An Introduction to Tenerife
By Nicola Quinn
Coastline at Puerto de La Cruz
Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, located in southern Europe, just off the northwestern coast of Africa, is not the place it used to be. Twenty years ago, the volcanic island was the top destination for young singles who wanted to party all night and then sleep it off on the beaches all day. But today, the island has changed its target market and now appeals to the more discerning traveler—one who appreciates delicious local cuisine, a wealth of natural attractions, and the friendly, welcoming culture that can be found throughout the island’s traditional villages.
Where to Go in Tenerife
Mount Teide and Mount Teide National Park
Very rarely does anyone visit Tenerife without taking a trip up to Mount Teide—the iconic volcano which created the island. This stunning natural attraction is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and stretches on for a staggering 3718m above sea level, making it the highest point in Spain. The volcano isn’t the only reason people visit this part of the island; many also visit because it provides such a refreshing contrast to the rest of the island. While the south of Tenerife is blanketed with commercial centers, vacation complexes, and dark sandy beaches, the National Park which houses Mount Teide is overflowing with dense, green flora and huge expanses of barren, alien-like rocky landscape, which will make you feel like you’re on the set of a sci-fi movie.
Tip: If you’re planning on taking up the challenge of hiking to the top of Mount Teide (You should. It’s an incredible experience!), you need to obtain a hiking permit from this website first:
You learn to live in the moment
Street corner near
"Cholon" in Saigon where I was born
Sunrise at Playa de La Tejita
Playa de La Tejita
Many of Tenerife’s most popular beaches are man-made with imported sand from the Sahara Desert. However, Playa de La Tejita is widely regarded as the most beautiful, as well as the largest, natural beach on the island, stretching on for more than 1km in length. The sea is generally calm enough for swimming in. But when there’s a strong wind blowing, the waves can reach several meters tall, making it best to avoid taking a dip. Before you leave Playa de La Tejita, you must stop by Chiringuito Pirata. This small beachside shack serves up a great selection of local food and drinks for astonishingly reasonable prices and is frequented by both locals and visitors of all nationalities. There’s always an amazing atmosphere at this kiosk, and it’s a great place to mix with friendly locals.
Tip: Although nude sunbathing is permitted on the whole of the beach, most nudists stick to the eastern side of the shore. If you’re not comfortable with nudist sunbathing, you’ll feel better staying on the western side of the beach.
Backstage at the Justin Timberlake Concert in London
Square at Garachico
Garachico is a place very often missed off tourist excursions, but it’s so beautiful that it’s definitely worth seeing. This large town is found on the northern coast of Tenerife and is home to many fabulous attractions, including a harbor which dates back to the 16th century, stunning squares and courtyards designed in the traditional Canarian style, and the Castillo de San Miguel castle, which houses marine and fossil museum exhibitions. For many, the highlights of the town are the natural rock pools that jut out into the sea. Made from lava rocks, these pools provide families with safe places to swim, even when the sea is rather rough. Surrounding the pools, you’ll find many large, flat spaces which locals use to lay down their towels and catch some rays.
Tip: Garachico is one of the best places in Tenerife to sample local Canarian wine. You’ll find it on the wine list of many restaurants and bars in this town, as well as being readily available from most tourist shops.
View of the Siam Park Pool from Siam Beach
Adrenaline junkies won’t want to miss the chance to visit Siam Park—voted the very best water park in the world by TripAdvisor. This popular attraction is located in Costa Adeje in the south of Tenerife and boasts no fewer than 13 water slides for adults, plus two huge water playgrounds for children. Not only is Siam Park the place to go for an adventure-packed day, it’s also a wonderful place to spend a lazy afternoon in the sun, thanks to the Mai Thai lazy river, which will gently push you all around the park, and the golden Siam Beach, which is lapped by the waters of a giant sea-like swimming pool.
Tip: Siam Park gets incredibly busy during the summer months, Easter holidays, and Christmas holidays. So, if you visit at this time of year, you could be waiting literally hours in line for each ride. The best way to avoid queuing is to arrive at the park as soon as it opens—10a.m.—and hit the slides you want to ride the most first.
Blue Dancers in Carnival Parade in Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Carnivals and Festivals in Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the island’s capital, is internationally praised for its superb annual carnival which is said to be second in the world, just narrowly bested by the one in Rio de Janeiro. Events take place for a full four weeks and include everything from carnival queen elections, music concerts, and theatre group competitions to running races, street parties, and parades. Although some of the events are limited in number and require you to purchase tickets, some of which sell out just minutes after they’re released, the main parade is totally free to watch, but you’ll need to get there a couple of hours before the parade begins if you want to guarantee yourself a good viewing spot.
Corpus Christi is another festival the locals in Tenerife go all out for. In honor of this annual celebration, which takes place on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, artistic locals in La Orotava decorate the streets in religious and decorative images made out of petals and colored sand. Despite the huge size of each image, they’re all incredibly detailed and look like they would be more at home in an art gallery, instead of on the pavement.
Seafood Sharing Platter
Food in Tenerife
You might be surprised to hear that Canarian food served in Tenerife differs widely from the cuisine served up in mainland Spain. Although you will find Spanish classics such as “paella” and “sangria” on many restaurant menus, they’re not local in the slightest.
“Papas Arrugadas con Mojo” is probably the most famous and loved dish on the island. This simple starter or side dish is comprised of a handful of small potatoes which are boiled in salted water with their skins on. These potatoes are always served steaming hot alongside two “mojo” sauces. The red sauce can sometimes be spicy (tip: “mojo picon/picante” is spicy, whilst “mojo sauve” isn’t) and is made from red peppers, garlic, and herbs. The green sauce is much cooler in comparison and is made from green peppers, garlic, and cilantro or parsley.
If you’re feeling adventurous, “Conejo al Salmorejo” is a classic Canarian dish too good to miss out on. Usually served as a main meal, “Conejo al Salmorejo” is comprised of several pieces of rabbit served on the bone that have been cooked in a heavenly sauce of tomatoes, herbs, and saffron. When cooked as it should be, the meat falls off the bone and melts in your mouth like butter.
“Chopitos” is another dish you should definitely sample in Tenerife if you describe yourself as a brave foodie. This local delicacy is made up of tiny squids smaller than your little finger that are covered in a light batter and deep-fried whole until golden brown. Although you won’t get much flavor in each mouthful, the texture as the thin and crispy batter breaks away to reveal the ultra-soft texture of the cooked squid is something everyone should experience at least once.
Typical Canarian Grilled Meat Meal
Must-Try Restaurant in Tenerife
Even though Tenerife is an island and, therefore, serves up incredible fish and seafood, the island’s grilled meats found in local restaurants are second-to-none. Guachinche El Cordero restaurant in Guargacho, Tenerife South offers a huge variety of meats cooked in the traditional Canarian way—on the grill of a huge open-flame barbecue in the middle of the restaurant. Although the surroundings might not be much to look at—the tables and chairs are made of plastic and in the undercover-yet-still-outdoors section the ground is actually dirt—the food is the epitome of how amazing simple dishes can be.
Because all food is prepared freshly and ingredients are seasonal, there is no set menu available. After you’ve been led to your table, a waiter will come over and recite which meats and side dishes are available that day. If you arrive with a hearty appetite, I recommend the mixed platter. You’ll get a good portion of everything, and, if you can’t eat it all, the staff will be happy to package it up for you to take home. There are no fancy sauces or anything to accompany the delicious, smoky grilled meats. You’ll usually get a choice of fries, “Papas Arrugadas”, mixed salad, “Mojo” sauces, and garlic mayonnaise.
El Medano Beach
If you want to avoid purpose-built tourist resorts such as Playa de Las Americas, but you still want something with a slight tourist feel, book a hotel in El Medano. This resort is located in the south of Tenerife, just a ten-minute drive from the airport, and has a laid-back bohemian vibe, with residents and visitors of all different nationalities. Surfing and wind surfing reign supreme here, so you should expect a lot of wind if you visit the beaches, but there are plenty of other things to do, such as people watching while sipping a freshly brewed coffee from a café or picking up some handmade jewelry from the market held every Saturday.
The most popular times to visit Tenerife are around Christmas, Easter, and summer, specifically July and August. At this time of year, resorts are usually bustling, and it can be hard to book specific hotels that you want to stay in and see attractions you want to visit without being surrounded by thousands of other people. The weather in Tenerife in May, June, September, and October is absolutely fantastic, and the resorts see fewer people, making them the best months to visit.
Photo credit: Nicola Quinn, Dreamstime