There is so much to like about travel to a volcanic island that it's really hard for me to narrow it down. I mean it's: 1) travel, 2) a volcano, and 3) an island — with beaches! Three of my favorite things! And that's not even taking into account the people and new friendships one can develop along the way.
As previously mentioned, when Linda of Islandmomma graciously offered to show me the sights, tastes, and general wonders of Tenerife, I was ecstatic. Fortunately for me, she likes a lot of the same kinds of outings that I do. I love outdoor scenery that is begging to be photographed; can't resist a dip in the water (if it's warm enough!); I'm a bit of a foodie; and I am a sponge for history and culture.
Paradise onna stick!
I recognize that not everyone is a culture nerd like me, so when I asked Linda for help making a list of activities on Tenerife, I requested that she include some things that aren't really up my alley but would be popular for others. I've tried to group things by environment or type of activity, but there are so many overlaps (because there are so many wonderful things to do!) that there weren't any clear lines. So, um, what I'm saying is, uhh… Let's just figure this out as we go along, shall we?
The Ocean and Getting Wet
Surfing: Great waves can be glimpsed all over the island, but remember — it's volcanic! Many of the beaches are rocky, even solid lava. There are lovely some beaches where sand has been dredged from the water or, back when it was legal, imported from the Sahara desert. Best locations are Playa de las Americas in the south and around Bajamar in the north.
Wind and Kite surfers: El Médano – it's on the world tour for both sports. Great photo opportunities for shutterbugs, too!
Diving: There are dive centers all around the island. There are a few wrecks, which always make it interesting. Sea life includes rays, turtles, eels, as well as interesting varieties of fish and the odd shark, but dolphins usually stay further off shore than the dive sites.
Whale and Dolphin Trips: Trips leave from Puerto Colon in Playa de las Americas, Las Galletas, or Los Cristianos. Linda says it's rare that you don't see whales — and it is an amazing experience. The guides have to follow rules: you can't jump over and swim with the lovely creatures, but often they come so close you could almost touch them.
Swimming and Snorkeling: You can swim all year round in the sea! Not that I have much else on the island to compare it to, but my favorite was a natural rock, saltwater pool in Garachico. In fact, it was probably my favorite activity of the whole trip.
If you don't like the ocean then all hotels have decent pools, although why anyone would miss out on the opportunity to swim in salt water is beyond me! According to Linda, the Gran Melia Palacio de Isora has an infinity pool which takes your breath away. (I just Googled it — she's right!)
Garachico: best place to get wet on Tenerife!
Ok, I was going to move on and talk about other activities now, but I can't resist. I'm throwing in a few more Garachico pics. It's just too beautiful! (And it's free!)
Garachico pools from above: some open to the sea, others closed off and gentle.
The day we went, there was a yellow flag up, meaning, "Be smart, you silly tourist! If it looks too rough, then don't go in." It was, in fact, a little breezy, and the waves a bit choppy, as the tide came in. But that's why I chose a wee pool that was protected from the waves. The only time it's fully connected to the sea, I suspect, is when the tide is all the way in.
A pretty big wave, believe it or not. Just a wee little splash from inside the pool, though!
I had my waterproof point-and-shoot that I'd bought for use in Tanzania and I was determined to use it! I did manage to get some nice video of the waves coming in, as well as a couple of snaps of water breaking over the rocks, but I utterly failed to get underwater video. A nice German couple even lent me their goggles so I could do a better job than the hold-breath-paddle-paddle-gasp-hold-breath-repeat thing I was attempting. I could indeed see better, but was still distracted by the gaspy bits, and managed to only get "negative video." That is, when I thought the camera was on, it was off; when I thought it was off, it was on. Le sigh. …at least we'll always have Paris!
Running / Cycling / Triathlon: I'm going for a direct Linda quote here, because her son used to do triathalons.
"Obviously it's a perfect setting for triathlon, many of the coast towns have annual events. Almost anywhere from Santa Cruz to Los Gigantes you will find folk running every day, and in the north too. I mention the south because it is flatter for the average runner. There is huge scope for trail running anywhere in the mountains, and there are also trails which cross the [Las Cañadas] caldera. The island is becoming a favorite winter training venue for serious cyclists, too, who apparently have previously favored Mallorca. It takes some strength and courage to cycle up and down these mountains, but lots do it!"
Golf: Considering that I know next to nothing about golf, and Linda loathes it, you're lucky I'm putting this section in at all, you dimpled-ball whackers! (Gosh, that sounds a lot dirtier than was intended. *blush*)
"Lots of golf courses now, mostly links courses, so there is a nice breeze in summer, but they are busiest in winter. Between Golf del Sur, which is near the airport, and Buenavista near Garachico …there are, to my knowledge, 6 courses + one 9-hole course. The one in Buenavista was designed by Sevvy Ballesteros, and the Abama Course is part of a prestigious resort complex."
Beach volley (volleyball): There are nets on some beaches to allow for spontaneous eruptions of sport. Coincidentally, one of Linda's sons works as a lifeguard. Let's all hassle him by referring to him as "The Canarian 'Hoff," shall we?
Hiking: Anaga, Teno, and Adeje are the 3 oldest parts of the island, which didn't emerge from the sea bed all at one time, and those are the areas where the walking is best. There are also amazing walks in the National Park. To hike Teide you need a permit, but people often do that to watch the sunrise.
Linda's favorite is the area "…from, and including, La Laguna, through fertile and green valleys, the village of Tegueste, and up into the Anaga Mountains. I grant you that it may be because it's only in recent years I 'discovered' this part, so it's still something of a novelty. It's as if I was saving it up. The forests are laurel and eucalyptus instead of the ubiquitous pine, often shrouded in mist, so different from the resort area of the south." (You can read more about her first visit to the region here.)
Climbing: Rock climbing and canyoning are becoming increasingly popular on Tenerife. With such dramatic landscape views, it's no wonder that people would want to pull themselves up onto teetering volcanic precipices to take a peek!
Part of the Roques de García in the caldera, aka, backdrop of Clash of the Titans.
The Sky, the Air, and Zoning Out
Paragliding: At one point I asked Linda why, despite similarities in lifestyles and contemporary architecture between Spain and Italy, there were no fans being displayed outside the local housewares shops. As I futilely tried to fix my hair yet again, she calmly pointed out that there is a constant, never-ending wind on Tenerife. Ah, riiiiight, that. Breeze — check!
It's great for cooling a body down during the hot months of summer and is also great for wind farms. Oh, yes — and paragliding. There are places both in Adeje and in Granadilla de Abona to indulge yourself in the sport.
Birdwatching: It's an island that's part of the Canaries, right? So you might think that there would be bujillions of the little yellow things hopping around. Or at least some brightly colored melons in the store. Alas, it is not so! There are Atlantic Canaries about, I hear, but they are not sunshiney yellow. Likewise, the melons are similar in shape and taste to canary melons, but they are green.
However, for the dedicated bird-nerd, there are all kinds of avian critters to see, many with the bonus of having silly sounding names. I mean, just picture it — you and a ChiffChaff! You and a wagtail! A teal, a moorhen, a linnet, a warbler — a CORN BUNTING! …it doesn't get much better than this, folks.
Best Chill Out hotels: If you are working 40+ hours a week and are just looking for a corporate detox, some good options can be found in Costa Adeje and Puerto de la Cruz. You can stay in the hotel and never leave the area, yet have all your vacation whims addressed. This includes lovely sandy beaches, nightclubs, and restaurants. There is also a growing network of excellent rural hotels. If you're not a fan of salt water, you can stay in the forest and never even go near the ocean!
Stargazing: The Observatorio del Teide (Teide Observatory) was one of the first big, international observatories in the world. What with the constant wind always blowing the clouds away, and with Tenerife possessing the highest mountain in Spain (reported to be in the third largest volcanic crater in the world), it makes sense. The observatory is only open to the public once a year, as it really is A Place of Serious Research.
Linda and I spent my first day on Tenerife visiting and photographing the area around El Teide, the beautiful volcano that is the centerpiece of the island. We stayed to see the sunset above the "sea of clouds" and then decided to stay later to watch the stars. We bumped into Linda's friend, Pablo, who is a professional photographer and videographer. He's remodeling his website right now or I'd link some of his work. In the meantime, here is an amazing time lapse video shot on Tenerife in spring. The Milky Way is astonishingly clear — I know, we saw it, too!
Can't see the video? Watch on Vimeo: http://vimeo.com/22439234
Tournaments, Rallies, and Games: Linda says, "There are golf tournaments, volleyball tournaments, and car rallies. CD Tenerife was in the Spanish first division only a few, short years ago… [and] has a faithful following, including many ex-pats."
Theme Parks: There are a couple of zoo and water-themed parks on the island. You'll probably be handed a brochure and a complimentary map of the island upon arrival at the airport like I was. I'm not going to name them, however, because they have captive dolphins and whales. (Both Linda and I find that terribly sad and wrong.)
Discos and Teen Stuff: Listen to the voice of wisdom (also known as Linda) on this one.
"The Veronicas area of Playa de las Americas is the famous spot, but beware the usual problems (drugs, etc., including drinks being spiked – this is common). A little more sophisticated and less problematical is the San Telmo area of Los Cristianos."
Museums: Ok, this is where my culture/science nerdiness comes out. I totally groove on natural science museums and archaeology. I'm a complete amateur, but I dig it (see what I did there?). There are lots of great museums on Tenerife, largely overlooked by tourists, which is a shame. The Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (Museum of Nature and Man) had several interactive classroom areas, so I suspect they are big into educating kids. I hope when you visit Tenerife, you'll take the time to learn about the history of the place and visit some of the museums.
Model of temple ruins that are strikingly similar to the megalithic temples of Malta.
The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canaries, were an amazing people. Although reportedly living at a stone age level of technology when the Portuguese and Spanish first started raiding the islands for resources, they totally kicked Spanish butt! Seriously fierce warriors! They knew advanced herb lore, performed complex surgeries (including brain surgery!), and mummified their dead. They also traversed the rocky terrain of the island in a unique way: pole vaulting. That is to say, they carried big sticks (who knows if they spoke softly?) and leapt/swung themselves across small ravines in a manner similar to pole vaulting. They were eventually defeated by the Spanish, but not before bruising egos and making history.
Linda says this about history and museums on Tenerife: "The island is choca-block, though few visitors realize it. [Museums] are also all free on Sundays. …You also unexpectedly come across little museums in the inland towns. La Laguna is a World Heritage Site. Garachico was almost destroyed by the volcano. There is the legend of Candelaria, and Santa Cruz also groans with history."
…So much to see, do, and learn; so little time!
Music: From folklore concerts to opera, from a jazz festival to salsa, from DJs to a Blues festival… lots of variety. Check online for performances of your favorite kind of music. It's probably happening somewhere on the island! There are also lots and lots and lots of fiestas and romerias. Most involve traditional customs and firework displays, and you are always made very welcome.
Photography: Everywhere you go on Tenerife, there is something interesting to photograph. The north is green and lush; there are even banana plantations there which can be seen from above while driving along the steep cliffs and windy roads. The south is dry and desert-like, due to hundreds of years of deforestation by ship-builders heading to the New World. It's not so great for farming, but fantastic for sunbathing and other beach-related activities (see the water section above). Being a volcanic island, there are amazing rock formations everywhere you go. It ranges from dramatic precipices to lava fields to basalt columns edging the cerulean waters of the sea. Sunset over the "sea of clouds" is also not to be missed!
Eating — finally!
Typical Canarian food is plain fish with papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) and the mojo sauces, or goat or pork. There is no history of beef on the island. Gofio is a local flour made from toasted cereal grains, mainly maize or wheat. Linda says it's an acquired taste (I didn't get a chance to acquire it). It's used to make a kind of cake with almonds and honey, for thickening stews, or as escaldon which could be called a "dip" (not like an absent-minded professor; more like hummus).
The 2 best things I had while I was there were croquettes from a little restaurant in Icod ("EE-cod") and Canarian wine. The restaurant is named "Restaurante Tierra de Campos" and is just around the corner from the famous Dragon Tree. I don't know how you make something like spinach and potatoes taste so magical, but the chef is amazing. Popeye would be proud.
Croquetas de Espinacas, I would buy a plane ticket just to taste you again.
Linda says, "These days there are excellent restaurants of every variety, including some in the better hotels, and including a trend to a kind of modern, nouveau Canarian cuisine, and, of course, the wines, which have a long history." The wine was really, really good, as well as somewhat unusual. But I think I'm going to have to save that for a separate post. We went to a wine (and honey!) museum, you see. And as mentioned above, history is THICK on the Canaries.
In any case, I hope I (with Linda's amazing guidance) have piqued your interest and maybe, just maybe, encouraged you to set off for one of the most unusual, diverse, and culturally rich islands in the world!
Where are you heading next?
ps: The lovely people at Icelolly liked the idea of this post so much that they gave me money to fund further exploits! So if you are interested in cheap holidays to Tenerife, please consider giving them your business. They helped keep Ye Olde Web Server running so that I could bring this epic tale of love, potatoes, and lava to you!