When we decided to have a week’s relaxing holiday in the sunshine, for once we were constrained by dates, times, wanting to fly from our local airport of course, what we were willing to pay. And that’s how we found ourself on our way to Tenerife – dates, times and airport was right, and costs were just on the right side on our budget (whatever happened to cheap last minute breaks – do they just not exist anymore?). But were we content to lie on the beach/by the pool every day, soaking up the Canarian sun and drinking garishly-coloured cocktails? Were we heck. Instead we hired a car and traversed the island. Here are our top 8 tips for places to visit with – or without a car – in Tenerife.
Note: our base was in Costa Adeje on the south east of the island so everything is based on us travelling from here.
1. Anaga Mountains: The Anaga Mountains are in the North-Eastern part of Tenerife; we used the TF-1 along the south and east of the island, driving through the capital Santa Cruz before heading north on the TF-12 into the mountains. This was our first experience in Tenerife of winding roads, sharp peaks, plunging ravines, and mist-filled forests above the clouds. It’s a very lush and green area; not what you expect when you see a barren landscape from the aeroplane on landing! There are a number of roads that lead you miles out of your way, ending in nothing but a pretty little village. Like the TF-123 to Chamorga. And to get to the refreshing waters and volcanic beach paradise, you’ll need sturdy hiking shoes, good lungs and a bagful of stamina. Facilities wise, there’s not much for visitors, but we did stop off at the café at Albergue Montes de Anaga for a quick drink and toilet stop. It has a terrace with particularly spectacular views of the mountains, forests and sea. There’s also a visitor centre at Cruz del Carmen if you are approaching from La Laguna on the TF-12.
Anaga without a car? Many parts of the region are accessible by public transport, and there are a number of buses from Santa Cruz to various areas, including the 947 to Chamorga in the North-East, which is a popular hiking spot.
2. San Cristóbal de La Laguna: This beautiful and historic little city is a grid of narrow cobbled streets and alleyways flanked by buildings of many colours, and it’s old town is quite rightly a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was the capital of the island until 1821, and is now home to the Canary Island’s only University, which gives this old town something of a youthful and lively vibe. It nestles at the foot of the Anaga mountains, yet is only 20 minutes by car from the new capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It’s also handy for the island’s Northern airport, just 3km away on the TF-5.
La Laguna without a car? Its proximity to Santa Cruz, and its position as something of a commuter hub for those that work in the capital, mean that there are frequent buses from Santa Cruz to La Laguna. From the southern resorts, it’s anywhere between 70 – 90 minutes on the bus to Santa Cruz, with the 110 and 111 leaving frequently throughout the day.
3. Santa Cruz de Tenerife: The bustling capital city of Tenerife is located on the Eastern tip of Tenerife, at the foot of the Anaga mountains. From the southern resorts it’s an easy drive up the TF-1 straigt into the heart of the city. Admittedly we didn’t explore much of Santa Cruz, it being our final stop on a day up in the mountains, and after spending time in La Laguna we only gave the briefest visit, parking up near the quite magnificent Auditorium. It would definitely be worth dedicating a whole day to properly discovering the beach, parks, architecture, shopping, culture and dining options. The lido of César Manrique Maritime Park also looked like a great place to cool down after pounding the city streets.
Santa Cruz without a car?; Buses from the southern resorts (110, 111) run every 30 minutes and take 70 – 90 minutes; from Puerto de la Cruz (102,103) they also run every 30 minutes and take 40 – 55 minutes. There are trams which run throughout the city, single journey tickets are currently €1.25.
4. Los Gigantes: Means quite literally “The Giants”. And the dramatic cliffs which plunge into the Atlantic can certainly be described as giants, protecting this small resort from any nasty trade winds whilst providing a highly photogenic backdrop. There is a viewpoint as you approach the town on the TF-454 – Mirador Archipenque – which gives a fantastic view of the cliffs. However we found the best place to enjoy sunset – when we finally found it – was Playa Los Guios, a small black sand beach nestled underneath the cliffs. The marina is lovely, but unfortunately views of the cliffs are somewhat obstructed by the harbour wall. There are some nice little bars and restaurants around the quayside though, and we enjoyed a huge paella here, staying in the town until well after dark. Making for an interesting drive back to San Eugenio along the winding and dark roads before reaching the better-lit TF-1.
Los Gigantes without a car? It’s about an hour by bus from the southern resorts to Los Gigantes; the 473 takes the scenic TF-47 through some of the towns closest to Los Gigantes, including Alcala, La Arena (with its black sand beach) and Puerto de Santiago. From Puerto de la Cruz, it’s either a trip over the mountains in the North-West on the 325 which runs every couple of hours, or a more circuitous route around the north and east of the island.
5. Mount Teide National Park: We intended to get to Mount Teide early, to catch the first cable car of the day to reach the highest peak in the whole of Spain. Except we found the Parque Nacional de las Cañadas del Teide so fascinating, with its ever-changing scenery, that we didn’t find ourselves nearing the base until almost noon. At which point it was teeming with visitors, with tour buses and rental cars overspilling from the car parks. So we contented ourselves with continuing to explore the national park. As you drive through the 47,000 acre national park you pass through alpine-like forests, before emerging through the clouds to a lunar landscape. We drove up via the TF-21 from the south, taking this road all the way through the park to Puerto de la Cruz in the north. And of course, the formidable 3,718ft volcano dominates the skyline from all directions, reminding you exactly how this amazing landscape was created.
Mount Teide without a car? It’s about an hour by bus from the southern resorts to Los Gigantes; the 473 takes the scenic TF-47 through some of the towns closest to Los Gigantes, including Alcala, La Arena (with its black sand beach) and Puerto de Santiago. From Puerto de la Cruz, it’s either a trip over the mountains in the North-West on the 325 which runs every couple of hours, or a more circuitous route around the north and east of the island.
6. Puerto de la Cruz is the main resort in the North of the island, but seems a little more elegant than the main resorts in the South and a tad less “Brits Abroad”. It has a beautiful promenade which reminded me a lot of the Riva in Split. Like Santa Cruz, there is a lido complex overlooking the seafront, and a kilometre-long black sand beach. It’s also in close proximity to the popular Loro Parque, famed for its huge collection of parrots and the biggest dolphinarium in Europe. Like Santa Cruz, there’s a lot more to see; we came here for a late lunch after spending much of the day at Mount Teide National Park but you could easily spend more time here. It’s accessible by car from the Autopista North (TF-5), or from the south you can take the longer, windy cross-country route on the TF-21 via Teide and through La Orotava valley – but be prepared to be distracted by the beautiful scenery!
Puerto de La Cruz without a car? From the southern resorts you can get Bus 343 from Los Cristianos or from Tenerife South Airport, which goes directly across the island to Puerto de la Cruz. The journey takes around 1 hr 45 minutes. Alternatively, you can travel from Santa Cruz – several buses take the 45 minute journey to the northern resort.
7. Garachicho has suffered a bit of bad luck in its history. Once a wealthy little fishing town on Tenerife’s north-west tip, it fell foul of storms, fires, floods and Bubonic plague, before the final straw when Montaña Negra erupted in 1706 and engulfed the town. However, this lava flow – whilst clogging the harbor and destroying the fishing industry – created a number of enticing natural swimming pools which mean this off the beaten track town is now well on the tourist trail. Beyond El Caletón though there are gorgeous cobbled streets to explore and a picturesque town square; we can also highly recommend Bodegón Plazaon Calle Martinez de Fuentes for an authentic Canarian tapas experience.
Garachico without a car? Bus 460 goes from the southern resorts to Garachico – it’s a long (2 and a half hours) but very scenic drive. It only runs three or four times a day so be sure to check the schedules before you set out. More frequent are buses to Santa Cruz; there are a number of buses to Garachico that go through Puerto de la Cruz. All buses will change at Icod de los Vinos bus station for the final leg.
8. Masca Valley. There’s no doubt that the drive to this spectacular hamlet nestled in a valley is challenging. More often than not, we were perched precariously on a steep hillside, or climbing over a blind summit at a 45 degree angle, or slaloming around the ever-changing switchbacks. And sometimes all three. At the same time. But it’s worth the effort. The village itself is tiny, and you feel like you’ve left modern civilisation behind, yet it is still prepared to greet all the tourists that descend on it each day. For those who want to put in the effort, it’s a 4.5km long trek from the village down to the ocean. Seemed a bit of a palaver to do that, get a boat to Los Gigantes and then get a bus or taxi back to Masca to pick up the car, but with a bit of planning its certainly doable. We drove from Garachico to Masca via the TF-436 from Buenavista, stopping at the lovely Mirador de la Cruz de Hilda for a drink.
Masca without a car? Half of the fun of Masca is driving the roads into and out of the valley; however there are (infrequent) bus services from the south. Bus 460 will take you as far as Santiago del Teide, when you can change to the 355 toward Buenavista del Norde. Many tourists opt for a tour, leaving an experience minivan, bus or coach driver to handle the steep, sinuous roads. There are also numerous boat trips and water taxis from Los Gigantes which will take you as far as Masca beach – the hike to the town is then down to you!
Driving in Tenerife: After finding European driving a doddle in Croatia, Mr Fletche was more than happy to pick up the driving reins in Tenerife. We used Autoreisen, who were recommended on many of the car rental forums, and they were certainly easy to deal with and most importantly provided us with a great all-inclusive price for the week. The Autopista Sur (TF-1) provides a speedy route along the south and east of the island, with a similar route in the North (TF-5), from Santa Cruz across to Puerto de la Cruz. Driving inland is definitely a little more of a challenge, with narrow, winding, mountainous roads to contend with. Particularly the roads into and out of Masca Valley, with cars clinging precariously to a cliff face whilst tour buses and coaches come within a hairs breadth of a sheer drop. It’s all good fun. Parking in towns was generally quite simple, with free unrestricted street parking in many towns; we only paid for parking in Puerto de la Cruz and in Candelaria.
We were pleasantly surprised by the delights that Tenerife had to offer. Away from the hedonistic Playa de las Americas, and the “Brits Abroad” vibe of the Costa Adeje resorts, it is a truly stunning island that we look forward to returning to soon.