Each one of the seven Canary Islands is different in its own unique way. I’ve told you about Lanzarote and its extreme volcanic landscapes, La Palma and its beautiful green forests, and one of these days I will tell you about Fuerteventura and its beaches. But in this post I’d like to introduce Tenerife, and what I believe is its biggest attraction: its towns. Tenerife has always been the biggest and richest island, as well as the last island to be conquered, nearly 100 years later than some of the other ones. I think all of these facts combined have left it with a strong heritage and history that is reflected in some of its towns, which you won’t find in any of the other Canary Islands. This is why I’ve decided to compile this list of what I believe are the top 5 must-visit towns in Tenerife:
1. La Laguna
San Cristóbal de la Laguna, or la Laguna, as it is commonly referred to, used to be the capital of not only Tenerife but all of the Canary Islands. It’s also not just me who believes la Laguna is worth a visit – the town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it was the first non-fortified Spanish colonial town, as well as being a model for the colonial towns that were to follow in South America. It is also the host of one of the two universities in the Canaries, going all the way back to the eighteenth century. Apart from the clear historical draw, la Laguna is very easy to navigate on foot and is full of unique local stores and cafes. Also, due to playing host to a university, it is a very lively and vibrant town. Some worthy stops within the town include the cathedral, the local market and the entrance to the university as well as its beautiful stained glass.
2. La Orotava
La Orotava is another beautiful and historically rich town, which is also under European Cultural Heritage Protection. Much like la Laguna, la Orotava is also very easy to navigate, although it is very hilly – you will definitely get some exercise done walking around! The major draw are all of the colorful classic colonial houses and their characteristic balconies, as well as gardens. The Victoria Gardens especially, are free to visit and will let you enjoy views as far as the ocean as well as of the whole town. Another must-visit if you’d like to get to know more about the local culture and history is the Casa del Turista (Tourist’s house). I know this sounds like a complete tourist trap, but it isn’t – it’s free entry and you will be able to learn a bit of everything from traditional clothes, to local customs, to local food to local crafts. Finally, if you happen to be visiting during the months of May and/or June, be sure to check out the Corpus carpets, which are ‘carpets’ laid on the floor made out of coloured volcanic salt as well as flower and are astonishing works of art decorating the town centre.
It is very hard to pick a favorite out of all these must-visit towns, but for some reason Garachico just seems a little more special than the others. It used to be a very rich trading port until a volcano eruption wreaked havoc and scared merchants away to safer towns like Puerto de La Cruz and Santa Cruz. To this day Garachico remains as one of the few coastal towns in Tenerife relatively untouched by tourism. Not only that, but unlike most coastal towns, which have nothing beyond their coastal front, Garachico boasts of having a beautiful historical centre. Some of the other attractions it can offer include the volcanic natural pools as well as some really good restaurants offering quality local foods. I can personally recommend ‘Restaurante Aristides’, excellent food and service in the historical centre and away from the usually crowded waterfront restaurants.
4. La Candelaria
La Candelaria, located on the north-eastern part of the island, is another must-visit coastal town in Tenerife. It was a key historical centre during aboriginal times, which is reflected by the statues of the nine aboriginal kings of Tenerife. These days la Candelaria is the most popular pilgrim site in the Canary Islands, and one of the most popular in Spain, with thousands of pilgrims flocking to visit the Virgin of Candelaria every year. The ‘black virgin’, as it is also commonly referred to, has its home within the beautiful Basilica of Candelaria and is actually the patron saint of the Canary Islands. If you have no historical or religious interest, la Candelaria also boasts of a beautiful and vibrant old centre, much like all of the other must-visit towns in this list, and it is also the only one with an actual beach. Another interesting draw could be the many surrounding caves, some of which date back thousands of years, and where many mummies similar to those in Egypt have been found.
5. Icod de los Vinos
I was actually not sure which town was going to get the last spot on this list, and I was torn between Icod de los Vinos or Puerto de la Cruz. I wasn’t impressed with Puerto de la Cruz during my last visit, as I feel it has been left to be completely overran by tourists and has lost some of its local charm. Besides it is undergoing some huge renovations at the moment, and the town centre (the best part) has been completely torn apart, meaning Puerto de la Cruz gets pushed out of the list and gives its place to Icod de los Vinos instead. Truth be told, Icod is not at the same level as the rest of the must-see towns in this list; it is a bit run-down and in need of some renovations, and there is not much to see. However, it is host to one of the major attractions and the symbol of the island: a thousand-year old dragon tree. Icod de los Vinos, is also very close to Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain, which stands tall at 3,718 metres behind the town, as if watching over. Other than that, it’s just a local town like any other. Although it does have the best coffee house I have visited in Tenerife: Lekkery – with excellent services and good prices it’s worth a stop even if only on your way to Mount Teide.
As my final note I will add that you can easily visit all five towns within one day by car, although you’d be pushing it and not leaving yourself much time for exploring. Ideally, you should give yourself one day and a half to two days to visit them all, with la Laguna and la Orotava especially deserving of at least half a day each.
Have you visited any of these towns before? Are there any towns you think are worth adding to this list? If so, let me know!