Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, a Spanish Archipelago off the coast of Morocco. The island is infamous for being a tropical – lay by the pool and do nothing for a week – resort destination. But it doesn’t have to be. I’ve visited twice this year and discovered that there is so much more to this dramatic, volcanic paradise. My own impressions of Tenerife couldn’t be further from that cliche.
So for those of you picturing a beach full of stranded whales, mostly of British descent, pints of Fosters balanced on their sunburnt stomachs, let me paint you another picture of Tenerife.
Tenerife Is Wild
First off, I’m a photographer. So forget the poolside cocktails, I love Tenerife because of its incredible landscape. But what really gets me going is the visual diversity. Every turn you make on Tenerife offers up a completely new perspective. From remote villages and endless banana plantations to volcanic peaks and North American-looking pine forests.
When I first considered a trip to Tenerife I pictured sandy white beaches, palm trees and snorkel-friendly turquoise waters. But Tenerife is wild. Sure, you’ll find beaches and palm trees, but the coastline is more New Zealand than New Caledonia. Steep cliffs plunge into the Atlantic as the steady flow of breakers creates a curtain of mist, which lingers until dramatically capturing each day’s last light.
If you head inland the elevation increases rapidly as you navigate some of Earth’s most winding roads. Within a few minutes, you’ll be in a forest that’s enveloped in a veil of cloud – some 1500m above sea level. Drive on and you soon exceed 2000m in elevation and emerge from the cloud into a landscape resembling Mars, dominated at its centre by the ever-present Teide.
If you drive a lap of the island you will, within a few hours, experience the rainforests of the north, the barren desert-like south, snow in the centre and vineyards, forests & cities in between. Surely nowhere else can boast that kind of wild and compact diversity.
The Food and Wine Scene Is Amazing
You’ve probably never considered Tenerife specifically for a culinary getaway. Understandable. A few hours of wandering the resort packed south of Tenerife exposed me to foods with all the sophistication (and flavour) of a wet cardboard box. But, as in any destination, you need to escape the tourist masses to discover the real flavours. I mean, even in Italy it’s easy to find horrible pizza if you spend all your time amongst the crowds. So get out into the more traditional parts of the island and you’ll discover some unique, delicious foods and a rich history of wine production.
Traditional dishes include rabbit, goat stew and of course plenty of fresh seafood. Accompanying almost every dish are papas arrugadas and the Canarian speciality “Mojo” sauce. Papas Arrugadas are potatoes boiled with the skin on and a generous helping of salt. Mojo sauce is either red or green and made up of garlic, peppers, onion, olive oil, vinegar and chillies. I was lucky enough to visit Bodegas Monje (a 5th generation winery and restaurant in Tenerife’s north) and receive a Mojo making masterclass, after which I sat down to delicious local wines and the best pulled pork I’ve ever eaten.
While you’ve probably never seen a Tenerifeian wine on the shelf of your local supermarket, Tenerife has had a booming wine industry since the days of Shakespear – who apparently was a big fan. The fertile volcanic soil and generous sunshine make for perfect grape growing conditions. But the islands size and topography mean production is limited, hence the lack of mass-exports. On the flip side, that means they don’t waste their time producing rubbish. I’m no connoisseur, but I do love a good drop of red, and this was up there with some of the best I’ve tasted.
I can’t write about my food experiences in Tenerife and not mention Arepas. Arepas are a traditional Venezuelan food that can be found in almost any local bar or cafe on Tenerife. They became popular because of the two-way migration that has been going on between the Canary Islands and Venezuela (sometimes referred to as the 8th Island) for generations. Made from ground corn, the breads are then deep fried then sliced open and served like delicious little burgers; with meat, chicken, avocado – or whatever you want – inside. Not to be missed!
Tenerife has the Best Weather in the World
Tenerife is sometimes referred to as the ‘Land of Eternal Spring’, and for good reason. Regardless of the time of year, Tenerife is never too hot nor too cold; average temperatures range from about 18-28 degrees year round. Regulated by the cool currents of the Atlantic, the island is one of the places on earth with the lowest difference between average high and low temperatures. At least at sea level. Head uphill a bit and it goes from speedos to ski jackets real quick. It may be the tropics, but in “winter” there’s a permanent white cap on the centre of the Island.
The height of the Teide also contributes to a number of microclimates. Aside from altitude, this is most noticeable between the north and south of Tenerife, with the north receiving 73 per cent of the island’s rain – despite being less than 100km away. No doubt the reason most tourists never leave the south and miss out on the beautiful and moody northern rainforests.
But you can be forgiven for wanting to visit Tenerife only to experience perfect sunshine. Having lived in Europe for a year I now understand the need to escape the misery of winter and relax on a beach.
It’s Spain, but with Its Own Flavour
As a Spanish colony since the 15th century, Tenerife is dotted with cities and small, colourful villages with a very Spanish feel to them. However, isolated from the mainland and with close ties to Latin America, the Canaries have also developed some cultural and linguistic differences from mainland Spain.
Many Islanders’ joined expeditions to help Spain populate the New World, most notably in Venezuela and Cuba. Many of the relatives have since returned to Tenerife, bringing their way of life and Latin American influences with them. These are evident in the music, food, and the Spanish language in the Canaries.
The architecture is typically Spanish, but the topography of Tenerife gives some of the towns a very unique look. Many colourful villages are perched on impossibly steep hillsides. Then there’s the famous town of Garachico, rebuilt on the very same lava flow that destroyed it in 1706.
Tenerife Is One of the Biggest Volcanoes on the Planet
Have you ever considered the thought of being atop a 3718m snow-capped volcano while looking down at a tropical coastline? Teide is the highest point in Spain and one of the biggest volcanoes in the world from its base. You can hike the mountain from the plateau or you can take a cable car up. From the top of the cable car, it’s a steep 160 vertical meters to the peak. But the incredible views across the Atlantic and the other Canary Islands are worth it.
Hiking is popular all around the Teide National Park, but outdoor activities are popular throughout Tenerife. There are hiking trails throughout the rainforests of the north, and an incredible trail from the Masca village down to the ocean. Cycling has become very popular in Tenerife and Mountain biking trails have been built throughout the island’s interior. But if you’re really keen/a biological freak then it seems a popular activity to ride from one side of Tenerife to the other – reaching altitudes of over 2000m in between.
Because of its altitude, clear skies and lack of light pollution, Tenerife is one of the best places in the world to observe the night sky. Guided hikes, stargazing and sunrise tours from the top of the mountain can all be booked through Volcano Teide Experience.
For some more images of Tenerife you can check out my earlier blog 4 Days in Tenerfie!