(Latest update: 13/02/2024)
If you’re looking for an idea for your next winter holidays, the Canary Islands are for sure a good option. Choosing one of them can be tricky, but you can stay on the safe side by picking Tenerife, which has a bit of everything! Wide sandy beaches and small coves with black volcanic rocks, woods to hike and volcano Teide with its 3715 meters of altitudes, nature and history, modern towns and little villages in the middle of nowhere.
This introductory guide to the island has all the basic information to start planning your trip (and many links to more specific topics):
- How to get to Tenerife
- Where to stay: South or not south?
- How to move around the island
- What to do: Teide, beaches, food and more
- What to pack
How to arrive to Tenerife?
Unless you are up to a two-day ferry trip from Spain (for instance if you have to ship your caravan), the only way to reach Tenerife from Europe is by plane. There are two airports, one in the North and one in the South.
Tenerife North receives mostly national flights. You might end up here if you book a flight with a connection in Madrid or Barcelona. It’s close to the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Rural Park Anaga (for hiking lovers) and the old capital La Laguna (for history lovers).
Tenerife South hosts international flights. You’ll definitely land here if you book a direct flight from your country. It’s close to the more tourist areas and the sunniest beaches.
A 40 minutes car drive separates the two.
Where to stay?
There are plenty of possibilities, depending on your taste. Do you want to spend a week tanning on a beach? Or do you want to climb Volcano Teide and hike in the woods every morning? Do you enjoy culture? Do you prefer all-inclusive hotels or your own house in the middle of nowhere? Each preference has its own place on this island.
The South of the island
The classic choice for holidays in Tenerife is the South coast, somewhere like Los Cristianos or Costa Adeje. Here you’ll find the best weather, wide beaches, tons of restaurants and bars, fun activities and possibly the only areas where English is fluently spoken. Even though these places are often what people come on holiday for, I feel obliged to point out they are as fake as a pizza with pineapple. This is not at all the real Tenerife. If you decide to choose this location, please make sure you travel around the island to see the rest of it!
Still in the south, but with a more local look, the small El Médano is a prettier choice. The town has (mostly) small houses, narrow streets and a long windy beach very much loved by kite-surfers.
Puerto de La Cruz
It’s a small version of the touristic South coast, with more expats and a bit fewer tourists, fairly close to the North airport and not too far from the capital. It offers a black sandy beach in town and plenty of restaurants and good chances of English speaking staff members. The weather on the north coast is sometimes unstable, but Puerto de la Cruz is a sweet exception!
Basically, every hotel and apartments establishment has swimming pools and plenty of organised activities.
If you want something a little out of the ordinary, I personally suggest Hotel Monopol. The building is in the very center of Puerto de la Cruz. It’s a typical canary house from last century, with wooden balconies and an internal “garden”. The structure is quite old, so it might lack some fine details, but the green patio and the kind staff make up for everything else.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
The capital is a 200k inhabitants town on the coast, not particularly beautiful but with plenty of activities to do. It’s a classic to visit but not really to stay for more than a day or two unless you’re joining the famous carnival of Santa Cruz.
A 15 minutes bus ride from the city center takes you to Las Teresitas: a huge sandy beach, always very windy. It’s one of the very few white sand beaches on the island, and the reason is that this sand is imported directly from the Sahara Desert!
Santa Cruz is probably the only place in Tenerife that you could enjoy without renting a car. There’s infact a good bus/tram system that takes you everywhere, both in town and around the island.
Alternatives: like a local or in the middle of nowhere
Abades is a village for local tourism. There are plenty of rental houses and apartments, good weather and very nice beaches, less crowded than in the South. For a similar choice on the north coast, check out Bajamar. You’ll find a village with plenty of rental houses, restaurants and bars, with a beach that includes seawater pools.
San Cristóbal de La Laguna (otherwise called simply La Laguna) is the old capital and UNESCO heritage site. It’s only a few minutes drive from the airport, it has a tram that connects it to Santa Cruz and a good bus system to go around the island. It’s the university city of Tenerife, you can therefore imagine lots of bars and restaurants in a pedestrian city center.
There’s always the possibility to stay inland for a more original accommodation, for instance in Anaga Rural Park, Santiago del Teide or Masca. Keep in mind these places are far away from almost everywhere else on the island and no highway runs by them. In case that’s what you enjoy, you’ll probably want to look for a casa rurale as your accommodation. These are rural houses rented out by privates. Some of them are real jewels!
How to move around the island?
Unless you’re planning on not moving from your hotel during your stay on the island, the best and easiest way to visit Tenerife is by renting a car at the airport as soon as you land. There are simply too many interesting places to visit that are difficult to reach with public transportation.
Cicar and Auto Raizen have usually the best deals for car rental.
Busses here are called guaguas (guagua is the singular). Don’t ask for “the bus”: go local, be cool, ask for your guagua!
There is a cheap and fairly reliable bus/guagua network on the island. As I mentioned before, it can be quite sporadic, especially in the evenings when the service is essentially non-existent. If you want to give it a try, make sure you check both ways’ timetable and info on Titsa website.
What to do and see
Be classic: the beach calls you
You can’t come to the Canary Islands and not try an ocean swim, can you? There are tons of beaches for you to explore, depending on your location.
In the south, beaches are mostly sandy, wide and usually crowded, like Playa Fañabé and Playa de las Vistas.
Just outside Santa Cruz de Tenerife, as I mentioned before, you find Las Teresitas, the capital’s official beach. A wide beach with white sand imported directly from the Sahara desert. It has a few chiringuitos (terraces with food and drinks) and a lot of wind. A lot.
In the North of the Island, there are the black sandy beach of Puerto de la Cruz, the Piscinas Naturales of Bajamar and El Caletón de Guarachico. While the ones in Bajamar are natural sea-water-filled swimming pools, Guarachico has a complex of older pools built in between the lava formations of an 18th-century eruption. The water comes in and out the pools, following the tide and the waves. Check out the weather before you head out there, though. It can be unpredictable and the tide can play tricks.
If you want to mix with the locals, go to Abades. This location is mainly for local tourism, with nice beaches, a couple of bars and restaurants, but probably none that speaks English. Close by, El Médano has a more international feeling, but still with a pretty local look, and long windy beaches to practise windsurf and kytesuf.
Last but certainly not least, a couple of charcos: natural rocky coves with transparent water and beautiful landscapes. Charco del Viento (in the north) and Los Abrigos (near El Médano) are two nice ones. Don’t expect sandy beaches (or even a beach at all!) and be very careful when the tide is high or the sea is even vaguely rough.
The Teide is the highest point not only on the island but of entire Spain: the most famous landmark of Tenerife definitely deserves a visit! You can hike in the park, climb the volcano or take an easy cable-car to get to the (almost) top of it. The views are beautiful and very different from everywhere else in Tenerife. There are also a lot of geology lessons to learn. Reaching the very top might need some booking. For more information, you can read this guide about climbing Volcano Teide.
Anaga Rural Park is one of my favourite areas on the island. It’s high, green and reminds me of “real” mountains. There are plenty of paths you can try out. If you can’t plan ahead, the best would be to go ask at the Information Point in Cruz del Carmen (the centre of the park) for a map and suggestions for the walk that best suits your skills and timetable.
For further details and more trails, I suggest you reading a specific post about hiking in Tenerife.
Explore nature and history
There are many more or less small towns and villages worth a visit in Tenerife. For instance, the old capital San Cristóbal de la Laguna and its ancient Canary style houses. Garachico, the first capital of the island, is rich in historic buildings and Icod de los Vinos comes with a millennial tree. A La Orotava there’s a pretty museum inside a canary house from the 17th century (La casa de Los Balcones). Masca is a pretty village that used to be on the way of a famous stunning hiking route; the access had been limited due to its high danger level.
In the south of the island, between Costa Adeje and Los Cristianos, you can book a trip to go dolphins and whales watching. I tried a speed boat, which enabled me to get really close to the little pilot whales! Contact Bonadea II for the same experience (online booking available) or look for another company on the tourist office long list.
If you’re into caves and/or volcanic experiences, the Cueva del Viento is a volcanic tunnel with a 3 hours tour running every single day in Spanish, English, French and German. You need to book in advance and it’s fairly expensive, but it’s also a unique and typical thing to see on these volcanic islands.
Classics from Tenerife you can’t miss out:
- Papas Arrugadas con mojos (small boiled potatoes, to be eaten without peeling, dipped in the local sauces).
- Queso Blanco Fresco, tabla or a la plancha: fresh cheese, tasty both served as it is on a plate or grilled with jam and/or sauces.
- Lapas: a pan of seafood with green mojo sauce.
- Tortas de Vilaflor: sweet cookies you’ll find more in shops than in restaurants.
- Barraquito: a coffee with milk, condensed milk, alcohol, cinnamon and lemon skin. Not much coffee, after all, but recommended.
- Rum: like Cuba, the Canary Islands produce good rum. We suggest you to try Ron Miel (honey rum). Good restaurants often offer you a shot after dinner.
- Wine: try the local wine, especially the white ones.
To have an idea of how expensive the restaurant is, check out the price of Papas Arrugadas, which most places always have: a normal restaurant won’t charge more than about 4-5 euros for a plate. The “trap for tourists” restaurant could ask even 8-9 euros, with probably low-quality dip sauces. Of course, it could also happen to be just a very fancy restaurant…
Bread is usually not included in the service.
Tips are not mandatory.
The weather and your suitcase
The weather in Tenerife is stable all year round, which makes this and the other canary islands a perfect holiday destination at all times. Nonetheless, summer is still warmer than winter, but we’re talking of a few degrees difference.
Locals are not scared by cold water even in January, and you’ll find them swimming in the sea every day of the year. As I agree that going to the beach in full winter in Tenerife can still be a pleasure, I’m too Mediterranean to enjoy a swim during those months!
Whatever your itinerary will be, do bring a sweater for the evenings and definitely your beach outfit: you never know when a good sunny day might surprise you!
If you’re planning to go up to the top of the Teide you will need warm clothes! And please, don’t go up there in flip-flops!