Four million cruise passengers visit Tenerife every year and although the largest of the seven Canary Islands might be most famous for its package holidays, year-round sunshine and black sandy beaches, beneath the surface you’ll find historic towns, dramatic landscapes and plenty of culture on this volcanic island.
Just over 300km from the coast of North West Africa, Tenerife is a popular stop on cruise itineraries. Many ships depart from Spain and call at the Canary Islands, Madeira and Portugal, or continue on transatlantic journeys to South America. Cruise ships berth on the north-east coast in the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife’s bustling natural harbour. The busy fishing port, surrounded by the Anaga Mountains, is one of the deepest in the world and is less than a kilometre from the city centre. This makes it an easy place for passengers to disembark.
There are enough attractions to keep you occupied during a day in the capital Santa Cruz, but you might like to go beyond the city to see more of the island. Tenerife is only 2,034km2, but has a different microclimate on either side of the central mountain range – the north is tropical and green with banana plantations and the south is relatively dry and barren. Before mass tourism opened up the beaches of the south in the 1960s, Puerto de la Cruz on the north-west coast was the major attraction. Only 45 minutes from Santa Cruz, the old fishing port still makes a pleasant half-day trip with cobbled streets to explore and waterside lidos where you can enjoy a cooling dip. It’s also close to one of Tenerife’s biggest attractions, Loro Parque, where you’ll find 300 species of parrot and a menagerie of other animals and aquatic life. The sunny south is just 90 minutes from Santa Cruz, and here you can take a boat trip to spot pilot whales and bottle-nosed dolphins. Watersports, especially windsurfing and parasailing, are popular in the Los Cristianos area, helped by the warm wind that blows in from the Sahara.
Tenerife has been an autonomous region of Spain since the Spanish conquered the native Guanches population in the 15th century. The capital has long been an important trading post because of its coveted position between the Mediterranean and the New World. It’s also been the scene of battles for control of the island and, in 1797, Nelson lost his right arm trying to storm the harbour. Bloodthirsty visitors can see the cannon that did the damage at the Regional Military Museum on Calle San Isidro (open Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 2pm, admission free). The city is also home to the Museum of Man and Nature on Calle Fuente Morales, (open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 7pm, €5 or free on Sundays) where three floors of exhibitions explore different aspects of the history of Tenerife, from its early Guanches inhabitants to the explosive volcanic origins of the island.
Santa Cruz is ideal for shoppers because it’s a free port – start at the seafront Plaza de España and wander up to Plaza de la Candelaria for tax-free purchases. Calle Castillo is the main pedestrianised shopping street and is also lined with beautiful colonial architecture, some of it dating back to the 17th century. Get your camera ready at the Banco de España and City Hall on Calle Viera y Clavijo and at the theatre mask sculpture outside the 19th century Guimerá Theatre. The city really comes alive in February when the world-famous carnival snakes through the streets featuring thousands of colourful costumes and the sounds of traditional Canarian music. Since 2003, classical and modern music. can be heard inside the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra’s new home at the striking Auditorio de Tenerife. This remarkable white waterfront building is reminiscent of Sydney Opera House and was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
El Teide is the most popular day out on the island and to give yourself enough time to enjoy the views and make the return journey, you should allow about five hours. The World Heritage Site at Parque Nacional de las Cañadas del Teide opened in 1954 and is still Tenerife’s biggest attraction. Winding roads take you high above the clouds through a lunar landscape to Spain’s highest peak, which dominates the heart of the island. Mount Teide’s volcanic cone rises 3,718m out of the 48km crater that it blasted out of the earth and inside the crater are lava fields and rock formations that can be explored on foot. although worth it, be prepared for long queues in summer if you want to take the eight-minute cable car up to the base of the summit a special permit needs to be obtained from santa cruz if you want to walk to the very top, but the cable car station is high enough to offer stunning views over the island and across to the rest of the canary islands on clear days.
Tenerife also has smaller sights, such as the religious town of candelaria in the south east, which is a major destination for catholic pilgrimages. here, on the beach, you’ll find statues of the north african shepherds, the guanches, who originally inhabited the island over 2,000 years ago. you’ll also find a copy of the rare black Madonna found on a beach by the guanches in the 1300s, which was subsequently stolen from a cave and taken to Lanzarote, then returned, because it was believed to be cursed. This intriguing island offers so much more than just beaches. it’s a dramatic and surprising stop if you’re looking for a slice of history to complement the sunshine.
★ Celebrity Cruises – www.celebritycruises.co.uk
★ Cunard – www.cunard.co.uk
★ MSC Cruises – www.msccruises.co.uk
★ Oceania Cruises – www.oceaniacruises.co.uk
★ P&O Cruises – www.pocruises.com
★ Royal Caribbean International – www.royalcaribbean.co.uk
|When to go||With year-round sunshine and constant warm temperatures, any time is a good time. However, bear in mind that the roads to El Teide are sometimes closed due to snow in winter and queues can be up to two hours long for the cable car in the summer months.|
|Climate||Mild and sunny all year round. Drier in the south with occasional rain in the north.|
|Getting around||Coaches, public buses, taxis and trams run in the city and across the island. Buses: the 102 and 103 to Puerto de la Cruz run every half an hour and take 40 to 55 minutes, while the 110 and 111 run to Playa de las Américas every half an hour and take 70 to 90 minutes. Trams in Santa Cruz cost €1.25 per journey – buy your ticket at the tram stop and punch it when you get on board.|
|Shopping||Lace is a very popular souvenir and the best bargains can be found around Plaza de Candelaria in the tax-free shops. You will also find women selling pretty handicrafts locally on the street.|
|Food and drink||Visit Calle Antonio Dominguez Alfonso in the bohemian old quarter of the Noria District for the best trendy and traditional restaurants in Santa Cruz. Try the salty Canarian potatoes with mojo sauce and fresh fish.|