I know this blog has often been in danger of becoming sponsored by the Tenerife Tourist Association but, once again, we visited in January. The first time in six years, we returned for the annual holiday. But rather than do the leafy north we split the time between the baking south and the first four days in La Laguna, the old capital and now the University town/city. San Cristobel de La Laguna is near the North airport, in a valley that divides the Anaga peninsula, famed for its lush laurel forests, and the Cumbre Dorsal that leads west to the volcanic Teide. Most people rush past on the motorway on the way to their hotels.
It is a complex place at first but we stayed in the historic centre which is easy to walk around with lots of fascinating places to see. The grid street layout of La Laguna was copied in Cuba and adopted in most cities in the Americas. Remember that the Canaries were the last stop-off point for most expeditions west across the Atlantic. Cuba became the ‘go-to’ destination when the Canaries suffered poverty and exploitation and I thought it interesting that Cuba is a popular holiday destination for Canarians today and detected a similarity with the popularity of Australia and America for the Irish. Of course it may not be some deep-rooted need other than going to see relatives, in both cases!
For someone like me with the merest smattering of Spanish it can be a bit intimidating because, while the locals are friendly and some English is spoken, it is not set up for tourists and most of the shops are ‘ordinary’ shops, not filled with tourist tat and the restaurants do not pay people to stand outside and drag in tourists. It is both refreshing and a bit unnerving. But I would highly recommend it if you do not need to lie in the sun – the weather is not as hot as elsewhere on the island.
A big bonus is that the L1 tram runs every five minutes or so down to the capital, Santa Cruz and the end of the line is near the Opera House. It costs 1.35 per journey although we found that when you ‘renew’ your ticket and load more money the journeys cost less than buying single trips. Make sure you ‘tap’ your card at the many places on the tram or you can be fined. The tram also brings you into contact with the locals so you feel immersed in the place. Santa Cruz is bustling and has lots of shops but also some beautiful ‘squares’ that are filled with plants, people and sculptures – well worth your time visiting and all within easy walking. But the hills are steep so get off higher up the hill, walk down and get the tram back at the last stop, by the big bus station (which has loos).
Near the Opera House is the Palmetum. A reclaimed rubbish dump, it has been landscaped and planted with palms (what else) and other plants, and is well worth a visit. I had been looking forward to visiting but was filled with trepidation because so many of these projects have money thrown at them at the beginning but are not maintained. I was surprised. It was fabulous. I have more than a passing interest in palms, which are fascinating plants, and here was an internationally important collection, with excellent labelling and information and it was beautifully kept. The landscaping was impressive and even if you had no interest in palms I think you could spend a very happy few hours wandering around.
There are views out along the coast and plenty of places to sit should you visit in the hot, summer months. It costs 5 euro to get in and there are some vending machines and a loo. If you want better food then wander over to the Opera House where you can sit outside on the patio and enjoy a snack (which was very reasonably priced and excellent quality). The two places made a very satisfactory and enjoyable morning and lunch. If in Tenerife, do go.
Of course we had to go up Teide again but this time, as well as going during the day, driving along the Cumbre Dorsal to approach from the east, we went on a night excursion to see the stars. Teide is one of the best three places in the world to see stars because of its altitude (being the highest peak in Spain, if you accept that it is Spain, which some of the locals still contest) and lack of light pollution.
I am not sure if I learnt much – it was very cold and most of my attention was focussed on not bumping into people or the telescopes in total darkness. Tip. Avoid bright moon nights if you want to see the stars. Don’t worry about clouds – if it is raining at the coast you will be above the clouds when on Teide.
We had a car, as usual. (Try CiCar – we have never had any issues with them and they are good value). So one day we went up the west to Garrachico. Once an important port it was destroyed by a ‘recent’ larva flow and is now just a nice place to visit. The route from the south is precipitous, like so many roads here, but it is easy from the east.
Down south we stayed at San Blas which is not far from the South airport. It is bordered by two small towns, one a fishing port and one that seems to be devoted to golf. It is ironic that we stayed in an ‘eco hotel’ with its own nature reserve while next door were golf courses soaking up precious water. We did pluck up courage to visit Las Americas with its seemingly unending row of beach-front eateries and ever more extravagant hotels, but were glad to get back to what was our normality for a week.
‘El Muste de Tenerife’ is, of course Loro Parque, and as days out go, you can’t beat it, even if, like me, you cannot abide ‘performing’ animals. Being in the south we ventured out to ‘Jungle Park’. The two do not really stand comparison, just as Alton Towers is fine till you visit Disney World or the ludicrous folly of calling Blackpool the Vegas of the North!
The impression that it is a money-focussed dive is not helped by the fact that as soon as you pay (28euro) you have to pay more for the car park and then you are assaulted by people selling extras such as feeding animals, having your photo taken and buying food to fling at guinea pigs – the second ‘exhibit’. I was ready to leave. But it gets better and the parrot flying display was good and informative with no birds riding bicycles or suffering other humiliation and the birds of prey display, which featured vultures, cranes and spoonbills too, was awesome (a word I do not use often). The highlight was undoubtedly the ‘walk-through’ lemur exhibit though – cute is too small a word for these charming creatures that have captured my heart since Johnny Morris and Animal Magic.