Published in BTW magazine – August 2014
Mars-like lava wasteland, Beaches with golden and black sand, cliffs, mountains, and valleys drenched in flavor of Sangria, Tenerife offers the entire Canary Islands experience in a nutshell…
Every time we take off in an unknown direction there is a list of sights, internet research and a determination of not to miss a single sight worth seeing. This had to end. And there was no better place to unwind for two weeks and not follow a schedule than a Canary Island. And we were headed to the largest one of the seven: Tenerife.
It’s not called ‘The Land of Eternal Spring’ for nothing. These islands enjoy a moderate climate of 25 to 30 degree Celsius all year round with only a handful of rainy days. Tenerife has two airports, one is in the North near the capital city Santa Cruz, and we went to the Tenerife South Airport since we were booked in Xavi and Mike’s villa near the coastal town Adeje.
Even before approaching the airport, the Island unleashes its most beautiful views. The peak of the volcano ‘El Teide’ shows up first wrapped in clouds as tiny planes fly parallel to it and then in a few minutes you land on a runway that almost looks like a beach. Right from that moment on, you can’t decide if you want to run to the mountains or to the beach.
We landed up with an old battered car from an airport rental service and then started the adventures on the roads with hairpin curves and steep climbs. This is also the region of resorts offering packaged holidays. Almost every area we passed had at least a couple of high-rise resorts with the balconies facing the sea and large swimming pools and unlimited buffets that attract large groups of British and German tourists.
Right after we checked-in to the villa we got to know that our neighbors, a retired German couple were there for six months. Looking ahead at the beach, the Atlantic sea and the Gomera Island, one could get used to the view and may never want to leave.
Teide National Park
With El Teide as the highest peak of Spain and the islands in the Atlantic, the area surrounding the volcano might as well have been on Mars. Just a half-an-hour drive took us in the boundaries of the national park where the only human connection we could see was a car driving in front of us. The moment we stopped for taking a picture, that car zoomed away; suddenly there was no one around and we could have been on an imaginary planet. It almost felt like a scene from a sci-fi movie. And indeed, it was a location for one of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Clash of the Titan’ movies and has been often mistaken for a location for ‘Star Wars’ too. Standing there surrounded by red, black and brown lava rocks, our rental battered car almost looked capable of time or space travel.
Further science fiction like experiences were waiting for us, as we took a cable car all the way to the top of the El Teide and saw the craters of the volcano first hand. At 3718 feet, tasting the clouds seemed like a normal experience compared to the visuals from the outer space. We even ventured into hiking up to the astronomical observatory. The reddish, barren landscape was surrounded by green Pine forest and just about 15 kilometers away from the border of that lay the Atlantic. Such diverse and almost dramatic geography changes the way you look at Nature and all you can do is gape at the landscape open mouthed.
When in doubt, head to the beach
Almost every evening and sometimes entire days were spent at a different beach and Tenerife has plenty of them. Though the natural sand of the island is grey and some beaches like Puerto dela Cruz have unique black sand, the popular beaches like Playa de La Teresitas, Playa de las Americas and Playa de la Vistas have artificial golden sandy beaches, of course the sea and the sunset are 100 per cent natural. The sprawl of beach umbrellas and deck chairs was a tricky business. Often we ended up heading there way before time to grab the best seats for the sunset. Playa de las Americas and Vistas are too popular and have those crowded resorts full of tourists. In an otherwise secluded southern part of the island, they make a perfect place for people watching. As a lot of tourists come here with longer plans, beaches offer a lot more than just shacks and music, one could enroll for a beach Yoga or Zumba class, join a beach volley ball team, take up a cocktail mixing class and make the vacation even more exciting.
Agatha Christie Trail
The deliberate not-do anything decision didn’t last too long as we got to know Agatha Christie had a special Tenerife connection and there was no tailor made guided tour available for that. We made a rough itinerary based on references around the now inactive Taoro hotel she stayed in. Depressed Christie arrived in Tenerife in 1927 after a messy divorce, her mother’s death, dealing with a writer’s block and this is the place that inspired her to one of the most productive phase of her life. We just thought there would be a hotel and a plaque, but there is a small monument of hers at Puerto della Cruz. A glimpse of the black sand and the mystique of that beach can make it easy to understand the effects. The slope of Sitio Litre was where she would often go for walks and then settle in the park to write. She loved to walk all the way to La Paz plateau from there; we couldn’t help doing that too. A guide book notes that the Orotava valley and the deep seated town of La Orotava known for its ancient, aesthetic balconies also were supposed to be her favorites. The town of Orotava that Christie saw in 1920s has hardly seen any changes in time till 2013. Tenerife has cropped up directly or indirectly in her stories ever since, especially in ‘The Mysterious Mr. Quin’ and ‘The Man from The Sea’.
Gigantes and a 1000 years old Dragon tree
We were lured into the professional looking Loro Park that housed a lot of extinct bird species and held orchestrated dolphin shows. The park was cool, but the road leading up to it from the South took us to some of the most scenic and rustic views of the cliffs, coastal towns and the real local life of Tenerife that was missing from the touristic areas. Though now Canary Islands are a part of Spain, the original natives of the island the Guanches still delve in the villages around these areas. Especially around the 1000 years old Dragon Tree that bleeds red when it is cut and the exhibition hall leading up to the tree houses many Canary Islands folklores. The grandeur of that tree could render one speechless but the same can be said of the giant rock formations Gigantes just a few minutes’ drive from the tree. Ranging from 500 to 800 meters height, standing near these cliffs can be awe inspiring. No wonder the ancients Guanches called it the ‘Wall of Hell’.
The Island of Tapas
Freshly made ice cream at Mercado Nuestra Senora Africa in Santa Cruz, buying fresh island fruits, baked goods, spices for Paella can all be a part of Tenerife experience, but one thing that you end up doing the most around the island is stop by for some Tapas. Pitchers of Sangrias, some in giant glasses and tiny umbrellas, some with sparkling sticks and some smelling of fresh fruit wines, almost all bars and restaurants have their own recipe for Sangria and a unique selection of Tapas. Xavi did give us some really cool tips and showed us around. One needs to head to ‘the Patch’ section of the Playa de las Americas if looking for the nightlife on the island. Sea food and variety of fish is to die for too. And no matter what you order, you’ll always end up with a side dish of a plate of Papas Arrugadas (tiny boiled potatoes sprinkled with sea salt) and mojo rojo, the chili sauce that can brighten up almost any dish. Once I ordered Paella to take a break from Tapas and then I couldn’t take a break from Paella for the rest of the trip. That Paella is slow cooked and they warn you about the time it may take, but keep refilling your Sangria till it arrives. And when it does, you may want to move to Tenerife just to eat that every day.
Off you go!
- All major carriers from major cities of mainland Europe or Dubai fly directly to Tenerife.
- If you plan to move around within the island, renting a car or a bike will be sensible and non-expensive.
- It is a special low tax zone that also results into much affordable shopping, though beware of fake gadgets.
- Sea creatures and flora are much easily accessible, if you swim well, instead of going for expensive scuba offers, you can buy your own scuba glasses and experience the sea life without going too far or deep in the sea.
- English is widely spoken, in fact the island is dominated by British tourists and some have settled there with their own businesses.