The Canary islands are one of the most underappreciated destinations I know—especially considering how many things there are to do in Tenerife alone. Located off the coast of Africa, Tenerife is just one of seven main islands (the others are Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro). Though it’s well-known for its water sports—especially wind-based ones, like kite surfing—we chose to craft a more relaxed holiday itinerary.
5 Things to Do in Tenerife
As mentioned, Tim and I aren’t big into water sports. So I rounded up five things to do in Tenerife that still offer adventure and a sampling of the island’s culture, without being too extreme.
Star-Gazing at Teide
This combines two of the best things to do in Tenerife: visiting Teide, the highest point in the Atlantic, and watching the stars. Tenerife is famous for its star-gazing. The lack of light and air pollution means the conditions are ideal for clear views into the galaxy, even with the naked eye. The best place for viewing is high up around Teide’s base. Tim and I drove our rental car to the lower parking lots, and spent the sunset hour exploring the cornices and petrified rock formations. Once it got proper dark, we donned our parkas (it will get cold!) and sat on the hood of the car to watch the sky come alive. The sky was so clear that night that we could see the flickerings of the Orion nebula, and the faint traces of the Milky Way. It was absolutely magical—and best of all, free.
The Road to Masca
We love a good road trip, and the road to Masca does not disappoint. Snaking along the northern west coast, it rises and descends in switchbacks through the Guama Mountains. This drive offers incredible ocean views and stunning rock formations, but don’t keep your eyes off the road too long. The switchbacks and narrow roads can be a challenge for inexperienced drivers; many choose to take a coach tour. (Although in full transparency, we couldn’t reach Masca when we tried because a bus had gotten stuck in one of the hairpin turns.) You can drive it all the way to Masca, a little town tucked deep into the coast, or pick a spot and loop out.
Want a deeper dive into our time in the Canary Islands? Check out my postcard from Tenerife here.
Jardín de Aclimatación de la Orotava
Tucked into a corner of Puerto de la Cruz is a massive treasure of exotic flora. Jardin de Aclimatación was created by Spanish King Carlos III back in the 17th century. Back then, the Spanish Empire stretched halfway around the globe. King Carlos decided to adorn his palace in Madrid with some of the beautiful flowers and plants from Central and South America. The problem was, you can’t take plants from such a hot climate and immediately park them in a much different environment. You need something akin to a botanical halfway-house—and Carlos decided Tenerife was the perfect place (hence the garden’s name: Garden of Acclimatization). Since them, the Jardin has grown into 20,000 acres of exotic and sub-tropical plants, including rare species from all corners of the world. You can easily spend an afternoon wandering the shaded paths and marveling at the crazy cacti, wild vines, and curved trees.
Playa De Las Teresitas
Going to the beach definitely has to be on your list of things to do in Tenerife. There are plenty of beautiful beaches hugging the coastlines of this rugged island. But our absolute favorite was located near the capital city, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on the island’s northeast peninsula. To get there, we drove around the northern coast, through the Anaga National Forest, which offers lush hiking trails and a surprising amount of pines. Playa de las Teresitas is a wide beach with golden sand and ideal swimming conditions. You can rent umbrellas and chairs, or simply spread out in the sand for a day of fun in the sun.
El Caletón de Garachico
El Caletón de Garachico is a series of natural rock pools made from cooled lava. The pools are a shallower and the rocks are dark, making a dip in the ocean water actually pretty enjoyable. Try to get there early to secure a spot on the rock ledges. A great spot for kids and families, there’s even a lifeguard on duty during the summer. When you’ve gotten enough sun, the little town El Caletón is really cute, offering many options to eat and shop. Take a stroll and admire the colonial-era architecture, including the Castillo de San Miguel, and the vibrant gardens.
Getting to Tenerife
Tenerife has two main airports: Tenerife North – Los Rodeos, and Reina Sofia Airport, in the south. Where you fly into will likely be dictated by where you stay. The island is definitely drive-able, but you’ll save precious time if you choose an airport on the side of the island you’re staying in.
Where to Stay in Tenerife
Where you stay in Tenerife is crucial. I think one of the main reasons we loved our trip there was because we chose to stay in the northern part of the island. The southern part of the island is very touristy, with the main areas being Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos. That’s mainly because the southern and western parts of the island have hotter, drier weather than the north. Another popular area to stay is Los Gigantes, but we found it really packed with tourists.
Our Airbnb was located just outside of Puerto de la Cruz, a city on the central north coast. It positioned us well to take advantage of some of the less-touristy things to do in Tenerife. And it felt a little more “local” than the other cities we visited. Puerto de la Cruz was a bit quiet, though the city definitely comes alive in the evenings (and, in case you’re wondering, is a great place to celebrate New Year’s Eve!). We loved how lush and green the northern coast is, and the diversity of beaches and places to swim. Highly recommend if you want a relaxing, low-key holiday!