Tenerife may not be the first place you think of for a holiday exploring the natural world or hiking through spectacular scenery but was one of the first places a good friend of mine ventured to when he quit his job to travel the world. Perhaps the images that float, sunnily, through your mind when you hear the name are those of golden sandy bays and endless turquoise seas. The photographs so beloved of holiday brochures and travel websites alike, displaying page after page of paradise. If, of course, you like beaches.
Tenerife is part of the Canary Islands, and itself the largest island in the archipelago. The Canary Islands, sitting just off the coast of north Africa, are all volcanic islands; they formed millions of years ago from oceanic crust as the Atlantic widened.
Due to their location, the islands are blessed with microclimates that give them very distinctive and interesting characteristics when it comes to their natural vegetation and landscapes. Each island has its own personality, with Lanzarote and Fuerteventura having desert-like landscapes while La Gomera and El Hierro have moist sub-tropical forest. And Tenerife? Tenerife has a diverse landscape of lush vegetation combined with more arid areas, and a climate that varies from hot and sultry to cooler and moister as you ascend the mountain paths.
At the heart of this intriguing diversity, both geographically and metaphorically, lies the volcano of Teide. Teide is Tenerife’s jewel in the crown, although legions of sun-worshippers may disagree. It appears on the island’s coat of arms and finds a special place in the natural consciousness of the Canary Islands. Reaching 7500 m from the ocean floor and almost 4000 m above sea level, Teide is both the highest point anywhere in Spain and the third tallest volcano on a volcanic island in the world.
No two views of Teide are the same. In the midst of this spectacular, desolate landscape of rock and lava are swirling atmospheric currents, giving rise to dramatic backdrops. Explore the mountain and you may discover endemic plant species such as the Teide white broom, Canary Island wallflower and Teide violet. It is little wonder that the area has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are many options for exploring the site, though the summit is restricted to holders of permits, which are free to purchase. Cable cars run from the road almost to the summit. You can also hike up to the upper cable car along a choice of well defined paths; bear in mind that hikes may take four or five hours one way so best to make sure you have some level of fitness!
To the north, down by the coast where the waves of the Atlantic lap around the island never-endingly, is the town of Puerto de la Cruz. You could be a million miles from Teide here, amongst the hotels, cafes and bars, the beaches and the palms, were it not for the fact that the volcano dominates the skyline to the south. Even here, its stark beauty is the backdrop.
Puerto de la Cruz is an ideal base for exploring Teide, and a friendly, bustling resort in its own right. It has more of a sophisticated yet laid back vibe than many of Tenerife’s more lively, and famous, resorts, such as Playa de las Americas, which makes it an attractive option for those wanting a holiday that combines relaxation with natural pursuits. The beach is stylishly landscaped and the town boasts many upmarket restaurants and boutiques.
If you are simply on a day trip from another resort, it makes a great stopover for lunch or an afternoon wander. Places of interest include Lago Martiánez, a beautiful series of swimming pools with caves, waterfalls and sculptures, and Loro Parque, a park and zoo. There are also many elegant buildings and churches.
Whether you are staying in Puerto de la Cruz and visiting the surrounding area on day trips, or you are staying elsewhere and visiting the resort and/or Teide, car hire makes getting around in Tenerife much easier and quicker. And the sheer diversity of the island means there are always more new and appealing places to discover – whether you are searching for dramatic landscapes, historical curiosities or simply a beautiful golden beach on which to while away a quiet afternoon.