Not just for sunburned Brits, although at least their presence guarantees an abundance of good Guinness.
Tenerife the largest, most populated and most (infamously) popular of the Canary Islands seemed to promise good views of gory sunbathing gone wrong only… or so we thought. The top twenty results of attractions in Tenerife on Trip Advisor promised a few hikes, a lot of beaches and water parks only. What we discovered though was surprising! Having resigned ourselves to a week of sunbathing and Brit-watching redeemed only by the abundance of good, fresh and properly cold on-tap Guinness at tax-free prices, a brief foray into sightseeing opened our eyes like no other place we have visited yet.
Although only about an hour’s drive from South to North this island contains 27 microclimates complete with their own unique vegetation and weather. Along this wild, volcanic island expect to find cacti, succulents, aloes, wildflowers, subtropical vegetation and even specially volcanic-adapted pine forest! We discovered this astounding and diverse beauty having booked a whole day trip from our popular resort town of Los Cristianos, principally to see the very famous volcano at the centre of the island: Mt Teide, a UNESCO World Heritage listed National Park due to the mentioned very special pine forests that rise out of the black volcanic rocks, some with burnt looking trunks from lava flows previously survived and regenerated from. However the tour also included stops at several other small towns to take in the many of this island’s other incredible sights and this is what tipped us to the MAJOR mistake we had made!
Tenerife is much more than watching the sunset at a resort.
Don’t get us wrong a week in the resort town of Los Cristianos had looked perfectly inviting. The town has wide streets and roads bordered by beautifully landscaped gardens as well as a 9km promenade along all of the island’s best beaches and surrounded by al-fresco restaurants and bars aplenty! What more could we want for? A lot more, because Tenerife has a lot more to offer! For starters there’s the oldest Dragon Tree on the island which has been conservatively dated as being 600 years old although some claims have it at up to 3000 years old and as a contender for the world’s oldest living tree… either way it’s very beautiful. El Drago – the dragon tree (so named for the red resin it “bleeds” when cut) can be found in the picturesque town of Icod de los Vinos which is worth exploring in itself as the site of both Tenerife’s first settlement, the Guanches who sailed from Africa around 200 BC, as well as its first square (plaza) and buildings from its Spanish conquest history starting from around the1490s.
This Dragon Tree is said to be over 600 years old!
Down below a cliff of around 500m height on Tenerife’s west coast lies the original modern capital of Tenerife: Garachico. A volcanic eruption in 1706 caused this once important town to be entirely covered in lava aside from just one rooftop and a couple of two-storey walls belonging to the castle that was originally five-storeys high. Garachico was rebuilt atop the lava and remains a charming Spanish style town of mostly cobbled streets, but its volcanic coastline is it’s true jewel. Here into the black volcanic rock formations that line the sea’s edge has been built out of concrete and ingenuity a series of linked bathing platforms and steps into the naturally formed pools of sea-water between the volcanic rock formations. Alongside this unconventional beach there is a lovely al-fresco beach bar/ restaurant/ heladeria (ice-creamery) to ensure sustenance with a view. No Guinness here when we visited but a frosty glass of Tenerife’s own Dorada Pilsener suits the strong hot sun here even better.
Who wouldn’t want to swim in a natural swimming hole created by a volcano?
The new capital of Tenerife is Santa-Cruz de Tenerife near the North-east tip of the island. It is surprisingly large in size but not without a beautiful historic centre of cobblestones, churches and Spanish architecture. In addition to these traditional features it has also some modern eye-catching additions such as the Expressionist style architecture of the Auditorio de Tenerife (Tenerife Auditorium); the shady and unique collection of globally sourced trees and plantlife in the 1926 inaugurated Parque Garcia Sanabria and the man-made lake in the centre of the city’s largest square: Plaza Espana (Spain Square) built in 1929.
Delving back into the island’s history the very small village of Masca is worth a harrowing ride on a single lane road to an altitude of 650m to visit. It enjoys some excellent views of the ocean below and this view being a strategic advantage to those who needed to spot ships rich with plunder returning from the Americas led to the supposed settlement of this town as a home for pirates. Although this may just be tour operator folklore the town still deserves a visit for it’s surrounding natural beauty and from a certain viewpoint has been called the Machu Picchu of Spain. (See our photo below!) There are unique flavours to be sampled here as this town is apparently the only place in the world that serves cactus fruit lemonade and ice-cream. The bright red colored ice-cream is especially a treat served drizzled with palm honey made from the only indigenous palm species on the island.
Compare the village of Masca to Macchu Picchu, you may notice a few similarities!
On the way out of the Mt Teide National Park area one can drive into the town of Santiago del Teide for a visitor centre with more information on volcanic eruptions throughout the island’s history and some good family run restaurant options for some authentic Canarian flavours. We think the “Ropa Vieja” and “Papas Arrugadas con Mojos” are unmissable! Papas Arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) con Mojos (sauces) are baby potatoes boiled with a lot of salt in a reduction method that leaves the skin on potatoes crumpled looking and lightly dusted with a snowy-glaze of white salt. They are served with the mojos usually green and/ or red with varying levels of chilli and pepper induced spice but also rounded out with garlic and herbs such as coriander in some of the green mojos. The Ropa Vieja is a stew traditionally made of chickpeas and leftover meat cuts although today this usually means chickpeas and shredded meat of chicken and/ or pork. It is from the leftovers base of the original recipe that the dish got its name meaning literally: old clothes.
Once you start on a bowl of Canarian potatoes, you’ll quickly find you have none left!
A version of Ropa Vieja is also a renowned dish of Cuba. Having this dish in common is not the only thing the Canary Islands and Cuba share. Throughout the Canary Islands you will also find Estacions de Gua Guas. These are the bus stations so named after the Cuban tradition of calling buses Gua Guas for the Canary Islands also received their first buses from America via Cuba. These buses made by the company Watson and Watson – or “W and W”, and came to be known as Gua Guas both in Cuba and then also the Canary Islands. It was on our far too short one day tour of the island (which covered all of the above except Santa Cruz) that we realised our big mistake. Dear readers this time we have no long list of top tips for you. In fact we have only one piece of advice: DO NOT book a week of lounging in a resort town trying to colour match the varying shades of burnt and tanned Brits that abound, no matter how tempting the Guinness may be there is a better way! We suggest booking a night in an Airbnb in each of the mentioned towns (plus a list below not visited but also recommended to us) to take in their relaxing energy, quasi-Caribbean flavours and unique history travelling by an hour or so’s Gua Gua journey each day. Some of the cooler micro-climates might not help you achieve this season’s deep-red it-shade of “Toasted Brit Abroad” but we guarantee the astounding scenery, sights and flavours that you will enjoy instead to be well-worth it.
Until next time we’ll raise a cheap pint of perfect Guinness in apology to our dear Brit friends, you’ve got great taste to have made it to Tenerife year after year (1.7 million + of you in 2015 alone!) and we just had to jump on your bandwagon to paradise!
Salud! (Cheers) Erin and Ryan
Other Towns to add to your Tenerife by Gua Gua Itinerary if Time Permits!
- Los Gigantes (beachside town below cliffs!)
- La Oratavia (colourful renaissance houses and nightlife!)
- San Cristobal de La Laguna (commonly known as La Laguna their historic centre has been UNESCO World Heritage listed!)
Have you been to Tenerife? Got any cool tips for us we might have missed? We’d love to read them, please add them in the comments below!
Want to know specifics?If you’d like to read more about any of the places we have stayed, ate, drank or partied, check out the Reviews link in the main menu at the top of the screen.
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