8 Things you should know about Tenerife. The Canary Islands were a mainstay of family holidays during my childhood. My parents worked in hospitality so we took holidays when business was quiet. This often meant we were looking for reliable, sunny escapes during the winter months. Because of this the Canaries conjure fond memories for me, particularly Tenerife.
Much time has passed since then and it had been over 20 years since my last visit. During this time I had forgotten about the many places that had made Tenerife so magical to me as a child. I forgot all about the island’s fantastic attractions and began to associate the island with mass tourism, parties and package holidays.
There’s no denying that Tenerife caters well to mass tourism. If you’re looking for a poolside holiday, look no further. But there’s a side to Tenerife that receives much less attention. There is so much to discover here.
So I’m getting on my soap box and shining a light the hidden side of the island. Forget your misconceptions about Tenerife, the island is a gem and deserves a visit!
Things you should know about Tenerife and why it’s such a great place to visit!
There are so many things you should know about Tenerife. And by digging beneath the surface, you could uncover more of what this island has to offer.
Here are some of the things many travelers don’t realise about this incredible island.
1 – Where is Tenerife?
A lot of people get this wrong!
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, a string of islands which have belonged to Spain since the 1400’s. Being Spanish territory, many wrongly assume that the islands are close to Spain. They are actually closer to the west coast of Morocco, meaning the islands have a climate similar to west Africa.
The weather here is hot in the summer yet warm during the winter, particularly in the south (we’ll come back to this distinction later). It’s the perfect destination for year round sunshine.
Other popular islands within the Canaries include Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and La Gomera; all of which are popular with European visitors.
2 – There’s an amazing national park!
One thing you should definitely know about Tenerife, is that it’s home to Europe’s most visited national park. The Parque Nacional Del Teide draws over 4 million visitors each year and is one of the ’12 Treasures of Spain’.
The jewel at the centre of the national park is Pico del Teide, a sleeping but active volcano which towers over the island. It also has the distinction of being the highest mountain in Spain and the highest point on any of the Atlantic islands.
Most of the national park sits inside a gigantic volcanic crater which stretches over 11 miles. This caldera is the result of a catastrophic volcanic eruption which destroyed most of the island over 150,000 years ago.
Since then, volcanic activity has continued to shape the park with eruptions taking place up to 1909. And there are still signs of activity beneath the mountain. The evidence of this volcanic activity surrounds you in the park, from dramatic rock formations to blackened lava flows.
Many of the rock formations here have names, including the Titan and the Queens Shoe.
Very little plant life survives in the national park, creating a moon-like landscape. In fact, technologies for exploring other plants have been trialed here as the landscapes are similar to those found on Mars.
The weather around Teide can be temperamental due to the altitude and often the summit will close. There is plenty to see without climbing the mountain,but if you are particularly keen to climb the mountain you should plan your visit carefully. You will also need a permit to visit the top.
3 – There is a varied climate
The climate in Tenerife varies depending on which part of the island you are visiting. Much of this variation is due to the height of Pico del Teide. The mountain cases a large shadow over the north making these parts slightly cooler.
This mountain is so high that it stops rain from reaching the south of the island. The north side of the island receives 73% of the islands rainfall making this part of the island green and humid. In comparison the south side of the island is dry and arid.
The height of the mountains also means that it can be snowing at the summit of Teide, whilst visitors are sunbathing on the south coast.
That being said, Tenerife usually has warm weather for most of the year, especially on the southern coast.
4 – Tenerife has incredible history!
From Indigenous Populations…
One tThere has been life on Tenerife for thousands of years! The indigenous population of the Canary Islands were the Guanches. The Guanches were originally from north Africa but came to the Canary Islands around 3000 years ago.
There are remnants of Guanche settlements throughout the Canary Islands, many of them in Tenerife. Pico del Teide has special significance to the Guanches. They believed that a mythical figure lived inside the fires of the volcano. A number of ritual sites have been identified within the Teide National Park.
Most impressive among these remains are the Pyramids of Guimar. The pyramids are constructions of lava stone and although largely intact, their purpose has is still unclear.
The pyramids are open to visitors today and are well worth a visit.
For a more rugged glimpse of Guanche life, visit the the Reserva Ambiental de San Blas with is close to the South Airport. A number of Guanche sites are within this reserve.
The park is small but makes up for this with rock formations and wildlife. As we walked through the park we could see the lizards scuttling from the path in front of us. Parts of the park are a little rough around the edges, but the rock formations are worth the effort.
…to the Spanish Conquest
The Castillian conquest of the Canary Islands began in 1402. As did a dramatic chapter in the history of the island. Conflicts between the Spanish and the Guanches continued for decades and by 1496, the Guanches were no more.
For a glimpse into this fascinating history, look no further than Masca, a village on the west coast of the island. Masca sits in a plunging valley, between towering cliffs. This is one of the oldest settlements on the island; once being home to the Guanches, it was eventually resettled by the Spanish. The valley is rich with tales of piracy and claims pirates hid in the village before pillaging passing ships, returning to Masca with their spoils.
The journey into the Masca gorge is breathtaking albeit a nail-biting experience. The road zigzags down the side of the valley offering astonishing views of village below.
The road is a relatively recent addition. There was no road access to the village until the 1970s which helped the village to maintain its sense of isolation.
The village has a small public square and a tiny church, plus a number of small restaurants which are perfect for a spot of lunch. It gives a glimpse into a quieter life on Tenerife, before tourism perhaps.
If you are feeling adventurous, you could attempt hiking the Barranco de Masca which is a 3 hour trek from Masca to the coast. However this hike is fairly strenuous and you should allocated six hours if you are making a return journey.
5- There’s a lot of nature to see…
…especially on the coast.
The Canary Islands are a great location for whale watching and one of the only locations in Europe where whales are present all year round. You can see pilot whales and dolphins at any time, however lucky visitors may also see sperm whales and orcas who pass the islands during their migrations.
Seeing these animals in the wild is a great experience and if you are in luck you could even see sperm whales and sea turtles.
Our tour also gave us the opportunity to snorkel in shallower waters as well as a Cava reception, all of which added to a great experience.
6 – The Annual Carnival is Massive!
Another thing few people know about Tenerife, is that the island is home to one of the worlds most incredible carnivals!
The annual carnival in Santa Cruz, the island’s capital, is the second largest carnival in the world after Rio de Janeiro. It’s been going since 1605.
The Canary Islands take their annual carnival very seriously. Visitors will witness elaborate costumes, masses of locals in fancy dress and street parties which continue into the early hours of the morning.
In 2019 over 400,000 people attended, equal to almost 50% of the island’s population. For this reason, Carnival time (usually in February) is a very popular time to visit the island.
7 – The Canary Islands are outside the EU VAT Area
Many people don’t know this about Tenerife!
The Canary Islands are a part of Spain so technically are part of the EU, they are a Special Member State. However the Canries are not part of the EU VAT area. This means you don’t pay VAT in Tenerife.
There is an equivalent tax in the Canaries but the IGIC is much lower than most VAT rates. This means that your purchases could be around 10% cheaper in the Tenerife.
Obviously exchange rates and other factors contribute to the costs, however it’s worth shopping in Tenerife to see whether the tax reduction can save money on your larger purchases.
8 – Where to stay
There are a lot of places to stay on Tenerife and many different areas to explore. There’s even a hotel inside the crater of the Teide National Park! It’s safe to say that this hotel’s view of the volcano are second to none!
We stayed at the Sandos San Blas Eco Resort which is ideal for accessing the airport and relatively quiet despite being on the busy southern coast. The weather is also more reliable in the south than in other parts of the island. Staying here also gave us free access to the Reserva Ambiental de San Blas which is part of the hotel complex. The rooms here were great and the facilities were exactly what we were looking for.
You can search for your Tenerife hotel below.
So there you have it, 8 things you should know about Tenerife before planning your visit. I hope this inspires you to book a trip to this amazing island.
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