The Canary Islands

The Canary Islands – Part 2 of 2 (Tenerife)

Let’s just call it what it is…Tenerife is beautiful and it’s easy to see why it’s the most visited spot in the Canary Islands, and one of the top destinations in Spain and Europe, for that matter. Tenerife is the largest (and most populated) of the Canary Islands, and the north/west and south coasts are especially beautiful. It’s only a short (20 minute) plane ride away from Gran Canaria. The 12,198 ft volcanic peak of El Teide dominates the island and is the highest point in Spain. Probably the second most popular sight is Los Gigantes, a stunning set of high cliffs jutting out of the ocean on the very southwest coast.

Puerto de la Cruz

This is a primary tourist hub on Tenerife and it’s where we stayed. Its location at the midpoint of the island on the northwest shore provides a good base for exploring the island and is quite a beautiful setting – with the waves crashing over the jagged volcanic rocks along on the shore.

Puerto de la Cruz (3)

The rugged and beautiful coastline of Puerto de la Cruz.

Puerto de la Cruz

An evening scene in Puerto de la Cruz – lots of diners fill the streets in the evenings.

Puerto de la Cruz (2)

A church in the main square of Puerto de la Cruz.

El Teide National Park

The soaring volcano mountain of El Teide is a national park and contains a lot of rugged terrain. Going from sea level to 12,000 feet in elevation within just a few miles (as the crow flies) means you are ascending at a very steep rate and negotiating a lot of switch backs.

El Teide National Park (2)

A volcanic outflow “flower” in the park.

The roads on Tenerife and ascending into El Teide National Park are narrow, steep and winding. Once you get into the park, there is a nice visitor’s center with good maps and signage.

El Teide National Park (35)

A view of the peak in the distance.

There is a (expensive) tram that takes you within 600 feet of the summit, but to climb the last 600 feet you have to plan ahead and make a reservation.

El Teide National Park (15)

The tram going up to the top of El Teide.

El Teide National Park (18)

Near the peak of El Teide, where the tram ends.

Otherwise, you can hike around the peak just below the summit for the views and scamper through the jagged volcanic rock, which looks other worldly. Unfortunately, on the day we had allowed for our visit to the park and peak the lower elevations were socked in with clouds for a period of time, but we were still able to get a few views.

El Teide National Park (9)

The moon-like landscape of El Teide National Park.

Los Gigantes

This is the postcard view of Tenerife. In fact, it was a post card I saw in a friend’s office that put Tenerife on my “must see” list. At the port, you can arrange a boat trip (of varying lengths of time) that will take you for a tour, including whale and dolphin watching, depending on the time of year.

Los Gigantes (6)

A view of the port of Los Gigantes with the cliffs in the background.

Los Gigantes Dolphin (2)

A dolphin comes near our boat.

Your boat tour will also stop at the beach for a short time, or you can arrange to disembark at the beach and take another boat back, which is what we did. While we were on the beach, a huge boulder came crashing down off the cliffs which could have easily killed someone. Luckily, it fell and rolled (at great speed) right between some very scared tourists who were running in every direction. It happened so quickly I could not get any video footage.

Tenerife Los Gigantes Masca Beach (2)

The black sand beach among the cliffs of Los Gigantes.

The best access to Los Gigantes is by taking a boat tour out of the nearby port town of the same name. You can also hike down from the town of Masca (discussed below).They aren’t joking when they say on the hike down from Masca and at the beach to be extremely careful of loose rock.

Tenerife Los Gigantes Masca Beach (4)

Enjoying a swim at Los Gigantes.

Masca

The main reason people come to the little village of Masca (in addition to seeing the beautiful setting), is as a starting point for hiking down through steep ravines to the cliffs and beach of Los Gigantes.

Masca (6)

The winding road going into Masca. On most of Tenerife you are either going up or down!

It’s about a 3-hour hike, and once you reach bottom you can catch a pre-arranged boat back to the port. Most people take a taxi to Masca to begin their hike, since it’s a one-way route (unless you’d like to spend a few more hours ascending straight back up the gorge).

Tenerife Los Gigantes Masca Canyon

Looking up into the narrow gorge of Los Gigantes. Hiking up through this gorge leads to the little village of Masca.

A couple other great beach areas are shown below.

Los Cristianos

Near the southern most tip of Tenerife is Los Cristianos, another scenic beach spot and viewpoint, with the island of La Gomera in the distance. Ferries to other islands depart from here.

Los Cristianos

The beach at Los Cristianos.

Playa Americas

This resort area (near Los Cristianos) is a major tourist hub for southern Tenerife with a great beach and numerous hotels and restaurants. If you’re after nightlife, this is where you’ll find it.

Playa de Las Americas (5)

The beach at Playa Americas.

Playa de Las Americas (8)

There’s even a Hard Rock Cafe in Playa Americas.

Small Quaint Towns

Just like on Gran Canaria, there are some quaint small towns in the interior that are worth a little time exploring.

La Orotava

La Orotava (21)

La Orotava is known for its sand murals – in particular this square – see below.

La Orotava

The square in La Orotava is transformed by sand murals – I wish we could have seen this incredible artwork – I had to settle for a picture of a picture! I wonder how they deal with wind?

La Orotava (16)

A display showing how the sand murals are created.

La Laguna

La Laguna (11)

The town of La Laguna is near the airport at the northern end of Tenerife. It was the headquarters of the Spanish Army in the 1600’s. It has a very quaint old quarter.

Vilafora

Vilaflora Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol (5)

The Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol in Vilaflora, a hermitage from the 1500’s.

 

Vilaflora (2)

The beautiful golden altar in the Iglesia de San Pedro Apostol.

If you have to pick just one island to visit in the Canaries, make it Tenerife. You will find a little bit of everything here – stunning scenery, beaches, mountains, pretty villages, good restaurants and nightlife. Five million tourists a year can’t be wrong!

The Canary Islands – Part I

Overview

If you want to visit a part of Europe that most Americans aren’t familiar with, consider the Canary Islands, an archipelago of 7 islands belonging to Spain located off the west coast of Africa. We wisely decided to visit the Canary Islands following our two weeks in nearby Morocco. We visited two islands (Gran Canaria and Tenerife), which are two of the largest and most developed islands. There are direct flights from Casablanca to the Canaries.

Firgas (1)

A map of the Canary Islands. We visited Gran Canaria (the circular island in the lower center) and Tenerife, to the northwest of Gran Canaria.

Even though these two islands house most of the local population, you can find remote and quiet areas very quickly. We really enjoyed this part of our trip. The difference between Morocco and the Canaries was a bit of a culture shock (the pace of traffic, roads, lifestyle, etc.), and we felt we were stepping from one world to another after our 1.5 hour flight.

Gran Canary Scenery (5)

The landscape of Gran Canaria, near the caldera of the volcano that was the island’s origin. The elevation here is about 6,000 feet.

For a combination of rugged volcanic mountains, loads of hiking trails, beautiful beaches and small quaint European towns, the Canary Islands are hard to beat.

Gran Canaria Hiking Sign

A sign showing hiking trails in the mountains of Gran Canaria.

The Canaries are only about 100 miles (depending on the island) off the coast of Western Sahara, a region of Africa administered by Morocco. While Spanish is the primary language, the high number of tourists (and residents) from the UK make English more common than in mainland Spain. Even though these islands are close to the Sahara Desert, they have a mild climate and pleasant temperature all year long. The climate zones vary greatly within each island and from island to island due to changes in elevation and the prevailing winds. Some areas are a bit desert-like, other areas are forested and green, and you’ll find everything in between.

Gran Canaria Guanches (2)

The Guanches were the native people of the Canary Islands, who were essentially wiped out during the Spanish conquest of the Canary Islands.

To get around each island we rented a car (the roads are good, although sometimes more narrow than mainland Europe). To get from island to island there are numerous flights as well as ferries (we flew to save time).

I’ll share a bit about Gran Canaria in this post and then share more about Tenerife in my next post.

Gran Canaria

This island (and its largest city, Las Palmas) is the capitol of this region of Spain and the main business hub for the Canaries. Although the island is not big (about 35 miles diameter), many of the roads are narrow, steep and winding, so it takes longer than you might think to get across the island. There is one major freeway on the eastern shore.

Las Palmas Playa de las Canteras (45)

One of the main beaches and boardwalks in Las Palmas, Playa de las Canteras.

Columbus visited Las Palmas to take on supplies on his first voyage to the New World.

Las Palmas (23)

Statue of Columbus in Las Palmas.

There is an excellent museum about his voyages and world exploration at the end of the 15th century. He also is believed to have lived in this building as well.

Las Palmas Casa de Colon (19)

The exterior of the Museo de Colon (Christopher Columbus Museum) in Las Palmas.

Las Palmas Museo de Colon (7)

A map showing the route of Columbus’ first voyage – 1492-1493. He stopped in Las Palmas on his way to the new world.

Las Palmas Museo de Colon (14)

One of the exhibits in the Museo de Colon, showing the interior of a sailing ship of Columbus’ era.

There are other sites to visit in Las Palmas as well, including a great cathedral.

Las Palmas Catedral de Santa Ana (14)

Las Palmas Cathedral – Catedral de Santa Ana. Located near the Museo de Colon.

 

Las Palmas Catedral de Santa Ana (12)

Interior of Catedral de Santa Ana.

Beyond Las Palmas, there is a whole island to explore, with small quaint towns and rugged mountains.

Arucas (7)

The town of Arucas on Gran Canaria

Arucas Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (4)

In the town of Arucas, there is a Gothic church (Iglesia de San Juan Bautista), which is not old, but quite beautiful and will remind visitors of the great cathedrals of Europe.

A couple other cute towns are Teror (don’t let its name frighten you away!) and Firgas.

Teror (3)

Street in the town of Teror.

Teror Basilica (6)

The Basilica of Teror, quite beautiful inside.

Firgas (3)

Many of these little towns have some sort of iconic site. Firgas, not far from Las Palmas, has a waterfall cascading down a street.

The southern shore of Gran Canaria has high cliffs that are an imposing sight and a lovely fishing village, Puerto de Mogan.

Puerto de Mogan (6)

Puerto de Mogan is an upscale little village on the southern shore of Gran Canaria.

The landscape at the higher elevations reminded us of our home state – Colorado.

Pozo de las Nieves (4)

This spot is known as Pozo de las Nieves, and is the highest spot on Gran Canaria. It offers views of the island of Tenerife, which can (barely) be seen above our heads. Also, just over Robyn’s head is Roque Nublo, a famous landmark and sacred spot to the Guanches (the native population).

Roque Nublo (11)

Another view of the rugged volcanic landscape found on Gran Canaria, near Pozo de las Nieves.

Grand Canaria is a gateway to the Canary Islands and definitely worth a few days of your time. In my next post, I will share some information on Tenerife, another “hot spot” in the Canaries.