If there is any spot on the globe that enjoys a perfect climate, Tenerife in the Canary Islands might just be it. There is markedly little variation in the average temperatures between summer and winter, and there is only very occasional rain. Add to this landscapes of verdant forests, mountains, deserts, volcanoes, exotic plant and animal life, and spectacular beaches (with black volcanic sand) and you have a true holiday paradise.
Tenerife offers the unique experience of swimming and sunbathing on a beautiful beach while just a few miles away snow sparkles on the crest of Mount Teide. The island's central mountain stands at 12,200 feet (3,719m), the highest in Spain, and a cable-car ride to the summit offers unrivalled views of the lunar-like landscape of the volcanic slopes in the UNESCO-listed Teide National Park.
The island's capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is an upbeat town geared towards tourism. Its port, where once the first shots of the Spanish Civil War were fired, is today a morass of ferries, jetfoils, and freighters ready to take visitors on various cruises and ocean adventures. Other picturesque towns worth visiting on this picturesque island include Garachico, La Orotava, and Masca, all of which have much to offer travellers.
The spectacular Parque Nacional de las Canadas del Teide was declared a protected area in 1954, including an enormous volcanic crater with a circumference of 30 miles (48km) out of which rises the highest peak in Spain, Mount Teide. It is the largest, one of the oldest, and the most visited national park in Spain and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2007, it has also been one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. In contrast to the coastal regions of Tenerife, the temperatures in the reserve can be extreme: winter in the park, which lies at about 6,562ft (2,000m) above sea level, brings snowfall and gale force winds, while in summer temperatures can soar to above 104ºF (40ºC). A cable car carries visitors to the summit of Mount Teide, but many prefer to hike the route to experience the flora and fauna, including rare specimens like the violet of the Teide, the Tajinastes, as well as the many varieties of lizards and birds. There is a refuge near the summit which you can book to stay in, and reserving this accommodation includes the permit you will need to climb Mount Teida.
On the east coast of Tenerife, south of Santa Cruz, stand six mysterious step pyramids of which archaeologists have yet to discern the origin. The pyramids were initially thought to be the remains of agricultural stone terraces, or random piles of stone cleared from fields by early Spanish settlers. However, Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who lived in Guimar on Tenerife until his death in 2002, thought differently. His research indicated that the pyramids were constructed on similar principles to those in Mexico, Peru and ancient Mesopotamia. The pyramids are now enclosed in an Ethnographic Park; the site includes a museum, life-size replica of Heyerdahl's reed ship Kontiki, a cafeteria, and souvenir shop. The structures remain the subject of some debate among archaeologists, and the first real excavation of the pyramids, in 1991, didn't reveal anything to help definitively date them. The park, however, is lovely, and is of botanical as well as archaeological interest, with paths winding through miles of Canarian vegetation. There is also a Secret Garden dedicated to poisonous plants. There are picnic areas dotted around the park and it is a good idea to bring a picnic to fully enjoy the area.
The picturesque village of Masca is found on the northwest tip of Tenerife. Sitting in the Teno Mountains, it clings to the slopes of a deep, green ravine beside a narrow road full of alarming hairpin bends. The zigzag drive from Santiago del Teide has opened up the village and its magical setting, reputed to have once been a pirate's hideaway. The village has a little market and some restaurants as well as accommodation options but its main selling point is the spectacular scenery. Hikers have popularised a two-hour walk, from the village through a gully to the sea at the base of the majestic cliffs of Los Gigantes. The hike is a glorious way to experience the landscapes, but is not suitable for those afraid of heights as things get rather steep. Once you reach the beach you will find a picturesque bay with black volcanic sand and clear water which is lovely for a picnic, a swim, and a snorkel. In summer there are water taxis transporting people between this bay and Los Gigantes every two hours or so.
The volcanic nature of the island of Tenerife means that the land has few natural beaches. Those that exist are characterised by black shingle stretches created from the island's volcanic rock foundations. The demand for tourist sun-bathing space, however, has led to the creation of resorts and man-made beaches, with golden sand having been imported in some cases. Many of the beaches of Tenerife have been awarded the European Blue Flag for their cleanliness and the quality of their sand. The good beaches on Tenerife for sunbathing and soft sand are Los Gigantes and San Juan in the west; and Fanabe, with its yellow sand, showers, and other facilities, located to the south. Also popular are Torviscas with its marina, Playa las Americas for its grey sandy stretches, the soft yellow expanse of Los Cristianos' beach, Las Vistas, and Los Cristianos. Candaleria in the east has a small black shingle beach. Up north Puerto de la Cruz has a beach with fine black shingle, but at Santa Cruz has imported golden sand. Although the imported white sand is ideal for sunbathing, the black volcanic beaches of Tenerife can be very beautiful and are often less crowded.
This amazing animal park, both an aquarium and a zoo, in the north of the island is Tenerife's top attraction. The entrance fee is not cheap but considering you get a full day out, the ticket is good value. The dolphin and orca shows are particularly thrilling and the penguins even have their own glacier to cavort on. There are also sea lion and bird shows to enjoy. Animals in the park include gorillas, tigers, alligators, chimpanzees, jaguars, marmosets, otters, sloths, and meerkats, each in a lovingly maintained microclimate. The park was originally established as a sanctuary for parrots, and these colourful and characterful birds are still one of the highlights. For those planning on going to Siam Park, a combined ticket is available that provides a good discount on entry. There are several restaurants and bars in the park for rest and refreshments, but if you want to save money you can bring your own food and drink. For those watching the budget there is also a free train to catch from Puerto De La Cruz. Loro Parque has received numerous awards and generally receives rave reviews from visitors.
Siam Park provides is an exciting waterpark with Thai-themed rides. Its presentation is excellent and the rides are numerous and world-class. Lazily float down the Mai-Thai River or take the challenge of the Tower of Power which has a 28-metre vertical drop. There is a big beach area and a wave pool and a special watery playground area for small children. The Floating Market, styled like a Thai village, has shops and restaurants and even offers spa treatments for those who would rather be pampered. There are some nice touches, like the sea lion enclosure, where you can watch the animals at play, and a shark tunnel and some rapids as an optional extra on the lazy river. The park is very popular and in the summer months the queues do get long. It is recommended that you book your tickets in advance online to skip the entrance queue. There are things like lockers and sun loungers available for rent. A free bus runs from Los Cristianos, Las Americas, and Costa Adeje. Siam Park should provide a fun day out for people of all ages and is especially good for entertaining teenagers.
The town of Garachico offers a very different experience of Tenerife for those visitors wanting to see a more traditional and historical side to the island's character. Once a prosperous port town, Garachico suffered a weeks-long volcanic eruption in 1706 that destroyed the port but created rock pools that are today rich in marine life and perfect for swimming. The rock pools are a highlight of a visit to Garachico and make it a good destination for those travelling with kids. The village streets that fan out from the wonderfully picturesque main plaza, La Libertad, are narrow and cobbled, with restaurants and rustic buildings hiding around every corner. The old convent in the centre of town is open to visitors and well-worth checking out for its striking architecture. Garachico should delight photographers, particularly as it has retained its authentic character and charm, making it a refreshing break from the more homogenized resort areas. The drive to the village can be a bit stressful, because of all the curving little cliff roads, but the views more than reward the effort, and are considered some of the prettiest on the island.
The beautiful town of La Orotava is firm proof that there is much more to Tenerife than lovely beaches and a fun nightlife. Known for its aristocratic heritage and exceptional architecture, La Orotava is famous for its ornate balconies, many of which are concentrated on Casa de los Balcones. The town was settled by noble families in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest and they set about a flourish of competitive building, a legacy that modern-day visitors can enjoy at their leisure. The west of the island was home to Tenerife's nobility who built many fine houses. There are many churches and monasteries here too: don't miss the Gothic marvel of Iglesia de la Concepción. Other attractions in La Orotava include the theme park PuebloChico, which reproduces iconic buildings and landscapes of the Canary Islands in miniature. La Orotava is beautifully situated, with volcanic black beaches and mountains that encourage hiking and other outdoor activities. The perfect time to visit this picturesque town is during the festival of Corpus Christi, in early March, when the streets are decorated with carpets of flowers. This incredible and unique site draws visitors from all over the world.
This park is a sure-fire hit with kids and a must for animal lovers of all ages. Monkey Park is a privately-owned conservation and breeding centre for endangered animals, specialising in primates, and doesn't put on any animal shows, aiming rather to educate visitors and let them enjoy interacting naturally with the animals. The park is home to a quirky variety of monkeys, parrots, iguanas, giant tortoises, lemurs, crocodiles, and other curious creatures. Some animals are in enclosures, but others, most notably the comical and friendly lemurs, are allowed to roam free and interact with visitors. The best way to make sure you're popular with the animals is to bring fruit for them to eat. There is feed for sale at the ticket desk, but grapes are a favourite. It's also a good idea to bring refreshments for yourself as the only snacks and drinks available are from vending machines. Families should cater to spend at least two to three hours in the park, which is small but will delight children. The park is off the bus route so a taxi or hired car is needed to get there.
Tenerife has a wonderful climate; the average temperature is comfortable all year round. The cooling sea breeze ensures that there is little humidity and that the summer heat is bearable. During winter, between December and February, the evenings get cooler and the water temperatures drop, but it is never cold by European standards.
The coldest month, January, experiences average temperatures between 59°F (15°C ) and 68°F (20°C) and August, the hottest month, experiences average temperatures between 70°F (21°C) and 84°F (29°C). Rainfall in the summer months is almost non-existent, but showers are possible between October and April. The rain showers are usually short-lived and quickly replaced by sunshine.
There are, however, distinct climate variations according to region on Tenerife: inland, particularly around Teide National Park, temperatures can drop far lower so dress for cool evenings and rainfall (or perhaps even snow) if exploring the high altitudes around the interior of the island.
The most popular time to visit Tenerife is in the summer months of May to September, when it is hot and dry, but the beaches can be enjoyed year round (although the sea may be too cold for swimming).
Tenerife is famous for its raucous and varied nightlife, ranging from Ibiza-style nightclubs and boozy karaoke joints, to authentic Spanish tapas venues and bars playing great live music or hosting traditional dance performances. Venues tend to stay open as late the clientele wish, and the prices of drinks and dinner compare extremely well against mainland Europe.
The best nightlife on Tenerife is concentrated in the south of the island around Playa de las Americas. There are three main areas to explore in this resort: Veronicas, the Patch, and Starco Commercial Centre, each of which are densely packed with clubs (many of which are open 24 hours), bars, and English-style pubs. Most bars are child friendly and serve decent food.
The most famous club in Playa de las Americas is Tramps, in the Starco complex, regularly attracting top DJs for epic parties. Nearby Los Cristianos is a better bet for quieter bars and restaurants, and is consequently more popular with families with young children. In the north of the island Santa Cruz and Puerto de la Cruz have a good variety of nightlife venues but lack the concentration of clubs in the south.
Casinos are another popular way to enjoy a night out in Tenerife. There are three to choose from: Casino de Taoro in Puerto de la Cruz, Casino Santa Cruz in Hotel Mencey in Santa Cruz, and the Playa de las Americas Casino in the Gran Tenerife Hotel.
A popular family night out is the Medieval dinner show at Castillo San Miguel which has jousting, horse and sword feats, and bawdy serving wenches. For some more traditional Spanish entertainment don't miss the Flamenco performances at the Pyramid de Arona Auditorium at Playa de las Americas, and the cabaret and dancing on display at the Palace Show in Playa de las Americas.
Tenerife is well prepared for shoppers, with plenty of supermarkets in the larger towns providing all basics and foodstuffs for self-catering tourists, and plenty of markets and smaller shops all around the island for gifts and bargains.
Of course, the Canary Islands is a duty-free zone, so tobacco, alcohol and other goods are much cheaper than in continental Europe. Take note of duty-free limits before returning home: technically you're only allowed to bring back about one litre of spirits and 200 cigarettes, although in practice many countries allow enough for personal consumption. Clothing is also great value in Tenerife, a fact that many visitors take advantage of. Popular Spanish brands such as Zara and Mango have outlets around the island.
The best shopping is in Santa Cruz, particularly on Calle Castillo where all the fashion stores are. There is also a new mega-mall, Meridiano on Avenida La Salle, and the enormous department store of El Corte Ingles. Just outside of town is the enormous Carrefour hypermarket.
Most of the resorts and small towns have weekly markets. The huge Sunday market in Los Cristianos is a fleamarket extravaganza selling everything under the sun. In Santa Cruz, the African market is well worth exploring, with 300 stores selling fresh produce and interesting curios. On Sundays the area around the market becomes the El Rastro Flea Market, a good place to pick-up quality handicrafts and bargain souvenirs. Golf del Sur has a good market near the marina on Friday mornings; Los Abrigos puts on a decent night market every Tuesday evening; while Guaza has recently begun hosting a Sunday fleamarket.
Best buys in Tenerife, apart from booze and cigarettes, are the award-winning local cheeses and honey, leather goods such as shoes and belts, and turrón, the almonds and honey confection available around the festive season. Avoid shopping at the airport where prices tend to be significantly inflated. Note that if you pay via debit or credit card you will need to show your passport. Many shops still observe the very sensible custom of closing over siesta (1.30 to 4.30pm) and will close all day Sunday.
The bus service is run by Titsa and is operational all over the island, as well as within Santa Cruz and other towns. Holidaymakers using the bus frequently should purchase a Bono card. Travellers can take a taxi anywhere on the island, but it is an expensive way to get around; hiring a car is a convenient and more cost-effective transport solution. Car rental outlets are available at the airport and major resorts in Tenerife, and same-day rentals shouldn't be a problem.
Tenerife's main attraction is its ideal weather, which offers warm sunny days all year round and allows visitors to enjoy the beautiful beaches in all seasons. There are plenty of great beaches, lively resorts, charming ports and villages, and even a volcano to explore in the centre of the island.
The tax-free status enjoyed by the Canaries makes nightlife and shopping additional draw cards. Water sports are another popular attraction: windsurfers and kite surfers will enjoy the strong winds of the east coast, while surfers have perfect conditions in the south of the island. For the kids, there are numerous theme parks and water parks that guarantee a cooling day out for the whole family.
Getting around Tenerife for sightseeing excursions or days of beach hopping is easy; almost every attraction on the island can be reached in under an hour by bus. There are plenty of metered taxis available in the resorts and a good, cheap bus service operates around the resorts and between all the main towns on the island. Local car rental companies have offices in all the main resorts and are good value and popular with those wanting to explore the north of the island.