Best Things to do in Tenerife
Famed for its southern resorts (and not always in a good way), the joy of Tenerife is that it offers so many more things to do than just another sunflop on the beach. For a true taste of Tenerife, consider dramatic volcanic scenery, colorful colonial towns, world-class museums, sophisticated dining and earthy local bars where you’ll still need Spanish to order a beer.
Things to do in Tenerife – Visit Parque Nacional del Teide
The awesome Pico del Teide (3718m) is the highest mountain in the Canary Islands, the highest mountain in Spain and, along with its extraordinary surrounding national park, will undoubtedly be the highlight of your trip to Tenerife.
The surrounding national park covers 189.9 sq km encompassing the volcano and the surrounding hinterland and is both a Unesco World Heritage site and Spain’s most popular national park. The area is truly extraordinary, comprising a haunting lunar moonscape of surreal rock formations, mystical caves and craggy peaks.
Pico del Teide Self-Guided Walks
The visitor guide lists 21 walks, varying in length from 600m to a strenuous 17.6km, some of which are signposted. Each walk is graded according to its level of difficulty. You are not allowed to stray from the marked trails, a sensible restriction in an environment where every tuft of plant life has to fight for survival.
Most Spectacular Hike
A fabulous hike is to climb to the summit of Pico Viejo, then walk along the ridge that connects this mountain to Teide and up to the summit. Allow nine hours (one way) and be prepared to walk back down Teide again if the cable car is closed. Consider staying overnight at the Refugio de Altavista (€21) at 3270m.
Pico del Teide Guided Hikes Tenerife
Park rangers host free guided walks around the mountain in both Spanish and English. The pace is gentle and even though you’ll huff and puff rather more than usual because of the high altitude, the walks are suitable for anyone of reasonable fitness, including older kids. Groups leave at 9.15am and 1.30pm from El Portillo visitor center; advance reservations are essential.
Roques de Garcia
A few kilometers south of El Teide peak, across from the parador, lies this extraordinary geological formation of twisted lava pinnacles with names like the Finger of God and the Cathedral. They are the result of the erosion of old volcanic dykes, or vertical streams of magma. A family-friendly trail leads around the Roques, where you won’t need more than comfortable shoes and some warm clothing. Spreading out to the west are the otherworldly bald plains of the Llano de Ucanca.
Cable Car to the Summit
The cable car (cable car adult/child €26/13; 9am-4pm) provides the easiest, and most popular way to reach the El Teide peak. On clear days, the volcanic peak spreads out majestically below and you can see the islands of La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro peeking up from the Atlantic. It takes just eight minutes to zip up 1200m. Bring a jacket – and a camera.
Climbing the Peak
If you plan on climbing to the summit of El Teide you must reserve your place online at www.reservasparquesnacionel.es. You can reserve up to 2pm the day before you want to climb and choose from several two-hour slots per day in which to make your final ascent to the summit. In addition to the permit, take along your passport or ID.
Things to see in Tenerife – Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre
This Santa Cruz museum has superb exhibits about Tenerife’s natural history, plus archaeology, anthropology and fascinating informative displays about the indigenous Guanche population.
This brain-bending amalgam of natural science and archaeology is the city’s number-one attraction and one of the best museums in all the Canary Islands. Set inside the aesthetically restored former civil hospital, exhibits are spread over three floors of well-lit galleries surrounding two courtyards. The island’s flora, fauna and geology is covered in informative displays that chart the emergence of the island, plus there is a section on archaeology and ethnology, including a fascinating exhibit about the Guanches’ lifestyle and culture.
The Guanche People
The excellent exhibition on the indigenous population (2nd floor, area 1) includes a collection of prehistoric skulls neatly displayed in glass cases, along with tools, jewellery and everyday objects from daily life. There is a fascinating display of Guanche mummies and skulls with faces dried into contorted and grotesque expressions. Also look for the vertebrae pierced by a wooden spear.
This exhibit on the ground floor (area 1) provides the perfect introduction to the archipelago with a giant panel noting the timescale of the islands, back to the formation of Fuerteventura 20 million years ago. There’s also a complex display of how the islands were formed and vivid audiovisual displays that recreate the volcanic eruptions. Unlike much of the museum, most of the signage here is multilingual.
Touch-sensitive screens provide access to fascinating information about the birds, mammals and reptiles found on the Canary Islands (1st floor, area 5). Listen to birdsong and discover which creature is now a threatened species, plus which are extinct – like the lava mouse and, more happily perhaps, the giant rat. Check out the giant lizard whose mummified remains are on display.
Visit Museo de la Historia de Tenerife
La Laguna’s historic center is lined with 17th- and 18th-century ancestral mansions which, like the Museo de Historia, are distinctive for their colorful and decorative frontages.
Founded in 1496, La Laguna was Tenerife’s original capital and attracted wealthy merchants and noblemen who built their mansions here, many of which still line the narrow streets, their bright facades graced with wooden double doors, carved balconies, grey stone embellishments and elegant wood-shuttered windows concealing cool shady patios. One of the most emblematic calles (streets) is San Agustín, home to several magnificent buildings, including the 16th-century home of the excellent Museo de la Historia de Tenerife.
The museum’s latest acquisitions are two magnificent carriages, the French rococo 18th-century Berlin and the slightly later Landau (a carriage frequently mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels). Other highlights include Guanche pottery, traditional crafts and quirky one-offs such as a 1961 newspaper clipping announcing the first charter flight from the UK to Tenerife, operated by the short-lived British United Airways.
For many people, the museum building is as fascinating as the exhibits. Dating from the late 16th century it was built by a family of Italian origin, hence such embellishments as the decorative floral lintels, typical of the Genoese Mannerism movement. The interior patio is magnificent, complete with drago (dragon) tree and a richly carved wooden gallery supported by stout stone columns.