The volcanic island of Tenerife, the largest and most diverse of the Canary Island Archipelago, is a fabulous year-round destination with record-breaking numbers of visitors each year. With over six million tourists in 2017, Tenerife, known as the island of the eternal spring for its year-round warm temperatures, is one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations. It’s a magnet for sun worshipers, hikers and nature enthusiasts alike.
The desert-like climate in the south has led to the development of an almost uniform, immense concrete beach resort built around Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos. The massive tourism infrastructure boosts the local travel industry in the southern part of the island.
The north, with its lush forests, banana plantations, dramatic coastlines, colonial towns and small villages offers an unexpected contrast, a less crowded vacation alternative for travelers in search of the authentic or off the beaten track Tenerife.
If you’re planning to explore the more authentic side of the island, check out these suggestions, from scenic walking routes and remote beaches to historical and cultural city experiences.
Walking Across A Banana Plantation to Bollullo Beach
Tenerife is a walking paradise, with fabulous options whether you’re fit enough to hike to the peak of the tallest mountain, Pico del Teide (3,718 meters), or you prefer rambling along the coastline for hours. One of the easiest, but most fabulous walks, starts in the popular resort town of Puerto de la Cruz on the northern side of the island.
The destination is Bollullo Beach, one of Tenerife’s most beautiful black sand beaches, a world apart from the busy beaches of the south. Start your trek from the rocky Martianez Beach, popular with surfers, and walk-up the palm-lined avenues until the Mirador de la Paz, a belvedere point.
The Mirador’s panoramic view makes it an excellent location for a quick snack before continuing along the coastline to a vast banana plantation, whose harvest is one of the island’s main export products. Crossing the plantation with the ocean view on the horizon, the visitor becomes immersed into the local life outside the tourism industry.
Once you reach Bollullo Beach, you can relax and enjoy the island’s famous papas arrugadas at the beach bar. Swimming is not recommended because of the strong currents and waves.
Hiking Through the Laurel Jungle to Taganana
The northwest of the island holds the remnants of the dense laurel forest that once covered all of Tenerife. Anaga Rural Park is the best place to explore this subtropical evergreen forest, and there are many possible itineraries across this mountainous area, including walking along the ocean shore or up a mountain to altitudes of 1,000 meters.
One choice is a descent across the laurel forest to the historical hamlet of Taganana, and further on to Roque de las Bodegas Beach. The trail starts at Casa Forestal (832 meters altitude), where there is a visitors’ info point on road TF-12. The itinerary is well-marked and generally easy, but solid hiking boots are a must.
The Mirador Bailadero and the nearby cafeteria, halfway along the route, offer splendid views on sunny days over Taganana, a remote hamlet with white buildings, a vestige of the island’s old days. From here, you can walk directly to the beach or you can take a detour through the village.
Once you get to the ocean, be sure to try the delicious fresh fish dishes from Casa Africa, probably one of the best restaurants in Tenerife. From here, you can choose to return on foot – the circular tour takes close to six hours – or you can order a taxi at one of the beachfront restaurants.
Crossing the Dramatic Masca Gorge
A final suggested walking itinerary is on an adventurous trail that crosses the Masca Gorge from the Teno Mountains. Almost 8 km long, this narrow valley shaped in the volcanic mountainous landscape, offers one of the most thrilling experiences for nature enthusiasts, a highlight of Tenerife’s off the beaten track destinations. The path goes from the hamlet of Masca (620 meters altitude) to the turquoise sea beaches. The descent includes panoramic mountain views and weird puzzle-like rock formations, hundreds of meters high.
It takes up to three hours to reach the sea from this trail, but you are rewarded with a perfect beach for swimming on calm days. The trail, bordered by palm trees, agaves, small rivers and cliffs is also beautiful. Once you reach the rocky beach, it looks as if the walls of the gorge seem to close completely. You can return by boat to Los Gigantes or rest before going back up to the hamlet.
Colonial Charm in La Orotava
A two-hour drive from the crowded beaches in the south will bring you to the town of La Orotava. Founded by wealthy colonists and merchants in the early 16th century, La Orotava is surrounded by banana plantations, sugar vines and the Teide National Park, a heavenly green respite.
La Orotava is known for its wooden balconies and cobbled streets lined with colorful old houses. The historic quarter of the town was designated an ‘Artistic Historic Site’ by the Spanish authorities.
Don’t miss the town’s Botanical Garden, the churches of San Agustín, La Concepción, Santo Domingo and San Juan, the Taoro Lyceum and the houses of Lercaro and Los Balcones.
Discover the Model City
Home to the archipelago’s oldest university and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, La Laguna is the perfect place to discover the romantic colonial architecture of the Spanish Empire, away from the heat of the south and the beach-bound tourists.
Many historical monuments, over 600 of the city’s 1,500 buildings, are protected. More than half, built between the16th-18th centuries, belong to the Mudéjar school of architecture, a 12th-century style that mixes elements of Islamic art and architecture with Christian Medieval or Renaissance architecture.
La Laguna is worth at least a one-day visit. The must-see sites include old religious monuments like the Cathedral, La Concepción Tower, the churches of Santa Catalina, San Augustin and San Cristobal, plus old palaces and villas like Nava Palace, the Bishop Palace and the Lercano House.
It’s hard to imagine Tenerife as anything other than a vast packaged beach resort if you spend your entire vacation in the south. But the island is full of wonderful destinations for visitors who step outside the tourist zone.