The Tenerife tourism authorities have a list of what they call “los imprescindibles” – the essentials. These are the stunning places that you just have to see in Tenerife, including cliffs, volcanos, and world-heritage towns. Here they are:
Los Gigantes cliffs (the links go to a Spanish description, but top right there’s an English button to switch languages)
– those cliffs, that view, the one everyone knows, and often the first spectacular sight of Tenerife on approach to TFS. These amazing vertical walls of rock rise some 600 metres out of the sea, the giants standing in 30 metres of ocean which is home to an incredible range of natural sea life.
– better known to most as the Santa Cruz Auditorium, the building was architect Santiago Calatrava’s first performing arts project. Started in 1997 and completed in 2003, the iconic building is considered the finest modern building in the Canaries, and one of the most distinctive in Spanish architecture, being featured on Spanish stamps in 2008. Most associated with the world-renowned Orquesta Sinfónica de Tenerife, the auditorium also offers performances of world music, jazz, dance and opera.
– built on the site where the original Guanche inhabitants of the islands worshipped, Candelaria basilica is dedicated to the Virgin of Candelaria, patron of the Canary Islands. The tradition is said to have started when two Guanche shepherds found a wooden image on a Güímar beach: the icon was identifed as a personification of the native goddess Chaxiraxi, and was worshipped devoutly. When the Spanish conquered the Canaries in the second half of the 15th century, they found this tradition alive and well in Candelaria; it was said to date back “a hundred years”, hence the traditional date of in 1390 given for the original Guanche vision. The Christian invaders, however, told the Guanches that their goddess was really the Virgin Mary, and so Chaxiraxi was transformed and redeified as the Virgen de Candelaria. The current church dates to 1959, and is set to one side of the Dominican monastery built in the 16th century: the current hermitage dates to 1803 after the original building was destroyed by fire. The cave where the Guanches worshipped their icon is still nearby, though the little wooden icon itself was lost during torrential rains in 1826. Next to the plaza outside the complex are the larger-than-life bronze statues of the nine Guanche Menceyes, rulers of the kingdoms of Tenerife before the Spanish arrived.
– the House of Wine is the old Canarian La Baranda estate dating back to the 17th century, home to its own house of wine. Now owned by the Tenerife Cabildo, it is used to promote the fantastic and famous wines from all the denominations of the island. Located in El Sauzal, one can taste and buy wines, eat in the restaurant, and visit the Vine and Wine museum. Concerts, conferences, exhibitions and a wide range of cultural events are held there as well.
– in the Teno rural park, in the north west municipality of Buenavista del Norte, Masca is a tiny village set in one of the most awesome natural environments on Tenerife. Deep gorges, precipitous cliffs, tantalizing glimpses of La Gomera seemingly floating in sky in the distance, it has been declared an area of ethnographical and architectural interest. The valley has various hamlets, Masca itself being just one of them, and the road winds down through them from the mountains providing perhaps the most breathtaking views along its route in all Tenerife. It is a magnet for hikers too, who walk, or perhaps clamber is a better word, down the gorge to be met at the little beach at the ravine’s foot by boat to be returned to the modern world.
– a lovely little town and port founded in 1496, it has been declared a site of Historic Cultural Interest. Garachico has some beautiful houses, convents and churches of architectural importance. Most notable are the Ermita de San Roque hermitage, the former convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán, the El Lamero hacienda, the houses of the Marquis of Quinta Roja, Casa de Piedra, the Antigua Puerta de Tierra park, the Matriz de Santa Ana church and the castle of San Miguel. Particularly lovely are the new harbour area, and the natural volcanic rock pools with walkways through them, a delightful place to pull a chair up to a café table and enjoy lunch.
– San Cristóbal de La Laguna, Unesco World Cultural and Heritage Site, is like stepping back in time. Its historic centre is in an exemplary state of conservation, with important monuments and historic buildings. This isn’t the end of it, though, because the old town has a modern feel, perhaps because of the university life spilling over into the old streets, and those pedestrian walkways are an important shopping centre with cultural offerings wherever one looks, whether musical, theatrical or religious. Café bars abound, and the tram runs from Santa Cruz right to the point at which La Laguna’s old town starts. The city is simultaneously old and new, lively and relaxed. It is a fabulous place, and perhaps no more popular than on the pre-Christmas noche en blanco, when all the shops remain open through the night. Go along and join the incredible crowds to shop until you drop, and watch the street entertainments … just don’t expect to move fast!
– a town of three halves! La Orotava is the town which Puerto de la Cruz served as a port, and which itself has an old and new part. The historic town retains its original centre, perfectly preserved, and declared of historical and artistic interest. Among its beautiful old Spanish architecture you’ll even find a Mercadona in the form of an imperial Spanish building with no modern supermarket hoardings in sight. There are also delightful set pieces like the Ermita del Calvario, the church of San Agustín, Constitución Square – where the world-famous sand carpets are displayed – as well as the church of Santo Domingo and the former convent of San Benito Abad. Perhaps most famous of all, though, is the Casa de los Balcones, now a museum and visitor centre, and the place in La Orotava that everyone wants to see.
– an iconic symbol of Tenerife, the drago tree is the main attraction in Icod de los Vinos. The famous “thousand-year-old Dragon” – probably nearer 800 but it would be churlish to argue – is one of the most important natural, cultural and historic symbols of Tenerife, if not the Canaries. Smaller, and younger, specimens abound, but the Icod Dragon tree (Dracaena draco canariensis) is thought to be the oldest in any of the islands, and stands over 16 metres tall, measuring some 20 metres around the base. It is set in a small park of endemic species with a nearby church surrounded by its own gardens containing some pretty amazing trees of its own. A little adjacent plaza offers the chance for lunch or afternoon tea in a different world.
– what words are there? If anything in Tenerife will strike you speechless it is the magnificent Mount Teide. Sitting at the heart of its own National Park, in the centre of Tenerife, the volcano is a staggering 3,718 metres (12,198ft), making it the highest point in Spain and the third highest volcano in the world. The national park itself has an average altitude of over 2,000 metres, and is universally renowned as one of the most spectacular geological and vulcanological exemplars in the world. Lizards and endemic plants are everywhere, and marked pathways allow visitors to integrate themselves fully into a primeval landscape like few places on earth. In 2007 the Teide National Park was declared a World Heritage Site. If anything is a “must” in Tenerife, this is it.
Please note that atmospheric changes start at an altitude of around 2,500m. This can cause altitude sickness, but more specifically, can cause problems for those suffering heart and lung conditions, who can also begin to suffer repercussions at lower altitudes. Such people are advised not to go above the level of the caldera, the average altitude of which is over 2,000m, and so should not go up in the cable car, nor to try to ascend the peak of Teide itself. Those with severe heart or lung conditions would be well advised not actually to go even as high as the caldera itself.
– the area occupies much of the mountainous massif of north-east Tenerife, and extends to some 14,419 hectares. It is therefore a substantial part of the Island, much of which is steeply-sloping and of exceptional beauty. There is a good network of roads and footpaths so that drivers and walkers can enjoy the stunning scenery, panoramic views, and picturesque hamlets. It is as though this is the spine of the island, and some parts of the road network see the land plummet away on either side – each of which might have its own weather system! The natural habitats of Anaga include some of the best Canary Islands ecosystems, most notably the laurel forests and juniper woodlands. It is on a par with the tertiary era Garajonay forest of La Gomera, a unique experience like nothing else Tenerife can offer. Isn’t that true of all these marvels, though? Where else in the world could one compile such a list?!