Of all the Canary Island’s tropical offspring, Tenerife is undoubtedly its most famously suntanned celebrity; its western sisters of La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro, stars in their own right.
With year-round average temperatures of 23C/73F, the climate is the envy of Europe. But this is only one reason why the Canary Islands attracts millions of visitors every year.
Some seek nothing more than to leave with a healthy glow and postcard memories of snoozing on golden sand. Others are keen to explore the mysteries that lie huddled within mountainous folds and deep valleys.
Whatever the reasons, at only four hours flying time from the UK, the province of Tenerife is a sub-tropical paradise that beckons you to return time and time again.
Although geographically African, lying just over 150 miles off the west coast of Morocco, Tenerife is distinctly Spanish with whitewashed villages, swaying palm trees and a laid back demeanor that can switch into party mode at the merest mention of the word ‘fiesta’.
There are 217 miles of shoreline around the island of Tenerife, varying from the plunging cliffs of Los Gigantes on the west coast to the sandy crescent of Las Teresitas in the northeast.
The most popular beaches are those in the south around the resorts of Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos.
Further north, El Medano provides one of the world’s finest windsurfing locations. The long sandy stretches to the south of the town are rarely busy except for kite flyers and strollers intent on blowing the cobwebs away.
What to see
Since its inception as Tenerife’s capital in 1822, Santa Cruz has remained one of the busiest ports in Spain and is a regular stopping-off point for cruise liners. Notable points of interest include; the Museum of Nature and Man, a multimedia natural history museum; and the Ameyda Military Museum, housing the cannon which blew off Admiral Nelson’s arm when he attacked the city in 1793. More recently, the new Auditorium has provided the capital with a world famous landmark, reminiscent of Sydney’s Opera House.
Five miles inland, the old capital of La Laguna is one of the prettiest locations in Tenerife. Old mansions line narrow streets; their wooden balconies and wide-shuttered windows typify Canarian architecture. The Tenerife History Museum reveals all there is to know about the island’s occasionally tumultuous past. For a more hands-on experience the Museum of Science and the Universe is a button-pushers delight.
La Orotava is perhaps La Laguna’s closest rival for the most attractive town award. Nestled on the fertile slopes of the north coast, La Orotava is a perfect place to stroll. Shaded plazas and cool patios provide respite from the searing sun working its wonders on the surrounding banana plantations.
Back down to the coast and you’ll find Puerto de la Cruz, a holiday resort that has beckoned visitors for over a hundred years. This is a town of two halves. To the west of Plaza del Charco, whitewashed houses and cobbled lanes reflect the serenity of years gone by. Whilst to the east, the excited chatter of holidaymakers reverberates around the labyrinth of cafés and restaurants.
Further west along the coast, Garachico is the Unlucky Alf of the Canary Islands. Freak storms, fires, epidemics and volcanic eruptions have repeatedly decimated this affable fishing port. However, all this misfortune hasn’t stopped it becoming one of Tenerife’s most popular short break destinations.
Nature has always been the island’s most prolific architect, landscape gardener and outdoor decorator. There must be very few places on earth where such natural drama unfolds in such a small area.
At 3,718 metres (12,198ft) Pico del Teide is Spain’s highest peak. The dormant volcano dominates the interior of the island and is Tenerife’s star attraction. A cable car carries 35 passengers at a time to within 200 metres from the lip of the crater.
The journey to Mount Teide takes in a multitude of scenery. Passing through elegant pine forests you emerge into a bizarre lunar landscape of towering rocks and twisted lava flows leading to Las Cañadas, the interior crater of what used to be a mammoth volcano. Stretching for 10 miles it’s easy to see why films such as One Million Years BC and the original Planet of the Apes were shot here.
What to do
The internationally acclaimed Loro Parque in Puerto de la Cruz is a must-see for all island visitors. The park not only houses the largest collection of parrots in the world but also has the largest penguinarium plus an outstanding aquarium.
Over one-third of the world’s dolphin and whale species pass through Canarian waters so it’s no wonder that a whole sub-industry has evolved around whale watching excursions. Pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins are commonly seen performing for wide-eyed observers. In the south, trips can be booked from Los Cristianos and Puerto Colón.
From Jack Nicklaus to Jaques Cousteau, Tenerife provides a top quality arena whatever your sporting prowess. The island is fast becoming a golfer’s paradise with seven courses catering for all standards, from those with single digit handicaps to those with triple digit scorecards.
The island is equally renowned for superb diving. Luminous fish flash through shipwrecks and the underwater landscape teems with subtropical marine life. There are several sub aqua schools offering both introductory and advanced dives.
For those who prefer keeping the water below them, deep-sea fishing trips for tuna, swordfish and marlin are available, and the trade winds maintain near-perfect conditions for yachtsmen and windsurfers.
Whatever your reasons for visiting the island, like the region’s famous Mojo sauce, it can come as somewhat of a surprise to the uninitiated – but once experienced it’s never forgotten.