Known as an island of revelry and sunshine, a consistent flow of hedonistic beats thrumming from the bars, clubs and resorts in the south has established Tenerife as a party destination. But this does little justice to the island’s extraordinary natural beauty and rich culture.
The popular beaches and towns that have drawn hedonists and sun-worshippers for decades represent just a sliver of Tenerife’s lengthy 342km of coastline. A handful of main roads or Autopistas ring the island almost in its entirety, promising a rewarding drive and plenty of opportunity to discover some of Tenerife’s lesser-known spots.
From the airport, it’s a short drive along the Autopista TF-1, which encircles the eastern and southern parts of the island, to the shores of Tajao. From this sleepy village with its beautiful and unusual rock formations, head west until you reach the calm waters of El Puertito, a charming town that has stubbornly resisted development. The clear waters here make for excellent swimming and snorkelling, and they are also home to the island’s famous green turtles.
As notable as its beaches and nightlife is Tenerife’s volcanic landscape. Mount Teide, which stands proudly in the centre of the island, remains an active volcano, its most recent eruption having taken place in 1909. Much of the lava that has flowed from Tenerife’s mountains during the course of its history can be seen in its numerous basalt shores. Not far from El Puertito are the coarse obsidian beaches formed by the eruptions of Montaña Grande.
Continuing on the TF-1, to the northwest of the island, the Masca ravine offers willing hikers unrivalled panoramic views of the island. Los Gigantes reclines at the foot of the mountain, with high rock cliffs like silent guardians standing over this picturesque seaside town. There’s a lively selection of cafés and restaurants for those in need of a post-hike refuel. Tenerife is a hugely rewarding destination for hikers of all abilities: in Santiago del Teide alone, there are over a 100 trails promising a whistle-stop tour of sea, sand, canyon and cliff. In Los Organos, a few minutes west of Brilla Sol on the eastern coast, the view of the lush green Orotava Valley, with Mount Teide rising behind in the distance, is one of the island’s most breathtaking sights.
History tells us that the Guanches had an extensive pantheon of gods and goddesses, many of them correlating to natural phenomena. Genies, benevolent domestic spirits and guardians, were also believed to govern aspects of Guanche life, as were dog-shaped Tibicenas – offspring, they believed, of the malignant deity Guayota. Evidence suggests that sacrifice, including human sacrifice, was practiced, while mass suicides following the death of a king are also believed to have taken place.
Easily reachable by the Autopista TF-5, which is connected to the TF1 by two roads east of Masca, is the Playa Jardín or “Garden Beach”, which gives way to way to rough waters popular with experienced swimmers. Here, a short walk (or swim) away is Playa de el Bollullo, a beach many believe to be the finest on the island. Both lie in full view of Teide, as does Mesón El Monasterio in Los Realejos, a restaurant that, though not on the coastline, is nonetheless unmissable. A former monastery that was renovated in the 1990s, Mesón El Monasterio has a unique rustic charm. It retains the serene atmosphere of its monastic heritage while offering a varied menu of local cuisine. Also highly recommended is El Calderito de la Abuela in La Puntilla, barely five minutes’ drive away from Los Realejos on the TF-5. Here, traditional island recipes are married with Spanish tapas culture and fresh produce, ensuring a satisfying gastronomic experience with incredible views out to sea.
There are numberless boat trips on offer in Tenerife at many points along its coastline, but the nighttime cruises offered by a handful of companies stand out among them. These serene jaunts are popular not only with lovers of the sea but also with star-gazers. The absence of light pollution and the island’s clean air and cloudless skies make Tenerife one of the best places in the world to see the stars. The quality of the sky is even protected by law, and Tenerife is home to three separate Starlight Reserves. Visitors to the island frequently comment on the brightness of Milky Way, which gleams and glitters in the inky void.
The grand figure of Mount Teide and the rugged beauty of Tenerife’s shores, are the inheritance of thousands of years of natural history. But so too are they reminders that this far-flung isle, known so well for its resorts and nightlife, has many, many more identities.