The Ultimate Guide to Tenerife - Where to Stay, Best Outdoor Activities, Guided Walking and Tours
Tenerife holds a special place in my heart because I used to work here (a stint as a travel rep for a few months). No matter how many times I come back (and believe me, I have come back a lot - it's probably my most frequented holiday destination), it never gets boring - there are so many things to do and places to see! It is not only the largest of the Canary Islands, but also offers an extraordinary natural diversity and several climatic micro-zones. In this Tenerife travel guide, you will find lots of useful information for planning your trip, with ideas on where to stay, fun outdoor activities, such as independent and guided walking in Tenerife, plus tips for famous must-see places as well as some lesser known unusual things to do on this beautiful island. I hope that after your visit you will grow to love Tenerife as much as I do.
Tenerife gets a bad rep for being a big party centre full of drunk revellers. Whilst I can't deny that there is a party scene here, especially in the main resort area of Playa de las Americas, the island is so much more than a cheap and cheerful stag do destination for drunk Brits. Tenerife is equally a fantastic place for luxury, soft adventure, family and couples holidays, with something to do for everyone.
The island is just so incredibly diverse - all sun, sands and palm trees in the South of the island, but venture to the North and you will find a green and fertile area generously watered from the clouds stopping by mount Teide. Then there's a belt of Canary pine trees, which are absolutely remarkable trees able to withstand extreme heat and recover after a fire. And finally, you have the volcanic landscapes of the Teide national park, a UNESCO world heritage site. Before we move on to the details of all the awesome things you can do in Tenerife, here are some generic tips to plan your stay:
Where to stay in Tenerife
First of all, if you are choosing between the North and the South of the island, I would definitely recommend the South - mainly because of the drier weather (whilst there are lots of things you can be doing in Tenerife, some quality beach time is also super important, and you will have more chances to enjoy the sun in the South). Another reason to stay in the South is the proximity to the airport and short transfer times - most flights land at Tenerife South airport, only a short drive away from the main resort area, which brings me nicely to my next point - narrowing down the location.
If all you're after is a good sun lounger by the pool and if leaving the hotel territory feels like an unpleasant chore, then it doesn't really matter where you stay as long as the hotel's ok. But then you probably wouldn't be searching for guides like this one about things to do in Tenerife... So if you are like me and want to be in an area with a fab selection of beaches, restaurants and supermarkets plus an awesome promenade along the sea where you can walk for ages, then I strongly recommend picking the main resort area, which consists of Los Cristianos, Playa de las Americas and Costa Adeje. Though the three are technically different towns, they all merge into one and you can walk from Costa Adeje all the way to Los Cristianos (provided you are a keen walker and have lots of time on your hands).
Which one should you choose for your stay? Well, it depends what you are after really. Playa de las Americas is your party zone, with a high concentration of bars and rowdy stag parties - in particular, around Veronicas strip. Los Cristianos has the ferry harbour, so it may be handy if you are planning a day trip to the neighbouring La Gomera island. Costa Adeje is the quieter more upmarket area, which mainly consists of 4 and 5 star hotels and that's the location I have picked for my trips.
To help with hotel selection, these are my impressions from the hotels I stayed at in Costa Adeje:
When it comes to food, I've not had much luck with non-hotel restaurants in Tenerife, so I prefer to go all-inclusive. However, I do have a post on food to try in the Canary Islands that fellow foodies might appreciate.
Is there much to see in the main resort area? Since it's purpose built, there are no charming old buildings to seek out. However, what it lacks in old-world charm, it makes up in entertainment:
There are beaches for different tastes - both small and closed off from the ocean for calm waters and wide open spaces with waves perfect for a surfing course or a bit of fun on a bodyboard.
There is a golf course in Playa de las Americas.
You can go whale and dolphin watching from Puerto Colon in Costa Adeje.
There are numerous shopping areas, offering anything from cheap Chinese beach accessories to luxury designer clothing (I love the Plaza del Duque shopping centre for its upmarket feel and the Gran Sur shopping centre has a cinema in case you want to practice your Spanish whilst watching the latest film releases).
Finally, there is a mesmerising flamenco fusion show in Piramide de Arona that, though expensive, is well worth the money spent
Some photos of the main resort area:
Getting around Tenerife
Tenerife has a really good public transportation system, and staying in the Los Cristianos/Playa de las Americas/Costa Adeje area, you can benefit from it greatly. The local green buses are called 'guagua' and there are lots of different lines running through the resort area, plus there are two main stations here, one in Costa Adeje and one in Los Cristianos, where you can jump on buses to the airport and other destinations on the island. If you're planning to rely on buses a lot, I recommend buying a travelcard, which you can top up. There is a nifty map on the bus company's website that you can use to find the bus you need.
I've also used taxis in the resort area without any issues, so as far as I can tell, getting ripped off by the taxi drivers is not a problem here. If you see one driving down the street with a green light, you can flag it down; alternatively, there are taxi stops dotted around.
Another awesome thing about being in the Los Cristianos/Playa de las Americas/Costa Adeje for those wanting to explore the island but unsure about using buses and not keen on renting a car is that all the tour industry is very much geared towards people staying in that area, so getting pickups from your hotel will not be a problem. Which brings me nicely on to the next section of this travel guide.
Must-see places and awesome things to do in Tenerife
(click on the place name below to view if you don't want to scroll through all)
Teide Volcano and National Park
Teide volcano (as well as the surrounding national park of 19 hectares) is an absolute must-see in Tenerife. The peak reaches 3718 metres and is the highest point in Spain - in good weather conditions, you can see it all the way from Playa de las Americas. I would go as far as to say that Teide is a symbol of the island - it is seen from many locations and has a massive impact on the climate and the environment (keeping the clouds and the rain in the North of the island and letting the tourists enjoy the sun and heat of the South). Teide National Park has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Teide is one of those sights that attract a lot of tourists - the buses doing the island tour will stop here as well as the buses specifically coming for a Teide tour, plus of course there are the people who drive to the national park independently, so be prepared for crowds. Another tip is to bring some warm clothes - it can get pretty chilly and sometimes there is even snow in spite of balmy temperatures down at the coast! A rather stark contrast looking at the snow-covered mountain from the sun lounger at the beach...
If at all possible, I would highly recommend taking the cable car up to almost the top of the volcano (3,555 metres). The views over the national park from above are absolutely spectacular! For prices and opening times of the cable car, check their website - it is also possible to prebook the tickets there. However, please be aware that the cable car will be closed in poor weather conditions, so prebooking won't actually guarantee you access on the chosen day. If, like me, you are not comfortable driving in the mountains and want to visit Teide with a tour rather than independently, a heads up that the circular island tours will only make a short photo stop at the bottom of the volcano, so there won't be enough time to go up. Look for tours that specifically focus on Teide, like this half-day tour.
If you want to get to the very top of Teide and are thinking about walking there from the cable car station, you will need to obtain a permit in advance, which you can do here. It is free, but limited in numbers and very popular, so if you want one, you will need to plan really far ahead or go on a tour that has permits and the hike already included, like Mount Teide Hiking Tour with Cable Car.
The walk from the cable car station to the top of Teide is not the only hike you can do in the national park - there are numerous hiking trails of various levels of difficulty. The national parks' website has a list with descriptions here and the map of the trails can be found here.
During your visit to Teide National Park, please be mindful of the fact that you are in a protected area where strict rules apply in order to preserve the environment, which include no littering (not that you should be littering outside of the national park either, mind you!) and no taking rocks as souvenirs. You might think one rock more or less doesn't matter, but if every visitor from the 5 million plus that come here per yer takes one, very soon there will be nothing left...
Other Volcano Hikes in Tenerife
Though Teide is a bit of an attention stealer, there are other volcanoes here and fantastic options for walking in Tenerife outside Teide National Park. For example, you could see Chinyero and Garachico volcanoes walking through Chinyero Nature Reserve - 24 square kilometres of high geological value, with a mixture of Canarian pine forest and barren lava fields. There are several marked trails in the area, which you can explore on your own, but if you want to trust the navigation to someone else and just enjoy the views, it's also possible to go on a guided hike, which is what we did.
We went on a circular walk of about four hours that switched between trails. It was an easy walk, with some stunning views not just of Chinyero and Garachico but also of Teide. Make sure you have enough space on your camera's memory card as pretty much every view is picture-perfect. Our guide was Gary (also known as Tenerife Rambler) - a Brit who fell in love with Tenerife and now lives there and offers very reasonably priced small-group guided walks. The one we did (called Volcano walk) is just one of the many different routes that he offers and there are walks for both beginners and more advanced hikers. Check out Gary's Tenerife guided hikes here.
Whether you go on a guided walk in Tenerife or venture out on your own to explore the volcanic landscape, please please please dress appropriately. This means layers to be prepared for different temperature conditions if you are going to higher altitudes, a hat to provide a bit of cover against the sun and last but not least, sturdy and comfortable footwear. No flip-flops or flimsy shoes as those are not suitable for clambering over lava fields. Please take this solid piece of advice from someone who has been rocking a purple toenail for a few months now after tripping in the lava field IN SPITE of wearing trail running trainers with a pretty hard shell. It is also a must to have plenty of water with you as well as some snacks, as there aren't any shops or kiosks along the trails.
Tenerife's Gorges: Hiking Barranco del Infierno and Masca
Walking and hiking in Tenerife doesn't have to be limited to volcanoes - you can also explore some fantastic gorges. The first one that I want to mention is Barranco del Infierno (or Hell's Gorge), located in the town of Adeje (not to be confused with Costa Adeje, though it is very close). It's a nature reserve where only 300 people are allowed to enter per day and entrances are only allowed until 2:30pm to make sure you've had enough time to come back by closing time at 6pm. The entrance fee is €8 at the time of writing (2018).
The trail at Barranco del Infierno is not circular, so once you reach the furthest point (which has a waterfall!), you have to go back the same way - plan to spend around 3.5-4 hours there depending on how many photo stops you make. The trail is super easy to follow and there's no danger of getting lost, so it's absolutely fine to do on your own without a guide. The trail difficulty of Barranco del Infierno hike is rated medium-low, but we did find it more medium than low due to the rather high and uneven steps you have to climb and descend. This walk felt harder than the Volcano walk we did with Gary (described above). Since the number of people allowed to enter Barranco del Infierno is limited, you might want to book ahead on their website to avoid disappointment.
It's also a good idea to check the Barranco's website before heading out to see if it's open at all - if the weather conditions aren't right, the gorge doesn't open to the public and there's a notice on the website to let you know. During our last holiday, the gorge remained closed for three days. Even when it's open, everyone walking the trail must wear a helmet and there is an area inside where long stops are prohibited due to danger of rocks falling (you will have a safety briefing before you can enter explaining the rules). I've seen people completely ignore the instructions and saunter around without a helmet - please don't follow their bad example. The cliffs are high and all it takes is one small rock to fall from the top for it to end in disaster for someone. They didn't put in those rules in place because some helmet manufacturer was dying to get rid of helmets!
Getting to Barranco del Infierno is super easy from the main resort area - we just took a taxi from San Eugenio shopping centre for about €10. You can also get a bus to Adeje, but I would actually recommend against it unless you want to feel worn out before you even start the trail. It's quite a steep walk up the hill to the entrance, so much so that the car in front of our taxi nearly rolled back onto us whilst trying to manouver. The only problem with taking a taxi to Barranco del Infierno is finding one to go back in - a wise idea would be to ask the staff in the restaurant by the entrance to call one for you, which we didn't do and then spent ages dragging our tired feet around Adeje because taxies were nowhere to be seen, not even in the taxi stop at the shopping centre. It was such a relief when we finally saw one driving down the street!
Since Barranco del Infierno can be closed or fully booked, I've got an alternative for you. You could also go to Teno Rural Park and do what's probably the most famous and popular hike in Tenerife, the Masca gorge hike. This is also not a circular walk, but to save you doing the return walk, it involves a boat ride as well. You will either take the boat from Los Gigantes and ascend towards Masca before being driven back or, alternatively, walk down from Masca before taking the boat to Los Gigantes. Since Masca hike is not a circular route, organising it for an independent walk is a hassle: whether you find a spot to park in Masca (not guaranteed) or leave the car in Los Gigantes, you will still also need to find both a boat and a taxi to cover parts of the route, so I would definitely opt for a tour for this one.
Update: Masca gorge has been closed to visitors at least until March 2019 for repairs and also to make access to the gorge more regulated, similar to Barranco del Infierno. In the meantime, you can still do a hike in the area, but without entering the gorge. Check available tours here.
Whether you end up hiking Barranco del Infierno or Masca (or both!), prepare yourself for some stunning views!
Forget glass-bottomed boat tours - Tenerife Yellow Submarine Dive is an unforgettable experience that will take your underwater sea life exploration to a whole new depth - literally. As someone who is just about comfortable snorkelling and certainly can't dive, I really appreciated this opportunity to get up close and personal with the fish at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean (~28 metres deep) from the comfort of a padded seat and without having to get wet. A very special experience and not something you can just do anywhere.
The tour departs from Marina San Miguel (not far from the airport) and for those without a rental car there is a free pickup bus covering the main resort areas. If you've paid for the tour in advance, you get issued boarding cards on the bus, otherwise, you have to go into the little shop and queue up there to pay and get your boarding card. When boarding commences, you have to climb down the stairs into the submarine and then you get directed to a seat, which will have a massive window (one per two seats) and a monitor showing the feed from the camera on top of the boat, so you can better observe the process of submerging. There are also posters by the windows that show the fish typical for the area that you might see on the tour.
The submarine is battery-powered, environmentally friendly and safe, with all systems duplicated, plus a surface control boat accompanying every tour. There are also two divers who feed the fish and play with the stingrays, who know and seem to really like them. They swim along the side of the submarine whilst playing with the rays, so that everyone on board has a chance to see them. I was absolutely enthralled by being able to see the fish at the bottom of the sea - even a pensive barracuda observed us for a bit. It is a short tour - you're back in the harbour in less than an hour, but I felt the unique experience was well worth the money spent.
Please note that the tour only takes place if the weather conditions are suitable, from the perspective of both safety and ensuring a good experience - no point going to the bottom of the sea if the visibility is poor and you can't see anything.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz is the capital of Tenerife and the location of the magnificent Auditorio de Tenerife, a stunning piece of modern architecture created by Santiago Calatrava, who is also responsible for my beloved complex of The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia (covered in my Valencia city guide). In striking contract to Playa de las Americas, Santa Cruz also has a very picturesque old town, which is fairly compact and walkable.
If you're not bothered about architecture or history, I've got another good reason for you to visit Santa Cruz - and that is if you want to do some serious shopping - here you will find El Corte Ingles, Centro Comercial Tres de Mayo as well as Centro Comercial Meridiano almost next to each other. El Corte Ingles is conveniently located right by the bus station.
To get here from Costa Adeje bus station, take the bus 110; it is fast and affordable, with the journey taking about an hour and being mainly motorway driving, so no nausea-inducing mountain roads here.
Loro Parque, a 13 hectare zoo and marine theme park is an extremely popular attraction on Tenerife. It was started as a parrot sanctuary, which is reflected in the name ('loro' is parrot in Spanish), but it has grown to include a large number of different animals. Loro Parque is located on the northern side of the island on the outsikirts of Puerto de la Cruz. You can either make your own way there or come with a tour (not actually a tour inside the park, it's more of an organised transfer to and from Loro Parque than anything else). If you choose to come with a tour, look for the 'express transfer' version, which picks people up from a few meeting points in Costa Adeje/Playa de las Americas/Los Cristianos rather than going to everyone's hotels. Though it might not seem as convenient, it's actually a massive time saver - otherwise, you can easily spend an hour just driving around the resort area doing pickups.
There are animal shows at regular intervals (parrots, sea lions, dolphins and orcas), so plan your time in the park around them, but my favourite bit is probably the reasonably recent addition of the tree top walk where you can see the parrots fluttering about rather than looking at them inside cages.
I do feel obliged to point out that Loro Parque has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons because they keep orcas in captivity and use in shows - in fact, one of the top search results for Loro Parque in Google is about orca abuse. These allegations have been strongly disputed by the zoo and there's even a letter from the president on the park's website to stress the dedication of Loro Parque to animal welfare and adherence to international standards. I am not informed enough about the subject to comment on these allegations either way, so I will leave it up to you to make up your own mind.
If you decide to visit Loro Parque, you have the option of upgrading your visit to include a behind the scenes discovery tour and lunch - check price and availability here.
Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz is a town on the northern side of Tenerife. It started off as a harbour town and then became the island's main resort until the development of the new area in the south of the island. It is still possible to make this town your base during the stay in Tenerife, but the north of the island is much less reliable weather-wise and is more prone to rain. The hotel selection here is also significantly less impressive than in the South of the island - for most hotels I've seen offered in Puerto de la Cruz, the TripAdvisor reviews weren't very inspiring.
That being said, Puerto de la Cruz is a fantastic destination for a day trip. As it's not a purpose-built resort, it has a completely different vibe to the Playa de las Americas area - you get some old-world charm and not just the hotel buildings. You can explore the old town, have a look at the fishing harbour, visit the 18th century botanical gardens, relax on the beach or visit the Lago Martianez complex of seawater pools.
If you're not driving, you could combine Teide National Park and Puerto de la Cruz in one tour (check price and availability here) or opt for a direct organized transfer from the South (check price and availability here).
Other Tours to Consider
The things described above are more than enough activities to fill your vacation, but there's more! Without going too much into detail, below are other places you could visit and tour ideas that might interest you:
Day trip to La Gomera island - an island that's within easy reach by ferry from Los Cristianos harbour. For things you can see in La Gomera, check out my post about this island. I went to La Gomera with a Jeep tour, which was fun and didn't involve much walking (check price and availability here), but you can also do a hiking tour (check price and availability here) - that one sounds awesome and is super high on my to-do list, but I haven't got around to doing it yet.
Day trip to El Hierro island - a small island close to Tenerife with a biosphere reserve (check price and availability here). Another tour haven't done yet, but would love to so I can tick off one more Canary Island off the list.
San Cristobal de La Laguna town - not located on the coast, but is a strong competitor for the title of the most beautiful town on the island, with a gorgeous old town area. I stopped off at La Laguna while doing a circular tour around the island (check price and availability here), but you can also venture there on your own by bus or car or, alternatively, combine a visit to La Laguna with a hike in the Anaga mountains (check price and availability here)
Speaking of Anaga mountains, the Anaga Rural Park in the North of the island is another place worth visiting - it's a beautiful laurel forest with wildlife and small villages. How about a 3-hour hike here (check price and availability)?
Kayaking and snorkelling tours - lots of different options to choose from.
La Orotava valley and the town of La Orotava - a beautiful area in the North of Tenerife where wine is produced. I am not a wine drinker myself, but for those into wine, it's an exciting opportunity to get to know the local offering (check price and availability here).
I hope that you now have all you need to make your stay in Tenerife memorable for all the right reasons. Enjoy!
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