Tenerife, the largest island of the Canary Islands archipelago and home to ca. 900,000 inhabitants, is a fantastic holiday destination. The island has a rich cultural history dating back thousands of years when it was populated by the Guanche aborigines, and colonial architecture dating from the 1497 Spanish conquest of the island can be admired in many of its modern towns an cities. Historic capital city San Cristóbal de La Laguna is an architectural gem on its own, and its centre is one of the island's 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
In addition to its cultural assets, Tenerife also has many natural treasures. The most famous of which is Teide National Park, the island's other UNESCO World Heritage site, and home to Spain's tallest mountain El Teide, also the world's 3rd highest volcano (after the Hawaiian volcanoes). It is the oldest and largest protected area of the Canary Islands, and receives ca. 3 million visitors annually. The north of the island is also a natural reserve, the Anaga National Park.
There is so much to see and do on Tenerife that the island can keep one amazed for months, with countless picturesque villages and towns to discover — each unique and as intriguing as the others. However, since few have the privilege to spend enough time on the island to explore it completely, this itinerary aims to condense a visit to Tenerife in 10 days. One of the challenges to tackle here is finding a good balance between cultural and natural activities.
Tenerife's natural treasures are vulnerable, and constantly threatened by slob tourism. As a result, the regional government is protecting its natural riches by throttling visitor counts. For the most important attractions, visitor counts are limited to a fixed daily number:
- El Teide Summit: A permit is required to climb the summit of Spain's tallest mountain, and access is restricted to a maximum of 200 climbers per day for conservation and security reasons. The permit must be obtained online in advance, specifically for the Telesforo Bravo Trail (no. 10 in the park network), which connects La Rambleta (3555 m) to the sumit (3718 m). Unless you're a volcanologist or part of a registered mountaineering society, the chance of obtaining a permit is small, and permits sell out months in advance. Because of the difficulty of obtaining a permit, a climb to El Teide's summit is excluded from this itinerary.
- Although climbing to the highest peak of the Canary Islands in the early morning is an unforgettable experience, the upper cable car station also offers magnificent views, and doesn't require a permit. It is still advisable to get tickets well in advance, since there are often long waiting lines at the ticket office.
- Barranco del Infierno: Hiking to the waterfall at the end of Barranco del Infierno is limited to 300 hikers daily, and tickets must be reserved in advance online. Tickets are only valid on a specific day at a specific time, and cost €8.50, payable by credit card or Paypal.
- Cueva del Viento: Europe's longest lava cave system is well worth a visit, but only guided visits are possible and tickets must be purchased online in advance, valid only for the specified tour. They cost €20.
Since all these permits and tickets are personalized, you must bring an ID card or passport to identify yourself. You will be refused entry without an ID. In addition, you will also be refused entry if officials consider you poorly prepared — this usually means unsuitable footwear.
Tenerife has 2 airports, one in the north of the island (Tenerife Norte, TFN IATA, formerly known as Los Rodeos), and one in the south (Terife Sur, TFS IATA, also known as Reine Sofia). Although Tenerife Norte is the closest to capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, its southern counterpart is the larger airport of the two and gets the most traffic with 11 million passengers per year. That is over 10 times as many as there are inhabitants on the island! As a result, there are numerous direct flights to Tenerife Sur from several European countries, whereas direct flights to Tenerife Norte are mainly from Spain and neighbouring islands. This is somewhat inconvenient for tourists, because all of the most important cultural sites of the island are in the north.
Although Tenerife's airports are both international airports, they only accommodate flights to and from the European Union, i.e. other Schengen territories. If you wish to fly to Tenerife from outside the European Union, you'll have to transit through a mainland airport in a European Union member state. For that reason, there are no direct flights between Tenerife and any African country, although Morocco, Algeria, and Mauretania are all geographically closer to Tenerife than Spain is.
Since there is very little to see or do in the south of the island due to its hot and arid climate, most travellers will immediately head north or northeast upon arrival at Tenerife Sur airport. Although it is perfectly possible to move around the island with public transport, the options are somewhat limited: Tenerife does not have a rail network, with the exception of a single tram line connecting Santa Cruz de Tenerife and San Cristóbal de La Laguna, and thus the only public transport option are buses. All buses are run by operator TITSA which have a very good route planner on their website, and even relatively remote places are reachable by bus given enough time. Dragging large backpacks and luggage onto a crowded bus won't make you many friends among the locals though, so unless you plan to travel exceptionally light, relying solely on buses to get around the island will likely prove to be inconvenient.
Although not the most ecological method of transport, a rented car is a reasonable efficient way to get around if someone in your party has a driver's license, and allows to reach points of interest that are out of range of the TITSA bus network. It's best to book a rental car in advance online, companies like Europcar have an office in the terminal building of Tenerife Sur Airport, where a booked vehicle can be picked up straight away. It's wise to pay a bit extra for a rugged vehicle, because many roads on the island are relatively steep and have a gravel or sand surface.
The main roads on Tenerife are well maintained, and a highway goes around most of the island, starting just south of Garachico in the north, heading east until Tenerife Norte Airport just south of Tegueste. It then turns south through San Cristóbal de La Laguna and Santa Cruz de Tenerife before heading southwest to Tenerife Sur Airport. The last section climbs northwest and ends just before Santiago del Teide. It's possible to complete the circle, but the last section between Garachico and Santiago del Teide passes through natural reserve and is therefore not a highway but a smaller mountain road (TF82) that takes much more time to traverse.
It's possible to pass through the interior of the island as well, with roads leading up to El Teide from 4 directions: from Los Gigantes to the west, Vilaflor to the south, La Esperanza to the east, and La Orotava to the north. Keep in mind that these are also mountain roads with numerous bends, and not the fastest way to get from one side of the island to the other. There are no long distance tunnels since digging into the active magma chamber of a volcano is a decisively bad idea.