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Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and is a great place to travel. British and German tourists come in their tens of thousands every year to visit its spectacular beaches and lively nightlife. It is also very popular among holidaymakers from the Spanish peninsula, especially during Easter time. Tenerife is probably one of the last European paradise isles. It offers lush forests, exotic fauna and flora, deserts, mountains, volcanoes, incredibly beautiful coastlines and spectacular beaches.
A poor, banana-growing region in past decades, Tenerife has been brought up to European living standards since the arrival of mass air travel in the 1960s, which brought industry and millions of tourists each year. Over the decades this has led to many complexes and houses being built, making parts of the island highly urbanized. While part of the EU for political purposes, the island remains outside its customs and VAT area, making high tax goods such as tobacco and alcohol cheaper than elsewhere in Europe.
Many of the young tourists hang out on the south of the island with older and family tourists choosing Puerto de La Cruz and its environs. On the south side there is consistent summer, little to no wind, and pretty much perfect beach-weather for much of the year though there have been rare instances of cool to cold weather in the Jan-Feb period. Also expect some very wet days for that time of year though most days will still be sunny. There are plenty of hotels, activities and British food and drink.
On the north side of the island you will find more green and vibrant local culture. There is a more Spanish year-round springtime feel. The weather fluctuates a bit more here, but is also mostly pleasant though not as hot as the south.
In between the north and south of the island sits Spain's tallest peak, the barely dormant volcano El Teide (3718m above sea level). Tours previously allowed people into the crater, but tourists are no longer allowed into the crater for safety reasons.
The local currency is the Euro and most places accept credit or debit cards, which require a chip and PIN. There are many exchange bureaus in the main tourist resorts but not in the Spanish places like Santa Cruz.
The native language is Spanish. In the south English is spoken by everyone with German and Italian common too, but in the north English is spoken by fewer. No big problem should be anticipated regarding communication, though.
As an island the usual way to arrive is by air. There are two airports, Tenerife South (Reina Sofia) near Los Cristianos and Tenerife North (Los Rodeos) by La Laguna. Buses run from both airports to other towns, though you may have to change routes. They stop around midnight and start again around 5-6AM.
Trasmediterranea run a weekly ferry from Cadiz in Spain which takes two days.
There are also ferries to the other Canary Islands, going to Gran Canaria from Santa Cruz de Tenerife (about €80 return) and La Gomera from Los Cristianos.
A hire car is the best option for discovering the remote wilderness regions. TITSA buses cover most of the island and the buses are fairly frequent. A BONO travel card is a good idea if you intend to spend some time travelling on the buses as they can save 50-70% on journey costs. Only one card is needed by any number in a group and can be bought at bus stations as well as some tobacconists. Beware of the morning (~7-8) traffic jams on the highway in the direction of Santa Cruz! A tram line operates between Santa Cruz and La Laguna; the BONO card is valid on this.
SatNav Tenerife is building many new roads including some major routes. The latest TomTom maps while useful for getting around Tenerife overall, are not very accurate (using maps correct as of 6th March 2009). Garmin maps are even less accurate. As of 2013 TomTom maps now cover the majority of the island and have many points of interest.
You can also prebook an airport transfer with Tenerife Airport Transfers who possess a wide range of vehicles such as shuttle buses, minibus, limousines and coaches.
What to see
From the car park, tourists can take the 10 minute cable lift to 3550 m (27€ per person/return). Return ticket is valid for 1 hour, if you miss it you will have to pay additional 12.50€ to go back down (however this limitation does not seem to be enforced very strictly). To climb to the summit (the uppermost 168 m) special permission is essential by request to the National Park Office in Santa Cruz. From the top there is an amazing view all over the island.
The ascent by foot starts at the base of the “Montaña Blanca”, at an altitude of 2200 m (very limited parking). Don't underestimate the short walk as the gradient and low oxygen levels make it challenging even for experienced walkers. After a relatively gentle start up a 4x4 track for around 4 km, you begin the steep and spectacular climb, ascending 530 m in just over 1.5 km, when you will reach the recently rebuilt Altavista Refuge (3270 m). This offers climbers a bed for a maximum of a night and kitchen facilities. After a further kilometer and 250 m ascent, the path joins another leading to La Fortaleza viewpoint, which follows the contour around El Teidi to the cable lift. If required for descent, always check if the cable lift is operational before you set off, as it does not run in poor weather conditions and closes without warning. You should allow 6-8 hours for an ascent and descent on foot.
WARNING: At 3718 m (12,198 ft) El Teide is the highest mountain in Spain. The rapid ascent by cable car can lead to altitude sickness, in even the strongest climbers. If symptoms start to manifest you should descend immediately, note that at peak times the wait for the cable car descent can be over an hour. At the summit, strong winds are not uncommon which significantly reduces temperatures. Irrespective of temperatures on the beaches, a trip to Teide (or even just the National Park) can be very cold, with snow at the peak common until typically March/April on average. In winter expect a few feet of snow and ice, and strong winds so prepare accordingly.
Parque Rural de Anaga
Fantastic place to go hiking. There are some routes that you can do. In Cruz del Carmen you can find the visitor's center where you can get information about the park. Don't forget go to the Pico del Inglés viewpoint where you can see a beautiful view of the island (if the weather is good). From La Laguna you only need fifteen minutes in car to arrive. Other places are Taganana, Roque las Bodegas, Almáciga (black sand beaches).
There are some wonderful drives all around the island. There are long winding mountain roads with breathtaking scenery but they might be a challenging for less skilled drivers. Popular destination is Masca village located about 1 hour drive north of Los Gigantes (parking spaces are very limited). For those who do not rent/own a car in most resorts there are companies organizing coach trips there.
Cycling is hard to do casually although bikes are available to rent, the coastal roads are busy and there is little room for bikes except often in the gutter. However if you like cycling up hills there are plenty of steep roads to climb as soon as you leave the coastline. For those less fit, one tour company offers a car trip to the top of El Teide with a cycle down, no pedaling required.
There are good attraction parks.
Loro Parque Zoo is in just outside the northern city of Puerto de la Cruz, which is an animal protection foundation as well as a huge animal park.
Jungle Park close to the area of Los Cristianos is well worth a visit, the bird of prey show is a must. There are free bus links to the park, but getting on one to get back is not much fun!
Siam Park (opened in 2008) which is a water park in Costa Adeje created by the owners of Loro Parque, 2 metre high artificial waves, several cafes/bars.
You'll also find the Aqualand water park in Costa Adeje.
You will find many local shops selling excursions to these parks.
What to do
Tenerife is a favoured destination for scuba divers, with numerous dive operations of all qualities and nationalities. The waters round the island are diveable throughout the year, with the temperature varying between 18 degrees in January to around 25-26 degrees in August. Go around the harbour wall in Puerto de la Cruz for fantastic volcanic rock formations, or feed the stringrays at Las Galletas for something a bit different.
Water sports are available in the south including surfing, wind surfing, speed boat parascending and jet-ski. Nowhere seems to rent canoes.
Santa Cruz has a big market by the station on Sunday mornings. Las Americas has one Thursday and Saturday and Los Cristianos on Sundays. Santa Cruz has a number of museums and an art gallery. Also a space museum and planetarium on a small scale near La Laguna.
Visit the beautiful old towns of La Orotava and La Laguna, the latter being a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit the world class botanical garden just above Puerto de la Cruz.
Barranco del Infierno (Hell's Ravine), close to Adeje popular with hikers, you need to book to go on the walk. There is little to see but vegetation on this walk and a TINY waterfall at its end. (Path currently closed due to danger of falling rocks and risk of fatal accidents.)
The most western point is Punta de Teno with excellent views.
Of course, many visitors just want to spend their time on a beach or by the hotel swimming pool. Playa Americas beach is black volcanic sand, but Los Cristianos is yellow imported sand. The black sand feels the same as the yellow, but can be much hotter when sunny and is not as pleasing to look at to many. Beaches often have sun-loungers with parasols available to hire for the day, but if you are doing this for a few days it is probably better to just buy a parasol and some beach mats.
In February there is a huge fancy dress parade by locals which is said to be third in size after Rio and Notting Hill carnivals.
Tenerife is an excellent destination for hiking. There are routes for anyone, from leisurely one hour strolls to extremely strenuous full day hikes in demanding terrain with either a huge ascent, descent or both. There are several books describing hiking routes, such as two Landscapes of Tenerife books from Sunflower Books, one covering the northern side and the other covering the southern side. It's a good idea to get a guide book before you go to Tenerife, as they might be difficult to find there.
Tenerife attracts a large number of cyclists all year around. Whether mountain biking, roadbiking or riding an electric bike, Tenerife has plenty of beautiful roads and dirt tracks. If you want to avoid the hassle of bringing your own bike, you can rent bikes on the island, for example in Las Americas or El Médano.
The island is quickly becoming an important winter destination for cross-country and enduro mountain biking, as on average it enjoys sunny skies and warm temperatures when Europe's bike resorts are covered in mud and snow. Exploring the island on a mountain bike is a rewarding experience, thanks to the great diversity of terrain, vegetation and elevation. Little compares to a descent through lava fields and Canary pines to the beach in time to sip a beer at sunset. Guiding businesses will take you safely on Tenerife's best trails.
Fish is a large part of the local diet with restaurants that allow you to choose a fish from their selection (often hand caught) which they will cook for you. Black potatoes called papas arrugadas are served unpeeled and covered in rock salt, ready to be dipped into a local sauce.
As in the rest of Spain, tapas are eaten a lot with local specialties including garlic sauces, refried beans and squid. Typical Spanish meals such as tortilla (potato omelette) and paella (rice dish with seafood) are common too.
The south is full of plenty of junk food restaurants with hamburgers, pizza, chips, etc. There are 15 McDonald's including some on the beaches. Also note that in touristic hotspots such as Playa de las Americas, menus are available in numerous languages ranging from English, German, Russian and some Scandinavian languages, making it very easy to choose even if you are not familiar with the local dishes' names or don't understand Spanish.
Lots of Chinese Restaurants are also available in Tenerife. You can eat as much as you can (buffet) paying fixed price.
In the tourist spots, there are also many up-market restaurants, such as the Thai Botanico and Bianco's in Playa de las Américas.
However, for those who want a taste of the culture, there are also lots of traditional Canarian restaurants, like Mesón Era las Mozas (which some people call the "courtyard") in Valle San Lorenzo (about 15€ in a taxi from Los Cristianos) and El Cordero in Guargacho (similar price). They both do a variety of meats cooked on the barbecue, sometimes doing quite large portions.