When thinking about Tenerife, most people think of packed beaches, cheap bars and huge hotel complexes. Of course, they are not entirely mistaken because a small part of the island does, indeed, fullfil all these preconceptions.
However, Tenerife is so much more than just an all-inclusive tourist destination. It is home to Spain’s highest mountain with its unique National Park, it offers beautiful black beaches, breathtaking sea views and an extraordinary culinary experience.
Where to stay
When it comes to accomodation, the most important part of discovering the authentic part of the island is to avoid Los Americanos, which is the place where all the huge hotel complexes are. To be honest, I haven’t even been there so I wouldn’t judge the place but I am still convinced that there are much more authentic places on the island.
Personally, I prefer the Northern part because this is where most of the things to visit are, where the landscape is much greener and where the cities are much nicer. This is, of course, a personal opinion and it is true that due to the size of the island all excursions can also be done from the South. Some people even do prefer the Southern part because it is less rainy than the North (indeed, all the green does not come from nothing).
My personal favourite is La Orotava but Puerto de la Cruz, even though somehow more touristic, is also a good place to find a hotel.
What to visit
In order to really discover the island, I would definitely recommend to rent a car. This is quite cheap in Tenerife and it gives you maximum flexibility.
Teide National Park
The Teide National Park is one of the most unique places in Tenerife. Teide is the name of the Vulcano which towers above the island and can be seen from nearly every corner. With its 3715m it is the highest mountain in Spain.
Around this impressing Vulcano, a wide National Park gives you many possibilities for hikes and beautiful pictures. Its mars-like landscape was even used in several films over the years.
Whether you come from the South or the North, you start your day by driving up the twisting road until it is surrounded by thousands of pine-trees. Every few hundred meters there is a view point where you can stop for pictures. Once you get higher, the pine-trees disappear and the flora gets more and more arid. You can observe a beautiful multicolor landscape with stones and rocks. Some stops offer the possibility for small walks or picnics.
There is also the possibility to take a funicular to the top of the Teide and enjoy an amazing view on the island. Just be aware that this activity is very crowded and you need to book your ticket in advance.
La Orotava is a beautiful city in the North of the island which was once home to the wealthy residents of Tenerife. This is why you can see many beautiful Renaissance buildings. The most famous place to visit is the casa de los balcones with its wooden balconies.
We had an amazing lunch at the Bar la Duquesa, where you can sit outside in the shadow of the palm trees just in front of the church.
Garachico and its lava pools
From La Orotava, we continued the road for around half an hour until we arrived in Garachico, a small harbour city in the North West of Tenerife. During the 16th century, the harbour became the most important harbour of the island and was used to transport wine and sugar to Europe and the Americas. These golden days promptly ended in 1706 when an eruption of the Vulcano Trevejo destroyed most parts of the city and entirely covered its harbour with lava.
Traces of this tragic natural disaster which, luckily, did not cause any human damage can still be seen at the seaside where huge lava pools filled with fresh sea water serve as a public swimming pool. We would definitely recommend to take a swim suit when going there.
Another famous building is the church Santa Ana, which cannot be missed when entering the city. The church was originally constructed around 1520, but had to be rebuilt after the volcanic eruption in the 18th century.
Candelaria is another small harbour city in the eastern part of Tenerife. The most famous building is the Basilica of Candelaria. In front of the building, statues of nine aboriginal kings will catch your eyes.
From the parking space next to the market, have a walk on the black lava beach (when the sea level allows) before taking the stairs up to the pedestrian shopping street. Continue until the main square with its Basilica, the statutes and some restaurants. After visiting the basilica, continue the road along the sea and discover the caves that surround the city. From there, you have a beautiful view on the black beach and the colourful houses of Candelaria.
La Laguna is the island’s second largest city and the ancient capital of the Canary islands. Since 1999 its historical center is a UNESCO World heritage. This first university city of the Canary Islands is often considered the cultural center of the archipelago.
From the bell tower of the Church La Concepcion you can walk through the colorful streets of La Laguna’s Old Town.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the Capital of the Canary islands and home to its Parliament as well as half of its Ministries. With its more than 200.000 inhabitants, it is the biggest town of the island.
When arriving in the city, we used the parking of the Mercado de nuestra señora de Africa, where you get one hour for free when buying something in the market. From there, we discovered the city center, its crowded but beautiful shopping street, its quiet park and its impressing main square, la Plaza de España.
Another main tourist attraction of the city is the Auditorium at the sea side, which surprises by its unique Expressionist architecture and its resemblance with the Sydney Opera.
Coming from Santa Cruz, a very steep and curvy road leads to Benijo, the most northern part of the island with its huge beach and fish restaurants. It is also a famous surfing spot, so we saw a huge amount of vans with their surfboards on the roof. It was almost impossible to find a parking spot, so we directly continued to the restaurant, El Fronton, which has its own parking area. As we arrived early, we were lucky to find a place for our car and a table on the beautiful terrace with its amazing view on the beach.
One of my favourite activities in Tenerife is taking a coffee in an authentic café on the main squares of the villages or in a quiet street in the colorful old towns. Which coffee to chose? Check out our Ultimate Canary Islands Coffee Guide