The largest of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, Tenerife is today perhaps best known for its all-year-round sunshine, party scene, all-inclusive hotels, and family theme parks. However, in recent years it has often been said that, like Ibiza, there is so much more to it than British fry-ups, Happy Hours, and ear-shattering Karaoke. It had been a few years since I was on the island of Eternal Spring, a nod to its year-round mild climate, so I decided to take the 4-hour flight from London Gatwick to the island’s Southern Aeropuerto de Tenerife Sur, from where I would take a tour clockwise around the island but focusing my stay on the authentic Tenerife, and in particular the largely unspoilt north coast.
Getting Around The Authentic Tenerife
There are various ways to get around Tenerife with the most popular being hiring your own car or pre-arranging an airport-to-resort transfer.
I however decided to give the local buses a try. Operated by a company called TITSA, they provide an excellent service at very reasonable prices.
One word of caution… you will, when out and about, most certainly need a decent smartphone and Wi-Fi, as you will regularly need to access the TITSA app for timetables, guidance, and prices.
Puerto de Santiago
I was to start my Tenerife tour with an overnight stay at the Barcelo Santiago Hotel in the small town of Puerto de Santiago which is located on the southwest coast of the island. From here I could venture around the western peninsular and then along the North coast.
Puerto de Santiago is how I remembered Tenerife. Mini supermarkets, kiosks selling excursions, restaurants catering to the British and bars full of expats watching sports or enjoying late-night tribute bands.
Beaches in this area are black with the small Playa Chica, the most popular. The coastal walk connecting Los Gigantes to the North and Playa de la Arena to the South is worth the stroll for the stunning views and magical sunsets.
Whilst Puerto de Santiago was not the reason I came to Tenerife I did enjoy my short stay. I sat by the pool, watched English football, drank beer and partied with the locals at the friendly Sunset Bar – it’s what millions of British visitors come to Tenerife for…. but on this occasion, I was seeking the authentic Tenerife, so with a sore head and tired eyes I was soon on the road.
A short bus journey or even a 20-minute walk north, will bring you to Los Gigantes. These 800-metre-high, volcanic, basalt rock formations are one of the island’s most dramatic natural sights and a visit here is a must!
From the town of Los Gigantes, you can walk uphill to the best vantage point at Mirador Archipenque. Here there is a little cafe where you can enjoy a drink and a snack while marvelling at some of the best views on the island.
The town of Los Gigantes has retained its charm and is a popular stop for tourists looking to enjoy its delightful harbour and enticing cafes and restaurants.
Many of the resorts in western Tenerife offer visitors the chance to get out and witness a variety of marine mammals in the wild. Between November and early March, it is a great time to watch Humpback whales passing on their migration, whilst orcas and sperm whales visit in the spring. Throughout the year you can often spot dolphins and pilot whales.
From Los Gigantes, I took the bus towards Santiago de Teide before changing on to the 355 towards a little village in the Teno mountains called Masca. So many local people had recommended I visit for the vibrant nature, spectacular scenery and its mystery. Legend has it that the Masca Valley was once a hideout for pirates.
If you plan to self-drive, caution should be taken as the narrow road is not for the faint-hearted due to the many hairpin bends and steep drops. I would recommend you go early before the organised bus excursions arrive. Not only will your time in Masca be more peaceful but the journey won’t feel so scary.
Hiking is popular here with sensational views of mountains, forests, and waterfalls. The village offers a choice of cosy restaurants to restock the energy levels before venturing into the wild.
The clear night sky is popular with stargazers who are drawn to this fabulous little Canarian village which if you can pluck up the courage for the journey, is worth every second!
Continuing around the island my next stop was Tenerife’s first port and one of the oldest villages in the Canary Islands, the village of Garachico.
Dating back to the 15th century the old town is a delight with its little squares, picturesque seafront, and narrow streets home to some of the best preserved historical and cultural attractions in all of the Canaries.
In an area known as El Caleton, there is the San Miguel Castle and out to sea the rock of Garachico which is a symbol of the Garachico volcanic eruption of 1706.
Nearby I would recommend a visit to La Caleta de Interián, the Chinyero volcano and the cliffs at La Culata.
From Garachico, you follow the north coast of Tenerife passing through Icod de Los Vinos before arriving at La Orotava. This pretty village with its well-preserved historic centre, features cobbled streets, splendid manor houses, and exquisite gardens. It also gives you the chance to not only experience a gorgeous Canarian town but to also learn about the island’s history with museums like the Casa Lercaro.
Casa de Los Balcones is a historic mansion and cultural landmark. Built in the 17th century, this Canarian-style house is renowned for its traditional architecture, featuring wooden balconies, intricate wrought-iron railings, and a central courtyard adorned with colourful tiles. It serves as both a museum and a handicraft centre, showcasing the art, history, and craftsmanship of the Canary Islands.
The little town itself is full of shops and cafes all overlooking Puerto de la Cruz down below. I particularly enjoyed the Café, Gardens, Bandstand, and views from the Plaza de la Constitucion.
Puerto De la Cruz
From La Orotava, it’s just a hop, skip, and jump across to the former fishing village of Puerto de la Cruz, where I was fortunate to stay for three nights at the magnificent Hotel Botanico & The Oriental Spa Garden. This member of the Leading Hotels of the World offers world-class service, sumptuous accommodation, and an award-winning oriental spa, all nestled within the most magnificent gardens.
The hotel is conveniently located just a fifteen-minute stroll to the heart of Puerto de la Cruz. The town is alive with an array of fashion boutiques, jewellers, souvenir shops, and charming al fresco restaurants adorning the well-kept San Telmo promenade, which stretches from the town to the sun-kissed beach, a haven for both surfers and sun worshippers.
At the heart of the promenade lies the Lago Martiánez, also known as the Complejo Turistico Costa Martianez, created by the renowned artist César Manrique back in 1977. This open-air series of lidos centres around an artificial lake and features a complex of pools, islands, gardens, terraces, and inviting restaurants. Admission is just 5.50 euros per adult and 2.50 euros per child per day, with additional charges for loungers and parasols.
Puerto de la Cruz takes great pride in its locally harvested wine from the nearby Orotava Valley. This delightful tipple can be savoured in combination with the town’s broad selection of international dishes, served in the numerous restaurants that grace both the historic town centre and the scenic promenade.
The Jardin Botanico is one of the most famous gardens in the Canaries and dates to the 18th Century. It was created by the Royal Order of Carlos III as there was a requirement to cultivate species from the tropics in Spain with a suitable climate.
Nestled in the heart of Tenerife, the gardens are a botanical oasis where nature’s wonders flourish. This lush garden spans over 12 acres and hosts a mesmerizing collection of both native and tropical plant species. The Jardin Botanico offers a captivating glimpse into Tenerife’s remarkable biodiversity.
San Cristobal de la Laguna
Just 30 minutes on the bus from Puerta de la Cruz will bring you to San Cristóbal de La Laguna, often referred to simply as La Laguna. Its well-preserved old town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasts narrow cobbled streets, colourful colonial buildings, and charming squares. The city is home to the University of La Laguna, which contributes to its vibrant atmosphere.
With a rich history dating back to the 15th century, La Laguna offers visitors a glimpse into its past through architectural marvels like the stunning Cathedral of San Cristóbal.
Beyond its historical allure, the city provides a hub for cultural events, making it a must-visit destination in the authentic Tenerife.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is the capital of Tenerife. This dynamic city blends modernity with historical charm. Its heart, Plaza de España, is surrounded by striking architecture, including the iconic Auditorio de Tenerife.
The city offers vibrant shopping streets, diverse dining experiences, and lively markets like the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África. The palm-tree-lined Rambla de Santa Cruz provides a stroll, while the picturesque Parque García Sanabria offers a green retreat.
If you get the chance to visit during the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, then you will be sure to truly understand the culture and spirit of this lovely city.
I was told that Tenerife is shaped like a duck and for my final stop, I visited the town of Candelaria located in the neck of Tenerife’s eastern coast.
This town is renowned for its Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria, a significant pilgrimage site dedicated to the patron saint of the Canary Islands. The Plaza de la Patrona de Canarias, adorned with Guanche king statues, lies in front of the basilica.
For history check out the Guanche Mummies Museum, which offers insights into the indigenous Guanche people. Candelaria also boasts a scenic seaside promenade, which is great for walks and dining options. The annual Feast of the Virgin draws pilgrims and contributes to the town’s vibrant cultural calendar.
The Island of La Gomera
If you love nature and the authentic Canaries then how about combining Tenerife with another Canary Island – La Gomera!
Getting to La Gomera is easy with up to seven ferries a day from Los Cristianos in Tenerife to La Gomera. Prices are about 45-80 euros one way per person.
The island of La Gomera is famous for its Garojonay National Park up high in the mountains which is a magnet for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Valle del Rey on the West coast is a fascinating old hippy town while in the east the capital of San Sebastian de La Gomera is reputed to be the last stop that Christopher Columbus made before heading off to discover the New World.
If a two-centre island holiday appeals, then many visitors to La Gomera choose to stay in the south at the magnificent Hotel Jardin Tecina and Golf. This stylish hotel features typically styled Canarian rooms, a fabulous choice of restaurants, a beautiful spa and tropical gardens not forgetting a superb 18-hole golf course.
The Authentic Tenerife
North Tenerife is a region brimming with fascinating history, authentic charm and natural beauty. As well as the towns and villages I have highlighted you can also explore Mount Teide or the Anaga Rural Park which reveals untouched forests, rugged cliffs, and isolated villages, where traditional Canarian culture thrives.
For a true taste of local cuisine, dive into the bustling markets, sample authentic Canarian dishes, and savour Tenerife’s acclaimed wines.
North Tenerife and the island of La Gomera, weaves together history, breathtaking landscapes, and warm communities, offering travellers an authentic Canarian experience.
For more information, a good place to start is to visit the Spanish Tourist Office website or contact your local travel agent or tour operator.