Long regarded a beach-and-booze destination for sunburnt Brits, this Canary Island has a secret – a wealth of outdoor adventure, says Anna Maria Espsäter
Tenerife has made a name for itself as the ultimate, year-round sun and sea destination, so of course I jump at the chance to pay the island a visit. Imagining lazy hours on the beaches of the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’, sipping cocktails and catching rays, little do I know I am about to experience one of the most action-packed trips of my life.
The largest of the seven Canary Islands, Tenerife is best known as a haven for those seeking a beach holiday that boasts bars, clubs, and restaurants selling fish and chips to very pink-looking tourists. This is often all that many visitors see. But, as I soon discover, there is far more to this volcanic island than meets the eye. Or perhaps it just depends on where that eye is looking.
Turned away from Tenerife’s resorts, it is easy to see what a naturally beautiful island this is, perfectly suited to outdoor adventure. Its rugged, volcanic landscape has been shaped by successive eruptions, producing beaches of black sand and a stunning mountainscape to boot. Its year-round warm climate is thanks to being on a latitude of the Sahara desert, and the trade winds that keep it from getting too hot (hence its ‘Eternal Spring’ moniker).
From the airport, I am whisked off towards the unspoilt north-western corner, known as Isla Baja, where the towns of Buenavista del Norte and Garachico are surrounded by lush, green countryside. Here, I will spend a few days trying my hand (and arms, legs and feet) at everything from sea-kayaking to hiking and caving.
But first, I am genuinely stunned by the tranquil town of Garachico, where you might even need a little Spanish to get by. If you ever wondered about a Canarian identity beyond the holiday homes and resorts, here is where to find it. Nearby La Orotava is a similar treat, a colonial town of picturesque plazas and cobbled streets.
Bright-eyed and ready for action, I clamber out of bed on my first morning, heading off towards ‘La Cueva del Viento’, the Cave of the Wind. This recently opened cave system stretches 17km underneath the island, although, so far, less than one kilometre is open to visitors. It is the largest volcanic tunnel in the European Union, and is among the largest in the world.
Making our way gingerly along the eerie, dark lava tubes – tunnels formed within lava flows – wearing helmets and headlights, the few hundred metres seems much further. Finally, after an hour-long underground tour, including a few scary moments in the pitch black, we reach a sink hole called ‘the hole of the old woman’, a title inducing much sniggering (admit it, you’re smirking, too). Then, to my relief, it’s time to make our way back into the light again.
Having started off exploring the very insides of the island, what could possibly beat that? As it happens, checking out Tenerife from the sea is just as exhilarating, if a whole lot more strenuous.
Equipped with a paddle, a partner and a kayak, I set off to admire the sheer drop of the Los Gigantes cliffs from below. These jagged rock formations at Punta de Teno plunge is dotted with caves, rocks and coves. Swimming in a natural cave is utterly magical, even if I do need the help of three people – two pulling, one pushing – to clumsily get myself out of the water and back into the boat for the return journey.
After my unceremonious sprawl on the boat deck, I am determined to redeem myself during a hike up Mount Teide. Since this is the highest point in Spain and the third highest volcano in the world at 3718m (12,198ft), I cheat and catch the cable car up to 3555m (11,663ft) first. But it is still quite a climb in the thin air to the top. Forty minutes later, I stand at the top of Tenerife, surveying the island’s stunning lunar landscape stretching out for miles before me.
It’s a satisfying feeling, and that sense of fulfillment is still with me as as I board my plane to leave with Tenerife thoroughly explored: inside, outside and topside. Those pink Brits don’t know what they’re missing!
Where to eat
For great traditional seafood in a rustic setting, stop at El Trasmallo near Garachico. This top-floor restaurant offers a seaview if you crane your neck, the staff is extra friendly, and the carafes of house wine are pretty decent too. (Carretera General Las Cruces, Garachico, tel. 922 830274)
El Burgado, right by the sea, serves up huge helpings of paella and jugs of sangria to go with the gorgeous views. Perfect for al fresco lunch on a sunny day. (Playa La Arena, Buenavista del Norte, tel. 922 127831)
For the ultimate (but most pricey) Canarian fare, the main hotel inside Mount Teide national park, Cañadas del Teide, has some of the best food the island can offer. The Flavours of the Canary Islands menu includes rabbit, local fish, heart-warming stews and much more. (parador.es)
Where to drink
Nightlife in northern Tenerife is a world away from the hedonistic beaches and free-flowing beer down south, but there are still good bars to be found. In Garachico, several good drinking spots, such as Avenida Restaurante, line the seafront. Perfect for sundowners.
Canarian bars often serve food, not just drinks, and the Plaza de la Constitución Tapas Bar in La Orotava is a lovely place to sample both. Nearby patio bar Casa Lercaro is something of a Canarian beer hall, and is where people get in the mood to party. (Calle Colegio 5-7, La Orotava)
For a totally classy night out, try the Ábaco Mansion in La Orotava. This old governor’s mansion has a bar, restaurant, garden, and even a museum – if you fancy finding out about the history as well as enjoying the cocktail lounge, that is. (abacotenerife.com)
Where to sleep
Hostel Tenerife is a friendly hostel housed inside a 100-year-old building in the historic town of La Orotava. It has two dorms and four private rooms, as well as a communal kitchen and internet access. The owner organises hiking and bike excursions and the beach is only 10 minutes away by car. (hostelbookers.com)
If splashing out a bit more, La Quinta Roja in Garachico is one of the most peaceful places to stay on the whole island. Painted a soothing terracotta colour, it faces a quiet square with an old church. Not for the party crowd, but it does have a bar with outdoor seating and a good restaurant. (quintaroja.com)
The latest in luxury, Vincci Selección Buenavista Golf & Spa Hotel opened last year and boasts suites with Jacuzzis, a fabulous spa and a gorgeous location. It might break the bank, but it’s worth it for a treat. Don’t get lost in the walk-in wardrobes. (vinccihoteles.com)
Fly from London via Madrid to Tenerife’s northern airport with Air Europa from £151 return (aireuropa.com). Direct flights from London to Tenerife’s southern airport with Monarch start at £105 return (monarch.co.uk).