The Canary island of Tenerife appeals year-round as one of Europe’s best beach destinations, with geographic contrasts that spawn activities and landscapes you don’t find in a typical island vacation.
While the Canary Islands belong to Spain, they sit in the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Morocco – a cultural plus. Geographically, Tenerife is in Africa; politically, it is in Europe – and that’s a history and culinary plus.
Ideal Weather for Beach-Going and Sightseeing
One of the biggest attractions of Tenerife, the largest of the seven main Canary Islands, is the weather: eternal spring and clear skies. With an average annual temperature of 73° F, it is almost always beach weather.
But perhaps the most striking and unique aspect of the island is the variety of geography and astonishing landscapes. Water sports and sun bathing on the desert-like coast in the south are just an hour away from hiking or cycling in a lush rain forest in the north.
Both microclimates are near the center of the small island and what many call the ultimate Canarian experience, the geological treasure that is Mount Teide National Park.
1. Mount Teide Volcano learning experience
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mount Teide volcano is Spain’s highest peak and the third highest volcano in the world. A real star on Tenerife.
After spending one morning on the water, we journeyed from tropical sun to a sea of clouds and drove up the steep mountainous slopes towards the volcano base, stopping along the way to walk on massive plateaus resembling lunar landscapes.
The views of the valleys and volcano summit were stunning.
At the Visitors Center, signs along a path through the Botanical Garden taught us about the vast variety of unusual flora that exists in this ecosystem.
For another learning experience, book a tour at the Mount Teide Observatory, one of the four top observatories in the world. Here adults and children can learn about astronomy and the role that Tenerife has played in the development of modern astrophysics.
2. Tenerife Made-in-Nature: Los Gigantes
Tenerife is a great vacation choice for families, either as a destination of its own or as an additional stop on a trip to Europe. There is no shortage of activities and adventures, both educational and just plain fun.
Here are some highlights of the natural beauty.
In the south, kayak in the crystal waters near Los Gigantes, a seaside town named for the giant cliffs that seem to emerge straight up from the sea.
If the waters are a little choppy, no problem. A great alternative is a two-hour boat trip for whale and dolphin watching with a swimming stop under the cliffs.
3. Go Slow in the Rural Park of Anaga
Walk or cycle through the rain forest of the Rural Park of Anaga, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Wander alone or with a guide through laurel forests that eventually lead to the coast and beaches of black volcanic sand, typical of the beaches in the north.
4. Stargaze on the top of Tenerife
Another claim to fame: Tenerife is known as one of the best places in the world for stargazing because of the clear skies and elevations.
There are many places to arrange this, but we went to Finca Alma de Trevejos, a ranch and winery that sits at about 5,000 feet. After a wine tasting and dinner, a guide with an impressive telescope showed us Mars and numerous stars.
Once again, the island contrasts kicked in. While it had been -shirt weather during the day, at night at these altitudes, we needed multiple layers for the 40°F temperatures.
5. Masca is made for Family Adventures
If you feel like soaring in another direction, head west to Masca, a tiny hamlet that has been called the most beautiful village in the Canary Islands and the Machu Picchu of the Canarias.
The scenery is spectacular and part of the wow factor is actually getting there.
The village is hidden among steep ravines and the drive is not for the faint of heart. You follow a narrow road similar to the one leading to Teide that climbs via switchbacks and then descends via more switchbacks to this small village of stone houses and cobblestone streets that seems to suddenly appear out of nowhere.
It’s like discovering the fantasy village of Brigadoon, except it doesn’t just come to life once every hundred years. And instead of heather on the hill, there are cactus and palm trees.
6. Day at Loro Park Zoo & Water Park
Back to lower terrain, kids will love Loro Park, a large zoo that is home to a very diverse animal population including silverback gorilllas, lions, 4,000 parrots and daily orcas shows.
Siam Park, its sister property, is a water park featuring water slides, a lazy river and a wave pool with an artificial beach.
7. Tour the Spanish Style Colonial Towns
Of course, what would a Spanish island be without colonial towns that compete with each other for charm and beauty?
La Laguna is a World Heritage Site and the ancient capital that now boasts shops and restaurants.
Garachico is a port town that was reconstructed after having been destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1706.
La Orotova is one of the highest towns on the island, with a charming historic district perched above the newer part of town.
8. Sleep well at Accommodations for Every Budget
Tenerife is a very popular island for beach vacations and there are thousands of accommodation options, including villas, timeshares, Airbnbs and homestays. The luxury resort sector is also well represented.
The Ritz-Carlton Abama on the southern coast is a spectacular Moroccan style resort on 160 acres overlooking the sea with seven swimming pools, 10 restaurants, a fabulous spa, a kids club, a golf course and tennis courts. In short, it has everything.
The GF Victoria is not far away on the Adeje Coast, also in the south, with more of a city vibe. Surrounded by shops and a shopping center, the hotel has numerous family amenities including several swimming pools, a kids club, a mini club, a rock climbing wall, a body surf pool, a terrific spa, tennis and squash courts, and a sky top bar with a plunge pool.
The Hotel Botanico in Puerto de La Cruz on the north side of the island boasts one of the best spas in Europe. The hotel is a classic. Although not far from the beach, it does not offer the same kind of family amenities with kids’ clubs or water sports.
9. Introduce the Kids to New Tastes
All ages eat very well in Spain and Tenerife is no exception — from casual to elegant restaurants with Michelin stars.
As you might guess, there is lots of fish and seafood, including seafood paella, grilled octopus and delicious other dishes with foamed deserts and emulsified sauces typical of the new Spanish cuisine.
Popular appetizers take advantage of local ingredients, such as goat cheeses (sometimes grilled) served with almonds and a very Canarian dish called wrinkled potatoes with mojo. Mojo sauce is a local specialty primarily coming in two varieties — red and green — depending on whether the base is red peppers or cilantro.
If you’re looking for a winter getaway and want something that offers more than just a beachfront resort in the sun, think about Tenerife.
While it’s a favorite escape for Europeans, most Americans are unfamiliar with the Canary Islands. I invite you to discover a new world like I recently did.
June Massell is a four-time Emmy award winning national television news correspondent and investigative reporter, producer, and travel writer. She also runs a strategic communications consulting practice to help clients “tell their story.”
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