Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and is a great place to travel. British and German tourists come in their tens of thousands every year to visit its spectacular beaches and lively nightlife. It is also very popular among holidaymakers from the Spanish peninsula, especially during Easter time. It offers lush forests, exotic fauna and flora, deserts, mountains, volcanoes, incredibly beautiful coastlines and spectacular beaches.
The island can be divided into two regions.
Due to the influence of the northeastern tradewinds, the northern coast tends to be cooler, with somewhat unstable and cloudy, springlike weather. The largest metropolitan areas of the island are in the northeast.
- 1 Santa Cruz de Tenerife - the capital
- 2 San Cristóbal de La Laguna – a UNESCO World Heritage city
- 3 Puerto de la Cruz – a laid-back, more family-friendly resort with the Loro Parque Zoo
- 4 La Orotava – a stately, beautiful city
- 5 Icod de los Vinos - famous for its millenary Drago tree, local wines, and the largest volcanic cave in Europe
- 6 Garachico – a harbour city, partially destroyed and rebuilt after a volcanic eruption in the 18th century
The southwestern coast receives the most tourists – here there are many beautiful beaches, and it is warmer and sunnier than other parts of the island.
- 7 Playa de las Américas – with Los Cristianos and Costa Adeje, a city built for tourists
- 8 Los Cristianos
- 9 Costa Adeje
- 10 Los Gigantes – popular with tourists and locals
- 11 El Medáno – a laid back, alternative haven, and one of the windsurfing capitals of the world
A poor, banana-growing region in past decades, Tenerife has been brought up to European living standards since the arrival of mass air travel in the 1960s, which brought industry and millions of tourists each year. Over the decades this has led to many complexes and houses being built, making parts of the island highly urbanized. While part of the EU for political purposes, the island remains outside its customs and VAT area, making high tax goods such as tobacco and alcohol cheaper than elsewhere in Europe.
Many of the young tourists hang out on the south of the island with older and family tourists choosing Puerto de La Cruz and its environs. On the south side there is consistent summer, little to no wind, and pretty much perfect beach-weather for much of the year though there have been rare instances of cool to cold weather in the Jan-Feb period. Also expect some very wet days for that time of year though most days will still be sunny. There are plenty of hotels, activities and British food and drink.
On the north side of the island you will find more green and vibrant local culture. There is a more Spanish year-round springtime feel. The weather fluctuates a bit more here, but is also mostly pleasant though not as hot as the south.
In between the north and south of the island sits Spain's tallest peak, the barely dormant volcano El Teide (3718m above sea level). Tours previously allowed people into the crater, but tourists are no longer allowed into the crater for safety reasons.
The local currency is the Euro and most places accept credit or debit cards, which require a chip and PIN. There are many exchange bureaus in the main tourist resorts but not in the Spanish places like Santa Cruz.
The native language is Spanish. In the south English is spoken by everyone with German and Italian common too, but in the north English is spoken by fewer. No big problem should be anticipated regarding communication, though. In the local dialect a soft 'c' is pronounced as 's' rather than as 'th' on the Spanish mainland, so cinco (five) is 'sinko', not 'thinko'.
- At the Don Quijote Spanish school in Tenerife you can take 4-6 hours of courses a day. All courses including beginner courses are taught entirely in Spanish.
As an island the usual way to arrive is by air. There are two airports, Tenerife South (Reina Sofia) near Los Cristianos and Tenerife North (Los Rodeos) by La Laguna. Titsa buses run from both airports to other towns, though you may have to change routes. They stop around midnight and start again around 05:00-06:00.
- 1 Tenerife Norte (Los Rodeos). (TFN IATA) Most services into this airport are from the mainland of Spain. Iberia offer several flights a day from Madrid (although normally quite expensive), Air Europa also flies from Madrid; Air Europa and Vueling offer flights from Barcelona, Malaga, Valencia and Seville to Tenerife North. In addition to these flights, Binter Canarias operate a fleet of turboprop aircraft flying to the neighbouring Canary islands. There are international flights to/from London (LHR), Helsinki, Rome, Agadir, Casablanca and Funchal.
- 2 Tenerife Sur (Reina Sofia). (TFS IATA) Named after the current Queen of Spain this is by far the busier of the two airports. Flights from various UK airports are available through EasyJet, Ryanair, Jet2, Thomson Airways and Thomas Cook. Flights from the Spanish mainland are offered by Iberia, Air Europa, and Vueling. There are also flights from Germany offered by Ryanair, Eurowings and Condor among others. There are many other destinations apart from those mentioned here.
A rental car is the best option for discovering the remote regions. There is a wide selection of companies, ranging from budget to premium. Renting a car straight from the airport can cost you as little as €100 a week. When choosing one of the cheapest companies (like Goldcar), make sure to understand the terms & conditions, since there may be hidden fees or tricks. Such as petrol refill fee at the time of return, or mandatory insurance to be paid at pickup.
If you only own a debit card (not credit card), for example autoreisen allows rent without deposit - because the car is almost fully insured (and thus a bit more expensive). The car return is then as simple as dropping the keys at the office.
TITSA buses cover most of the island and the buses are fairly frequent. A BONO travel card is a good idea if you intend to spend some time travelling on the buses as they can save 50-70% on journey costs. Only one card is needed by any number in a group and can be bought at bus stations as well as some tobacconists. A tram line operates between Santa Cruz and La Laguna; the BONO card is valid there.
Driving the roads
The roads are in good shape, also the ones in the mountains - but esp. on roads carved into mountain there may be rocks fallen on the road. The highways around the island are toll-free and mostly limited to 120 k/h. Regular roads range from normal to twisty and narrow roads in Anaga, or around Santiago del Teide.
Tenerife is building many new roads including some major routes. While not very accurate in the past, as of 2013, TomTom maps now cover the majority of the island and have many points of interest. Garmin used to be not accurate as well, current status unknown. Openstreetmap project provides fairly complete maps of the islands roads, hiking trails and other points of interest.
Located in the middle of the island, at 3,718 m, Teide is the highest mountain not just in the Canary Islands but in all Spain. The cable car goes up almost to the summit (and the summit itself just an hour of hiking away), and there are fantastic views from up there provided there are no clouds. Do get informed on the Teide article if you plan to visit (permissions, etc.).
Parque Rural de Anaga. Fantastic place to go hiking. There are some routes that you can do. In Cruz del Carmen you can find the visitor's center where you can get information about the park. Don't forget go to the Pico del Inglés viewpoint where you can see a beautiful view of the island (if the weather is good). From La Laguna you only need fifteen minutes in car to arrive. Other places are Taganana, Roque las Bodegas, Almáciga (black sand beaches).
Cueva del Viento - one of the biggest lava cave systems in the world.
A world class botanical garden just above Puerto de la Cruz.
There are some wonderful drives all around the island. There are long winding mountain roads with breathtaking scenery but they might be challenging for less skilled drivers. Popular destination is Masca village located about 1 hour drive north of Los Gigantes (parking spaces are very limited). For those who do not rent/own a car in most resorts there are companies organizing coach trips there.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife has a number of museums and an art gallery. Also a space museum and planetarium on a small scale near La Laguna.
In February there is a huge fancy dress parade by locals which is said to be third in size after Rio and Notting Hill carnivals.
Whale and dolphin watching near Playa de las Américas.
Tenerife is a favoured destination for scuba divers, with numerous dive operations of all qualities and nationalities. The waters round the island are diveable throughout the year, with the temperature varying between 18 degrees in January to around 25-26 degrees in August. Go around the harbour wall in Puerto de la Cruz for fantastic volcanic rock formations, or feed the stringrays at Las Galletas for something a bit different.
Water sports are available in the south including surfing, wind surfing, speed boat parashooting and jet-ski. Nowhere seems to rent canoes.
Of course many visitors just want to spend their time on a beach or by the hotel swimming pool. Playa Americas beach is black volcanic sand but Los Cristianos is yellow imported sand. The black sand feels the same as the yellow but is not as pleasing to look at to many. Beaches often have sun-loungers with parasols available to hire for the day, but if you are doing this for a few days it is probably better to just buy a parasol and some beach mats.
Tenerife is an excellent destination for hiking. There are routes for anyone, from leisurely one hour strolls to extremely strenuous full day hikes in demanding terrain with either a huge ascent, descent or both. There are several books describing hiking routes, such as two Landscapes of Tenerife books from Sunflower Books, one covering the northern side and the other covering the southern side. It's a good idea to get a guide book before you go to Tenerife, as they might be difficult to find there. Another option is using openstreetmap/wikiloc as guide.
These are the most interesting hikes:
- A demanding hike up to the summit of Teide (Pico Viejo) is possible.
- Probably the most popular (and somewhat crowded, compared to other Tenerife treks) path - 1 Masca valley. Starting at Masca village, going down all the way to a beach, in-between massive cliffs. Taking the hike uphill requires at least water supplies, in case of high temperatures.
- 2 Barranco del Infierno (Hell's Ravine). Close to Adeje popular with hikers, you need to book to go on the walk. There is little to see but vegetation on this walk and a tiny waterfall at its end.
- 3 Punta de Teno (There are some hike paths available from roads towards El Palmar). The most western point with excellent views. Also accessible by car - however as of January/2017, the road is closed during weekends and bank holidays, 10:00-17:00. At such times, bus 369 from Buenavista is available. .
- 4 Roque del Conde. One of the most prominent mountains on the south coast. A few hours hike from the nearby Arona village goes through a relatively big canyon of Barranco del Rey and at top provides good views to all sides (unless mist builds up)
- Anaga — provides wide variety of hikes. While the park itself is relatively small, the roads are very winding - multiply the time navigation suggests by factor of 2. Road from La Laguna to Chamorga takes approx. 1:45 - 2 hours. Hiking is possible in many places, however some of them may require permit to enter. A very incomplete list of treks follows:
- Chamorga - 5 Roque Bormejo. A round trip starts at a picturesque village of Chamorga, goes through mountains, along the shore (grand views!), a lighthouse Faro de Anaga, Roque Bormejo village and back up through a valley Camino de Roque Bormejo.
- A relaxing walk (almost flat road) to 6 Cabezo del Tejo viewpoint through a (often) misty forest.
- 7 Roque de Taborno ("Matterhorn of Tenerife") - a few hours trek around a picturesque mountain. The path crosses a cliff for a few meters, beware if you are easily scared of hights.
Tenerife attracts a large number of cyclists all year around. Whether mountain biking or road biking, Tenerife has plenty of beautiful roads and dirt tracks. If you want to avoid the hassle of bringing your own bike, you can rent bikes on the island, for example in Las Americas or El Médano.
Cycling is hard to do casually although bikes are available to rent, the coastal roads are busy and there is little room for bikes except often in the gutter. However if you like cycling up hills there are plenty of steep roads to climb as soon as you leave the coastline. For those less fit, one tour company offers a car trip to the top of El Teide with a cycle down, no pedalling required.
There are good attraction parks.
- Loro Parque Zoo — an animal protection foundation as well as a huge animal park.
- Jungle Park — well worth a visit, the bird of prey show is a must.
- Siam park — opened in 2008, this is a fantastic water park, created by the owners of Loro Parque - and it has been beautifully designed, like a modern Lago Martianez! Look out for the 2 metre high artificial waves.
- Aqualand — a water park.
Santa Cruz has a big market by the station on Sunday mornings, and a local picturesque market Mercado Municipal Nuestra Señora de África (open daily until 14:30). Las Americas has one Thursdays and Saturdays and Los Cristianos on Sundays and Tuesdays.
Fish is a large part of the local diet with restaurants that allow you to choose a fish from their selection (often hand caught) which they will cook for you. Black potatoes called Papas arrugadas are served unpeeled ready to be dipped into a local sauce.
As in the rest of Spain, tapas are eaten a lot with local specialties including garlic sauces, refried beans and squid. Typical Spanish meals such as tortilla (potato omelette) and paella (rice dishes) are common too.
The south has plenty of restaurants that serve hamburgers, pizza, chips, etc. There are 15 McDonald's including some on the beaches. Also note that in touristic hotspots such as Playa de las Americas, menus are available in numerous languages ranging from English and German to Russian and some Scandinavian languages, making it very easy to choose even if you are not familiar with the local dishes' names or don't understand Spanish.
Lots of Chinese Restaurants are also available in Tenerife. You can eat as much as you can (buffet) paying fixed price like 6 euro, 6.50 euro, lets say the price is different according to the variety of food.
Tenerife also has a reputation for the 'booze scene', with Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos providing ample locations for those that enjoy 24 hour clubbing & drinking. The drinks available are the same as the rest of Europe (predominantly British) with prices being slightly less than those 'back home'.
The local beer is the average tasting Dorada, available everywhere. More specialised drinks include banana liqueur.
- Barraquito, also called barraco, is a coffee specialty from the Canary Islands and particularly popular on Tenerife but also on La Palma.
- Wine. There are a great variety of local wines. Malmsey (Malavasías), red wines, fruity wine.
Wild camping is prohibited in Tenerife. Along with a few commercial campsites, there are free comunal campsites called acampadas. The acampadas are usually in the inland, usually above 1000m altitude, they have water and toilets. To sleep at one free acampada, you have to book the night in advance on the website of the town council (cabildo). Unfortunately, the website is only in Spanish, very slow and sometimes down.
Your are a guest of the island and are allowed to spend a night in a wonderful campsite for free: to show recognition, take care to leave the place as clean and tidy as possible before leaving.
Tenerife is generally a safe place to visit but as always, beware of pickpockets. Walking alone late at night in certain suburbs is not advisable, although the inner parts of town aren't problematic. Taxis are widely available, and not too badly priced though a taxi from the southern airport to Puerto Cruz is VERY expensive.
Camping and sleeping at the beach is only permitted at allowed zones. Doing so in frequented beaches may lead to arrest.
Take note that when walking through Playas De Las Americas there is a lot of clubs round here and some drunkenness in the night hours.
There are no scorpions or snakes to worry about. Mosquitoes can bite at night, especially away from the coast, but they do not carry malaria.
Do not take electrical items, credit cards or large amounts of cash to the beach if you plan to leave your goods unattended while swimming.
The sun is extremely strong this close to the equator so use plenty of high factor sun cream and do not sun bathe between midday and three o'clock (this is when the beaches are busiest anyway).
Many, many shops on the island selling electrical and optical goods as well as cameras. You may think you are getting a bargain from these smooth talking salesmen but you aren't. You will overpay for something you could buy cheaper at home and even cheaper off eBay. Your goods may be faulty. Your guarantee will probably be worthless. Your video camera may be SECAM which means a B&W picture in the UK (PAL). These shops are everywhere in the tourist areas and so many people have been cheated by them for so many years. Also, beware of places that sell video games (mainly for the Nintendo Game Boy or DS) as they are usually bootlegs.
If you are holidaying in Tenerife you are probably going to be approached by "scratchcard touts" whose main aim is to part you with several thousand pounds for worthless contracts for time-share apartments. This view is backed up by the UK's Office of Fair Trading who suggest that every year 400,000 UK consumers fall victim to these scams in destinations such as Tenerife, the Costa del Sol and Gran Canaria. On average each victim loses more than £3,000. Bogus "scratchcard touts" offer cards that will always be a winner, but to collect their prize, people need to attend a lengthy presentation and are persuaded into signing a contract for an "exclusive" club on the basis of false claims as to the price, range and quality of holidays available. The OFT's is advising people to ask three simple questions: can you take away the contract to consider at your leisure? Is everything you were promised in the presentation in the contract? Do you know exactly what you are getting for your money? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then simply walk away.
The other main irritant on Tenerife are the Lookey Lookey men who try to sell you sunglasses, watches, jewellery and other cheap knick-knacks known as Lucky Luckies. They are quite harmless and generally don´t mean to cause trouble, they are just trying to make a living, but a firm NO generally works!
- La Gomera - a hiking paradise - is only 1 hour away by ferry.
- Gran Canaria island is 2.5 hours by ferry.
- La Palma and El Hierro islands are also accessible by ferry.