Traveller's Guide: Tenerife

In the first of a three-part series on the Canaries, Ben Ross examines the largest of the islands, where it's still possible to get away from it all

It's hardly a well-kept holiday secret. Last year, more than 1.6 million UK tourists visited Tenerife (one third of the island's annual arrivals) with early indications suggesting even more of us will have turned up by the end of 2013. That's more than 4,300 incoming Brits each day: a boggling number for this pork-chop-shaped mid-Atlantic island, particularly when you consider that much of its landmass consists of inhospitable volcanic slopes pricked by spiky euphorbia.

So, why do we come? Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands archipelago – around 130km across at its widest point – and built its reputation as a package-holiday destination in the 1970s, when the rapid development of a string of hotels and apartment blocks along the south-west coast began. This high-rise strip – Playa de Las Américas, Los Cristianos and the Costa Adeje – now hosts the majority of visitors, drawn by year-round sun, imported white sand and prices to suit every budget.

For example, flying from Manchester on 23 November, Monarch (0871 423 8568; monarch.co.uk) has a week's self-catering at the Laguna Park II apartments in the Costa Adeje from £246 per person, which rises to £1,332pp if you prefer half-board luxury at the nearby Grand Hotel Iberostar El Mirador. Alternatively, flying from Gatwick on the same date, Thomson (0871 231 4691; thomson.co.uk) will deliver a week's stay at "adult-focused" Spring Hotel Vulcano, half board, for £556pp.

On the north coast, the town of Puerto de la Cruz combines a bustling appeal with the resort tourism found to the south. Again on 23 November, Thomas Cook (thomascook.com) has a week-long stay at the Hotel Botanico and Oriental Spa Gardens for £742pp, including breakfast, with flights from Gatwick. (All prices above include transfers and are based on two people sharing.)

Don't be dismayed if the prospect of crowds of sunbathers doesn't sound immediately appealing. This is an island that rewards exploration beyond the tourist resorts. Tenerife's central asset is a dormant volcano, the vast Mount Teide, which rises to 3,718m and is often described as the highest mountain in Spain (despite it being more than 1,700km from Madrid). The Parque Nacional del Teide is centred on the vast crater at its summit. There are plenty of hiking routes on offer, with information available from the visitors' centre (00 34 922 92 23 71). Wrap up warm, though; the chilly upper slopes of Teide are a marked contrast to the heat of the coast.

The only accommodation in the national park is Parador de las Cañadas (00 34 922 374 841; www.parador.es) which has doubles from €100, room only. However, many visitors come here simply to take the eight-minute journey on the Teleférico cable car (telefericoteide.com) to the viewpoint 200 metres from the top of Teide (€25pp). A new combined ticket includes a return bus transfer from Costa Adeje (Route 342) or Puerto de la Cruz (Route 348) to the Teide National Park, plus a ticket to take the cable car via a special fast-lane entrance. Tickets are purchased on the buses and cost €37 for adults.

If you wish to take the steep hike to the summit itself, you will need a permit (obtained in advance from www.reservasparquesnacionales.es).

The island's quiet yet steep inland roads, which cut through forests of long-needled Canarian pine trees, have long made it an attractive destination for cyclists, with Tour de France champion Chris Froome and Team Sky using it as a winter training base. Tenerife Bike Training (00 34 653 395 775; tenerifebiketraining.com) offers an eight-day trip for €1,000 including B&B, transfers and support vehicle, but not flights.

Uncover some civic charisma

The archipelago once had an important role as the mid-Atlantic staging posts for Spain's colonisation of the New World. Santa Cruz, the pretty capital of Tenerife which lies in the north-east of the island, is where the conquistador Alfonso Fernández de Lugo planted his "holy cross" in 1494. These days, the most impressive structure in the city is Santiago Calatrava's Auditorio, pictured (00 34 922 568 600; auditoriodetenerife.com), a striking white wave of a building set close to the shore.

For a real slice of a colonial city, board the Linea 1 tram from Intercambiador, Santa Cruz's main station, and take the half-hour trip to nearby La Laguna. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, this charming city was the blueprint for Latin American outposts such as Havana and also served as Tenerife's capital for 200 years.

Park life

Tenerife caters for families brilliantly, with some diverting funparks. One of the biggest and, well, wateriest of them is Siam Park, pictured, near Los Cristianos: Thai-themed and stuffed with slides, it will easily deliver a day's distraction (siampark.net; admission €33 adults/ €22 children).

Alternatively, Loro Parque in Puerto de la Cruz is run by the same operator and is part zoo, part aquarium, part theme park. It even offers visitors a "Penguinarium" with real snow (loroparque.com; admission €33/€22; combined tickets for the two parks are also available).

Go coastal

Tenerife Tenerife The Canary Islands are well-known as places to spot cetaceans, with sightings of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales often guaranteed by the many boat operators in the resorts in the south-west. If you prefer to paddle your way around the island, Teno Activo (00 34 922 12 80 60; tenoactivo.com) runs kayaking and walking adventures, including trips to the pretty beach which lies at the end of the Masca Gorge, hidden alongside mighty cliffs known as Los Gigantes (from around €20).

There are, of course, plenty of beaches to choose from. You can usually escape from the crowds at Santa Cruz's local option, Playa de las Teresitas, pictured. It is reached via bus 910. This stretch of artificial sand hides below the Anaga mountains – themselves well worth a day-trip – and offers gentle waves that are perfect for families.

Look north

Much of the northern coast of Tenerife remains relatively undeveloped, with the undoubted jewel being Garachico, pictured, a tiny town with cobbled streets, a pretty main square and a small harbourside fort called Castillo de San Miguel. The most striking thing about Garachico, though, is the series of lava rock pools that spills into the Atlantic along the shore. The remnants of a volcanic eruption in the 18th century that tore through the town, the lava has – with the aid of some strategic concrete – been moulded into swimming pools. Stay at the Hotel San Roque (00 34 922 13 34 35; hotelsanroque.com) a lovely boutique property with doubles from €195, including breakfast.

La Gomera

Tenerife's green little sister lies off its west coast and offers you a landscape riven by deep valleys, graced with ancient laurel forests, and populated by a culture still renowned for a strange whistling speech called Silbo Gomero. The island makes for a great day-trip via the regular ferries which run from Los Cristianos to San Sebastián, the capital. The quickest option is offered by Fred Olsen (00 922 62 82 00; fredolsen.es), which operates three daily services for €30 each way.

For longer stays, Prestige Holidays (01425 480400; prestigeholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights' B&B at Jardin Tecina on La Gomera from £783pp including breakfast, return flights from Gatwick to Tenerife South with easyJet, private taxi transfers on both Tenerife and La Gomera, return catamaran crossings to La Gomera. The price quoted is for departures during this month.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

International flights arrive at Tenerife South, which offers swift transfer opportunities to the beach resorts. Between them, Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) and Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) have connections from the majority of UK airports, with Thomson, Thomas Cook and Monarch providing a similarly wide array of departures with their package holidays.

Prefer business class? In March this year, British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) restored a link from Gatwick to Tenerife that had lain dormant since its franchise operator GB Airways was sold to easyJet in 2008. Flying at the front of the plane currently costs from around £395 return in December.

Getting around

Inter-island flights depart from Tenerife North which is easily accessed from the capital Santa Cruz (bintercanarias.com). Tenerife also has a good bus network (titsa.com).

More information

webtenerife.co.uk

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