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Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands, offers everything you’d want in an island vacation – sunny days and sandy beaches, starlit nights for bar-hopping, top-notch shops and restaurants, water sports and waterparks. But there’s more! Choose hiking in the arid hills or green forests, climbing Spain’s highest peak, visiting museums or hilltop towns or enjoying a seafood meal in a village that’s been home to fishermen for centuries.
Tenerife is almost three islands in one – explore the arid southern coast, with sweeping sand beaches, seaside towns hopping with shopping and nightlife, animal shows and water sports, or head north to lush green hills, historic towns and national parks. In between the two rises the El Teide volcano, 3,718 metres above sea level, inviting you to climb it on foot or be swept up by cable car to its sometimes windy or snow-capped peak to experience the dramatic view.
Start with the south, where it’s summery and dry almost all year round. The beaches near bustling resort-filled Playa de las Américas are natural black volcanic sand, and this is the place to be for nightlife. At the family-friendly Los Cristianos resort town and elsewhere on the southern coast, the beaches are white sand. Speaking of families, nearby you’ll find fun attractions such as the Monkey Park and Jungle Park zoos, and the Aqualand and Siam Park waterparks. The north also has its beaches, the wild and remote Playa del Benijo or the 1.5-kilometre-long, sheltered Las Teresitas, respectively in and near the Parque Rural de la Anaga at the tip of the island, and the Playa Jardin with flowers and a waterfall, near Puerto de la Cruz. The latter town is perfect for a peaceful walk at the botanical gardens or the Orchid Garden. Be sure to visit the capital, Santa Cruz, where you can explore the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (TEA), with three galleries of up-and-coming Spanish art in a building designed by the award-winning architects of the Tate Modern in London. Note that Santa Cruz bursts into song and colour in February for one of the world’s biggest carnaval celebrations outside Rio.
Tenerife may soon be known for more than British pubs and beach bars – it has a whopping five Michelin-starred restaurants. The newest, Nub in San Cristóbal de la Laguna, fuses Italian, Chilean and local Canarian cuisine in an old colonial building, while swanky M.B. and minimalist Abama Kabuki, both in the Ritz-Carlton, serve up innovative Basque and Japanese dishes, respectively. For something quintessentially Spanish and Canarian in both cuisine and design, head to El Calderito de la Abuela in the north, or one of its sister restaurants, Donde Mario or La Bodeguita de Enfrente. One of the island’s best seafood restaurants is seaside La Vieja in La Caleta. Seafood straight from today’s catch? Trek to the tiny, relatively undiscovered, fishing village of San Miguel de Tajao on the southern coast and choose any local eatery – closed during siesta, mind you.
Tenerife has a full array of shopping offerings, from the massive Safari Centre and the Siam Mall in Playa de las Américas to more traditional markets such as the Mercado Municipal Nuestra Señora de África in the capital, Santa Cruz, daily until early afternoon. Playa de las Américas and Los Cristianos have weekly markets with lots of souvenirs. Santa Cruz also has a high street lined with the big brands. Playa de las Américas is tops for nightlife, and drinking starts early, long before sunset. Speaking of drinks, try the local banana liqueur, or ron miel, rum made with honey, served over ice. An excellent spot in the Américas is Papagayo, where you can watch the sunset and stay to dance all night, or Bar El Pincho for drinks with a view. In Santa Cruz, Barbas is a classic and classy bar on the strip, or head to Mojos and Mojitos for dancing.
If you’re looking for a day away from the hotel and beach scene, visit the cobblestoned, colonial mansion-lined La Orotava or San Cristóbal de La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted as a colonial centre and cultural meeting place from the 16th to 18th centuries. Or drive the challenging hairpin-turn road to the magical hilltop village of Masca. For an active holiday, there’s scuba diving, snorkelling, parasailing, windsurfing, and marlin fishing, to name a few water sports to try. El Medáno is one of the world’s best kitesurfing and windsurfing spots. Tenerife has incredible hiking options, such as the lunar landscape of Vilaflor or the enchanted forest of El Pijaral. Many choose to tackle El Teide, Spain’s highest peak, which you can also do by cable car. On a clear day, you can see all the way to three other Canary islands popping up from the Atlantic waves. Be sure to prebook or arrive early and note that sudden winds can stop the cable car operations at times. And bring a jacket – it’s chilly up there!
Tenerife Sur Airport is in the south of the island and offers public bus service to points across the island. Taxis are also an option – check the price list to different destinations on the airport website – or car hire. The airport is chock-full of shops including top-brand clothing and accessories, pharmacy, high-tech goods, convenience items and Spanish gourmet goodies to take home.
Tenerife has a subtropical climate, which means it’s rarely below 20°C all year round! In summer, trade winds keep temperatures under 30°C for the most part. August is the warmest month, with 10 hours of sunshine a day, but the sea is warmest – 24°C! – in September. Don’t forget that Teide can be covered in snow, and the wind can pick up, so pack appropriately if you plan to hike it or take the cable car to the top.