper Station located at 3555 m without any effort.
- Foodies will be delighted with a delicious lunch at the Parador Hotel de Cañadas del Teide, a Spanish luxury hotel chain known for its converted historic buildings and top-notch gastronomy.
- Visit the astronomical observatory at Mount Teide and discover why Tenerife is one of the world’s most important destinations for star gazing. The absence of light pollution and professional telescopes make for ideal viewing conditions. In the summertime, the Milky Way is clearly visible. One of my favorite things to do after work was grabbing a bottle of wine and driving up to Mount Teide with friends to watch the sun setting behind La Gomera. The stars became brighter and sometimes you think you could to grab them with your hand. They seem so close!
The small village of Masca is recommended in almost every Tenerife travel guide. But trust me, even if it is a bit touristy, a visit of Masca and the hike through the Los Gigante’s canyon is totally worth it.
Masca is a small village which had no paved roads until the late 1960’s and preserved its ancient and authentic charm. The natural setting of this picturesque village is simply breath-taking. It is almost totally closed-off from external influences with the only access being via a long winding road, used only by donkeys. Masca is set amidst a canyon of the Los Gigantes area.
The best thing to do in Masca is walking through the ancient village and the energetic ones can even hike down to Masca Beach. The trail leads you through the canyon, past former pirate caves and down to Masca Beach. You should put aside at least 3 hours for the entire hike.
Masca village is best in spring or autumn when it is less crowded and cooler. Masca is becoming very touristy and many restaurants have turned into tourist traps. I recommend having lunch in Alte Schule, a family owned restaurant, serving traditional dishes using products sourced from the local market.
Carnival in Santa Cruz
The Carnival of Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, is one of the most famous carnivals in the world, second only to Rio de Janeiro. The Caribbean feeling is never more palpable than during the carnival months. The carnival festivities have two parts: the official carnival and the street carnival. The official carnival features hundreds of music and dancing groups. The street Carnival, where people dance in the capital’s streets, is more “relaxed” and is organized by the neighborhoods. The festivities last for an entire week, starting with a huge opening parade in which thousands of people dance in the streets of Santa Cruz in fancy dress.
The highlight of the festivities is the election of the Carnival Queen at the start of the celebrations. The competition compares to a Victoria’s Secret Fashion show with the girls parading in the most fantastic and glamorous costumes. The carnival in the streets is open to everyone and is a great way to get to know the local population. The bands play their songs with an effervescent rhythm from the early morning until late at night. If you plan to visit Tenerife during the carnival festival, I recommend booking your accommodation at least six months in advance. You just can’t miss one of the largest parties on this planet.
For all those who can’t get rid of their inner child: Siam Park is made for you! Indeed Siam Park claims to be Europe’s most spectacular aqua park. Located in the tourist hotspot area of Costa Adeje, Siam Park has all you need for a fun loaded day. It includes Thai themed slides, a wave park for surfers, the Tower of Power and a vertical, transparent slide which sends riders through an area with sharks. The water park holds several world records:
- The world’s largest dragon statue.
- Highest elevation within the lazy river (up to 8 meters (26 ft)).
- The largest man-made wave in the world (about 3.3 meters (11 ft)).
- The world’s largest Thai building outside Asia
For those who don’t fancy a dip, you can spend hours in the shopping mall located right next to Siam Park.
Tenerife’s Best Food & Drink
Tenerife’s tropical climate and its long history of immigration has resulted in a tremendously varied gastronomy. You will find Spanish, Northern European, Caribbean and African influences in Tenerife’s cuisine. Despite its compact size, Tenerife generates a large variety of crops including 5 different types of potato, mangos, avocados, vine, sugar cane, apples, oranges, papaya and all types of vegetables. The numerous banana plantations are characteristic of the landscapes in Tenerife’s south. When traveling to Tenerife don’t miss out the most popular dishes:
- Papas arrugadas served with mojo: wrinkled potatoes with spicy sauce
- Bienmesabe: traditional cake using coconut and liqueur
- Platanos fritos: fried bananas
- Local Rum
- Ronmiel: sweet honey rum
- Wine from one of Tenerife’s 5 wine regions, all of them reflecting the Atlantic and wild volcanic terrain of the island
- Almogrote: soft paste made from hard cheese, peppers, olive oil, garlic and other ingredients which is usually spread on a toast
- Gofio: toasted grain flour which is added to almost any dish
For traditional Canarian food, I recommend the following restaurants:
- La Pergola in Los Gigantes for its exquisite seafood
- Fisherman’s Inn in Puerto Santiago for the best views on La Gomera island
- Restaurante La Malvasia in Las America for traditional Canarian food
- Casa Africa in Taganana for beachside legendary seafood and Canarian food
- Guachinche Los Toneles in La Laguna for incredible food at low prices enjoyed mostly local people
Getting Around Tenerife
The most common way to get to Tenerife is by air via one of the island’s 2 airports; Tenerife Norte Airport in the north and Tenerife-South Airport in the Costa Adeje area. I recommend checking flight rates to both airports as flights to Tenerife-North are usually much cheaper. Another way of getting to Tenerife is by ferry from the Spanish mainland or any other Canarian island.
The most economical and eco-friendly way to discover the beauty of Tenerife is the public bus. The Canarian people call their bus “guagua” and not “autobus” like on the Spanish peninsula. In case you wish to visit the Northern part of Tenerife or mount Teide, I recommend renting a car or scooter since the “guagua” connections are very bad to these parts. Titsa is the local public bus operator and you can check the schedules here for the entire island of Tenerife. You should consider one of the excursions which are offered in almost any language from the infinite number of tour operators. Most of them are inexpensive and offer a comfortable service which includes pick-ups at your hotel and drop offs right in front of the sight.
Places to Stay in Tenerife
The perfect place to stay on Tenerife depends on your expectations and the purpose of your trip to Tenerife. If you want to hike, then you should book a hotel or a “casa rural” (cottage) in the Northern part of Tenerife, Anaga. The best hotels in Anaga are:
- €€€: Casanaga
- €€: Casa Vera
- €: Albergue Montes de Anaga
If you fancy all-inclusive hotels, want to party every night, meet young people, be close to the airport, shopping malls and theme parks, then book in the Costa Adeje – Los Cristianos area. The best Hotels in Costa Adeje – Los Cristianos are:
- €€€: Iberostar Grand Hotel El Mirador – Adults Only
- €€: Flamingo Beach Mate
- €: Paradero II
The perfect blend of leisure options and great outdoors is the area of Los Gigantes, Puerto Santiago, and Alcalá. It’s much quieter than the busy Costa Adeje area and thus is a perfect place to unwind. In almost any hotel that you book in Los Gigantes area, you’ll be surrounded by the jaw-dropping virgin beauty of the natural landscapes. Los Gigantes offers the best view on the whole of Tenerife and La Gomera. The best Hotels in Los Gigantes are:
- €€€: Ritz-Carlton, Abama (probably Tenerife’s most fancy hotel)
- €€€: Red Level at Gran Melia Palacio de Isora
- €€: Los Dragos del Sur
- €: Poblado Marinero
Don’t Miss Out On Tenerife’s…
Anaga Rural Park
The northern part of Tenerife, called Anaga, is often skipped by visitors. It’s quite far away from the tourist hotspots in the south but has an authentic charm. Northern Tenerife is lush green and due to its humid climate growing wildly. The area is shaped by sharp peaks and deep ravines. The Laurel Forest is one of its main attractions. Although it’s only a 2-hour drive from Southern Costa Adeje, temperatures are much lower and the climate much more humid.
The wild landscapes make it ideal for hiking and trekking. The area’s many hiking trails like the trail from Bailadero to Almáciga will surprise you with breath-taking viewpoints and glorious vistas. Anaga region is the most scenic and has the most remote beaches on the entire island such as:
- Roque de la Bodegas
- Playa de Antequera
- Playa Almáciga
If you visit Anaga Rural Park, don’t skip the food! In Northern Tenerife, they serve some of the tastiest food on entire Island. Prices tend to be much lower and quality much higher than in the touristy south. Restaurants like Casa Africa, Restaurante Los Pinchitos, El Mirador de Playa Benijo… are legendary and mostly visited only by locals. The most typical dishes from the Northern part of Tenerife are:
- The local wine
- Goat Meat
- Rabbit Meat
- Escaldón (Fish Soup with gofio flour)
These are all served at unbeatable prices and in the most authentic Canarian atmosphere. Welcome to the real Tenerife!
Due to its tropical climate, you can enjoy Tenerife’s beaches almost all year round. The number of beaches at your disposal seems almost infinite. And still, each beach has its very own character and atmosphere. There seems to be a beach for every type of person and any mood so one beach may suit you better than another.
Check out a full list here but my recommendations are:
- For surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers: El Medano
- Lively Beach with Chillout Lounges and Sunset Party: Fañabé Beach
- Small and golden Sand: Abama Beach
- Best View: Los Guios Beach – Los Gigantes
- Most picturesque, pure nature: Benijo
- Best Food and cliff views: Roque de la Bodegas
- Beach (almost) for yourself: Playa Chica in Puerto Santiago
- Most historic, emblematic beach (with Latin beats and Mojitos on Sunday): Las Teresitas
Canarian Things to know
The Canarian Idiom
Although the official language of Tenerife is Spanish, there are several expressions that only exist in the Canarian Islands. I tried to incorporate these typical expressions in my speech as much as I could as it opened a lot of doors when it came to connecting with the locals. Although Canarian people are already well known for being very warm-hearted people, they won’t let you leave the island anymore as soon as they hear you saying one of the following typical Canarian expressions:
- “Cholas” are flip-flops which are considered the most important accessory to wear on Tenerife island. Further, Cholas have become a Canarian symbol for the laid-back island lifestyle.
- “Guagua” refers to the bus. The term originates from Cuban immigrants, who turned the English word “wagon” into guagua
- “Agüita!” is used to express surprise. It is comparable to “Wow!”
Caribbean Inspired Lifestyle
The cuisine on Tenerife island is inspired by the Caribbean and the laid-back island lifestyle reminds every visitor that the Caribbean islands are not too far. The Latin influence is evident in Tenerife’s music style, the sense of time and its festivities. The music played in festivals has a strong connection with Venezuela, Cuba and Puerto Rico. It cannot be compared to the music that you find on the Spanish mainland.
Canarian Spanish has many Caribbean and Latin American influences due to the massive emigration to these areas. Every time the emigrants returned home, they brought with them the best they had learned on the “new continent”.
Fiestas All Year Round
There are hundreds of fiestas that take place in Tenerife throughout the year. Some estimate that there are more than 505 fiestas on the island… in 365 days! Not only are there fiestas celebrated by all the towns on the island (like Carnival or Noche de San Juan), but each town and individual neighborhoods have their own festivals. The festival calendar usually starts with the Carnival in February which often spreads into March. April is the month of Semana Santa (Holy Week) during which hooded brotherhoods parade in solemn procession through the streets of La Laguna or Adeje Village. In May, during the Corpus Christi celebrations, gorgeous flower carpets cover the streets of Tenerife’s most colorful town: La Orotava. These very special art pieces are made out of thousands and thousands of flowers.
Another fiesta you shouldn’t miss is Noche de San Juan (Midsummer’s Eve on 23th June). When the night falls, people from Tenerife head to the closest beach with their family, bringing snacks and drinks, and listen to music. When it’s finally midnight everybody runs into the sea and takes a midnight dip. This ritual is supposed to guarantee good health and the chance of love for the upcoming year.
Virgen del Carmen fiestas involve carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary through the town’s streets onto a boat where the statue is taken on a cruise.
Every fiesta of Tenerife come with loads of local wine, rum, fresh fish and Latin bands playing all night long.
The people from Tenerife are very proud of their island, their traditions, and their indigenous culture. Most inhabitants see themselves first as “tinerfe~nos”, then Canarian and then maybe a bit Spanish.
There are rivalries between each Canarian island which provide a platform to many insider jokes. For example, the people from Tenerife despise the people from Gran Canaria and the inhabitants of La Gomera island are always being laughed at since they are said to be too slow-paced.
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Paulina is originally from Luxembourg but over the last 5 years, she has lived in several Spanish towns. In 2016 she started working on Tenerife and immediately fell in love with its people and of course the food. After Tenerife, she dared to take an adventure of a lifetime and cross the Atlantic Ocean by sailing boat. That’s when she decided she only wanted to travel slow and eco-friendly.
All the images contained in this post were provided by Paulina.