Reputations are easy to gain but often difficult to shake, as the Spanish island of Tenerife has found in recent years. Though the island, 300 km off the west coast of Africa, has some stunning scenery, and is quietly cultured, it is still known primarily as a destination for holiday makers seeking nothing more than sun, sand and excess.
Last year, over 47 lakh visitors arrived on this 2,034 km sq island, yet the majority saw little beyond the Costa Adeje on the south of the island. Known for the Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos resorts, Costa Adeje hosts two-thirds of Tenerife’s tourists.
A tourist’s haven
Yet even the Costa Adeje is changing, and is striving to attract more discerning guests. I spent the first couple of nights in Tenerife at the five-star El Mirador hotel in Los Cristianos, and found it a comfortable base for exploration. Despite booking a whale-watching trip with the accompanying concern that sea sickness might make me see everything within a very short time, I decided to take full advantage of the plush breakfast buffet, tucking into a selection of local cheeses and a portion of omelette-like tortilla, one of Spain’s national dishes.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried; the surface of the Atlantic was flat save for a few ripples. Our catamaran, the Freebird One, had only been out of harbour for 10 minutes when we spotted the first of several short-finned pilot whales.
Looking back towards Tenerife, I could see Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide. The 3,718 m-high dormant volcano stands in Teide National Park, which is just an hour’s drive through villages and past vineyards — from Los Cristianos. The jagged, arid landscape of the national park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. Sections of the soon-to-be-released Hollywood film, Clash of the Titans, starring Sam Worthington and Liam Neeson, were filmed here.
The north of Tenerife has a more traditional feel than the package tourism-orientated south. The island’s oldest cities are located here. San Cristobal de la Laguna, commonly known as La Laguna, was Tenerife’s capital until 1723. La Laguna is rich with grand villas and balconied houses.
Santa Cruz, situated just 9 km along the Aguere Valley from La Laguna, is now the island’s capital city, and each year it also hosts Santa Cruz’s carnival. Locals hope that Santa Cruz’s carnival will soon gain the same popularity as the annual festival in Rio de Janeiro, for what it lacks in scale, it makes up in spirit. I made my way to a tasca (small restaurant) and enjoyed a selection of sizable starters — including the island’s signature wrinkled potatoes, papas arrugadas, served with delicious coriander and chilli-based sauces, known as mojo. Rich in cultural and natural heritage, Tenerife certainly has much to offer the discerning traveller.