Tenerife, Ilhas Canárias Guia de Viagem
- Average of 320 days of sunshine a year plus perpetually spring-like weather
- Natural scenery ranges from yellow-sand beaches to pine forests or arid deserts
- Paradise for avid hikers, beach lovers, and water-sports enthusiasts
- Home to Teide Volcano, the highest point in the Canaries (and all of Spain)
- Charming colonial towns dot the island's north
- Healthy, clean, high-quality air plus no dangerous weather or wildlife
- Accommodations for every budget
- Very safe, with little crime
- Several championship golf courses
- Excellent tourism infrastructure in place throughout most of the island
- Few to no direct flights from North, Central, and South America
- Very little authentic Canarian culture in main resort areas
- Hotels often at 100 percent capacity -- must book far in advance
What It's Like
Tenerife is the largest and most populated of the Canary Islands (the others of which are , , La Gomera, El Hierro, Las Palmas, and ). It's also one of the most popular: Tenerife's golden beaches, excellent hiking, and year-round warm weather have made the ladle-shaped island in the Atlantic a major tourist destination since the 1960s, primarily with Northern Europeans. Most of Tenerife's visitors head to Playa de las Americas, a purpose-built package-resort town on the southwestern corner of the island, where any sense of local life takes a backseat to lumbering beachfront resorts and booze-fueled nightlife. For explorers, though, there's a lot more to see.
Tenerife's natural scenery is spectacularly varied. Miles of golden sand and gray-pebble beaches surround an elevated interior of ancient forests; lush, laurel-covered ravines; dramatic mountain ranges; and black lava fields. Avid hikers flock to Roque del Conde, Tenerife's distinctive tabletop mountain; the rugged Hell's Canyon nature reserve; and the rocky, volcanic countryside of Teide, the largest of the Canaries' four national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, far above the tree line, the arid moonscape is marked by spectacular walking trails and volcanic forms that have eroded into bizarre shapes. Teide National Park is home to one of the largest craters on the planet and its namesake volcano (active, but dormant for nearly 1,000 years) is not only the highest point in the Canary Islands, but in all of Spain.
Along the coasts, water sports and surf schools are almost as common a sight on the beaches as snack shacks and excursions kiosks. In fact, Playa de las Americas' calm waters are great for aspiring surfers. Young locals and in-the-know wind-sport devotees head to El Medano, a beach town in the southeast, for some of the best wind- and kite-surfing conditions in the world. Pilot whales live permanently in the waters between Tenerife and La Gomera, so an ocean outing of some sort is a must-do. Golfers have nine world-class courses to choose from, including Golf Costa Adeje and Golf de Las Americas.
Like all of the Canaries, Tenerife is culturally European, but geographically African. Located about 185 miles off of the coast of Western Sahara, the climate is warm, and it's rightfully known as "The Island of Eternal Spring." Hurricanes don't come this way and humidity is blissfully non-existent. Even so, the island has dozens of microclimates. For example, the western resort town of Los Gigantes receives about six more weeks of sunshine a year than the island average. The island's southern half is warmer, drier, and sunnier than the cooler, rainier, and greener north, but Tenerife's temperatures generally hover around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. What's more, the island has no native predators, no venomous snakes, no poisonous spiders. You could go on a month-long vacation without spotting a mosquito.
Unfortunately, as is the case throughout mainland coastal Spain and the Balearic Islands, unchecked development overrides local character in the main tourist areas. Much of this is concentrated in the south, specifically Las Americas, which is basically like one big outdoor mall. That does mean that the island is user-friendly for travelers, in part thanks to the well-connected TITSA bus system that loops the island in a couple of hours. Hotels are at constant capacity, but the island's solid tourism infrastructure -- sound roads, two airports, ferries and ports, car rentals, accommodations for every budget -- has so far successfully sustained the increase of visitors. The tourism machine is so well-oiled here that tour operators run their own fleets of planes.
Tenerife caters almost exclusively to British tastes, as it has for several decades. In Las Americas, British and Irish pubs are more common than simple seafood eateries or tapas spots. Canarian fare is a reward for only the most dedicated of foodie-tourists, and seafood lovers would do well to explore the coastal villages of La Caleta and Los Abrigos. Even amid all of the development, barraquitos -- the traditional Canarian coffee drink with condensed milk, lemon rind, and cinnamon -- aren't too hard to track down; most lobby bars in the all-inclusive resorts serve them. As on most islands, fresh eating can also be a challenge, though there are health-conscious options popping up in places like Los Cristianos.
Residents here have a relatively high quality of life, so tourism is generally more expensive than what Europeans might expect. What little crime there is is typically limited to bag-snatching on the beaches. Additionally, it's worth noting that Canarian Spanish is closer to the Spanish spoken in Central and South America than it is to the Spanish of the mainland. Most workers in the hospitality industry speak English, and many hotel managers are fluent in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian.
In sum, Tenerife has appeal for nearly every sort of traveler: Families who want to play on the beach and in the water all day, pensioners, golfers, nature buffs, and rowdy party groups. The island is also a haven for idlers with little interest beyond their hotel's pool deck and activity-happy adventurers alike. Culture vultures will probably be disappointed by purpose-built Playa de las Americas, but should take delight in the traditional historic towns in the north.
Where to Stay
Nearly all travelers who fly into Tenerife South Airport pass through Playa de las Las Americas, about a 20-minute drive or a 45-minute bus ride away. This is the undisputed nerve center of Tenerife tourism. The town is a hotbed of golden beaches, non-stop nightlife, all-inclusive resorts, mid-range aparthotels, theme parks, and commercial strip malls. American travelers -- who are few and far between in this part of the world, due to a lack of direct flights -- might find Las Americas to be a weird mash-up of Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach. Big-box hotels line the man-made beaches and an epic paved beach promenade stretches for nearly 10 miles, from Los Cristianos in the south to La Caleta in the north. Touristy gift shops sell flip-flops, sunglasses, beachwear, postcards, Kalise ice-cream bars, bottled water, sunscreen, aloe products, and Tenerife-stamped knickknacks.
The terrain becomes hillier farther inland, so those with mobility issues should stay closer to the beach. But in general, Las Americas in extremely walkable, thanks to the main beach boardwalk, traffic-free side streets, and ample and well-marked crosswalks. Even though the main streets are clogged with beeping rental cars and groaning double-decker tour buses, they're still pedestrian-friendly. Travelers from the United Kingdom visit year round, usually opting for one- or two-week package deals at all-inclusive hotels. In winter, Scandinavians descend on the area for weeks or even months at a time, generally booking self-catering apartment-style rentals.
Those who venture beyond Las Americas (or those who fly into Tenerife North Airport) are rewarded with extraordinary landscapes, world-class hiking, and delightful historical towns. La Laguna, in the northeast, is a refreshing 180 from the southern resort areas. With its cobblestoned streets and immaculately preserved Canarian architecture, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is often described as the loveliest town on the island (though it still knows how to party). Nearby, the Anaga Mountains are covered in misty laurel forests and well-mapped-out hiking trails. The capital city of Santa Cruz actually makes a good home-base for this northeastern region, especially when the Carnaval festival ignites round-the-clock revelry in late winter. Candelaria, a charming village 30 minutes to the south, hosts Festival de la Cancion de Candelaria, one of the most important festivals in the Canaries.
Puerto de la Cruz was the island's original tourist center, and, to this day, is the only tourist center in Tenerife's north. Breakwaters keep the beaches safe for swimming, and many consider the shoreline here more stunning than what's found in Las Americas. From here, it's worth the drive to the colonial town of La Oratava (about 13 minutes to the south) to see palatial 17th-century homes, and to Garachico (about 45 minutes to the west) to experience traditional fishing village life and dramatic coastal scenery.
Another popular destination for hiking is the mountain village of Masca (which has fewer than 100 residents). The western town has to be seen to be believed, as it seems precariously balanced atop a jagged, soaring rock face. Descending Masca Gorge is a popular hiking route, though hiring a guide is recommended. About a 40-minute drive south of Masca is the town of Los Gigantes, whose fantastic cliffs rise more than 2,000 feet above the Atlantic.
Tenerife has hotels for just about every budget and style, although travelers who like boutique stays have scant options; of the nearly 300 Tenerife hotels visited by Oyster photographers, a measly two properties qualify as proper boutique options. Instead, hotels typically fall into one of two main buckets: brassy, overblown all-inclusive resorts and self-catering, mid-range aparthotels. The recent safety concerns elsewhere in the world's sunbelt have caused a surge in Tenerife's already high tourist numbers, and hotels are often at full occupancy, no matter their style.