The major sun, sea and sand tourism destination of Tenerife in the Canary Islands has attracted millions of visitors from Northern Europe over the years, many of whom are happy to relax on the sandy beaches, swim in the azure seas and enjoy a meal and drinks at night in their package holiday Tenerife hotels, ending the day as part of the island’s lively nightlife. For those with a fascination for the history and heritage of the country they’re visiting, Tenerife has plenty to offer in addition to great weather, fine beaches, a suntan, English breakfasts and beer.
The capital of the island, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is for most travellers, the first point of arrival by air or ferry on this fascinating island. Set on the rugged northeastern coastline, it’s admittedly a tourist-oriented city, but its human occupation goes back over 2,000 years according to archaeologists and its port was the first on the island. Two castles remain, with the ruins of one, San Cristobal, set underneath the city’s main square and the other, still in fine condition, set guarding the harbour. The range of architecture here is spectacular, from its old quarter with winding streets and colourful little homes through the 15th century church of Our Lady to the amazing Santa Cruz de Tenerife Auditorium, a gleaming massive post-modern structure set right at the edge of the bay. Its vast curving design rivals the famed Sydney Opera House, dominating the cityscape as viewed from the harbour.
The UNESCO World Heritage City of La Laguna, the island’s former capital, is set just inland from Santa Cruz and is a must-see for its medieval Old City and its plethora of 15th and 16th century buildings including the Nava Palace and the two main churches, the magnificent cathedral and the church of the Immaculate Conception. It’s also famous for its traditional music and folklore. The 18th century Sanctuary de Cristo holds a famous 15th century polychromed carved figure of Christ and is a pilgrimage destination for the island’s Catholics. La Laguna’s History Museum is set in a breathtaking 15th century mansion and holds artefacts from the past 500 years of the island’s heritage.
Puerto de la Cruz, although a package tour destination, has its own charms and is the port for the beautiful old hillside town of La Oratava in Teide National park Refreshingly free of junk-food outlets and other such tourist trappings, Puerto de la Cruz’s small harbour still holds traditional working fishing boats and waterside eateries. Pretty bars and bistros are tucked into the small streets backing the harbour along with interesting local shops. For families, a picnic in the spectacular botanical gardens or a visit to the Loro Park Zoo with its diverse species including penguins, dolphins, whales, sealions and many animal species makes for a good day out.
Most of Tenerife’s larger towns and cities are set along the coast, and have lots to experience both historically and culturally. A trip inland, however, reveals the heart of the island – small remote villages and tiny towns set in deep forested valleys and along hills in the volcanic countryside. Life goes on here much as it always did, and those fascinated by the culture of the Canaries will love touring these isolated regions. Taganana is a good place to begin, set high in the hills above the sea in Anaga Rural Park. Like the rest of the Anaga villages, it holds traditional homes and honours its past. La Hoya, nowadays almost deserted, was for centuries a source for the unique clay used in the ancient potteries. Spectacular Caserio de Masca is perched along a rugged ridge surrounded by dramatic escarpments and has the best examples of traditional village homes on the island and the larger village of Chirche is famous for its ceramic roof tiles, with the old wood-burning ovens still standing.
Lek Boonlert is an editor and content reviewer at DirectRooms and is responsible for all Tenerife Hotels content.