Since my husband’s brother and his wife with two children moved to Spain for half a year we decided to visit them in Tenerife. We stayed with them for a week in Los Gigantes which is a small resort town in the south of the island populated with older couples and families with children. The impression, in general, was that half of Europe moved to the south of Tenerife to escape the winter on the continent. The hotels, restaurants and shops were mainly catered to tourists and were overpriced and often bad quality. Nevertheless, if your goal is to sunbathe and to let children play in the sand then it may be better to choose the south since it is colder in the north. In Los Gigantes, the main attractions were a small marina and a tiny black sand beach with a view of Los Gigantes, majestic rocks. Unfortunately, the weather turned out to be worse than usual (around 16 degrees C) and my baby son and I got sick. This is what happens when you expect hot weather and end up wearing sandals and tank tops since this is all what you brought. Besides spending time in bed, I spent most of the time in a main town square in a café where there was an internet connection. There seemed to be a problem with internet all over Tenerife, as many rental properties are not connected.
One day we departed from Los Gigantes’ marina to take our little niece on a pirate ship to see dolphins and wales. We saw a big group of dolphins and wales but the sea had many waves which made our whole group loose our breakfast, except the baby who was content as long as sun was not shining in his face. There was no desire for paella served on a ship after this experience…
Probably the best trip from Los Gigantes is to drive to a pleasant village Masca taking winding roads with hairpin bends and enjoying views of deep and green ravines. The village was unknown until recently and its small Bay of Masca is reputed to have been a pirate hideaway. To get there, you have to walk in a steep gorge through dramatic rock formations and lush green flora. The tourist information said that the walk will take three hours but our party with children made it in 2hours 10 minutes. It was a record, especially bearing in mind that my husband’s brother carried a 2.5 year-old daughter on his back and a 3 month old in the front and my husband carried our son. In the end of the picturesque walk, we had a picnic on the coast and waited for a boat to take as back to Los Gigantes. We didn’t dare to take the same way back, which would have required a lot of effort on our part and much more time. Only my husband ran up the mountains to get the car left in Masca (in 55minutes!) but he has a high level of fitness.
During the second week, we explored the north of Tenerife where we discovered more culture, history and green nature than in the south. A real cultural experience was attending the Carnival of Santa Cruz, which is the second biggest after Rio Carnival. We stayed at the hotel Principe Paz located right in the central square of Santa Cruz where all the fun was taking place. The carnival festivities started with a selection of the Carnival queen in an extravagant gala. The nominees were judged by their beauty, grace and costumes. 2012 queen’s dress was called Imperio:
The carnival, as a non-stop party, lasted for a week. 2012 carnival’s theme was flower power so the streets were full of hippy dresses and costumes decorated with flowers. The Grand Parade on Tuesday was impressive as the queen, queen nominees, salsa and marching bands and other participants floated by. After the parade was over, buses decorated in flowers drove in the main avenue blasting popular DJ music from the 70s. The fireworks culminated the excitement the day was still not over. Discotheques in the street lasted into the wee hours of the morning, as popular DJs played current hit music.
On Ash Wednesday, we went shopping since Santa Cruz offers tax free merchandise. In the evening, we did not expect that the Burial of Sardine would be even more impressive than the Grand Parade. As we were having dinner around 8pm the streets were empty and we were disappointed not to see any festivities. Nevertheless, around 11pm black creatures started emerging from the corners. Those were black widows, mostly men dressed as women, ready to mourn the death of the sardine. It was quite a show as the costumes rivaled each other and the “widows” shed tears and many had a story to tell. As the “widows” with elaborate costumes marched down the main streets the Sardine proceeded to her burial grounds.
Amazingly, our son slept deeply as the huge noise blasted all around us. Around 2am the fire was lit and the Sardine expired in the flames with fireworks. It was interesting to find a similarity with a Lithuanian tradition practiced during the Shrove Tuesday when a rag doll is burned to symbolize the end of winter. Following the burial of Sardine, the dancing and drinking in the streets lasted until the morning again. We were wondering the whole time how the Canarians go to work the next day, especially if they party like this every night. The carnival ended with Piñata weekend and renowned entertainment and clouds of confetti in the streets of Santa Cruz.
The city of Puerto de la Cruz had its own carnival. We went there on Friday night to see the High Heels Marathon. Again, men were dressed as women and were wearing high heels and platform shoes. They were in teams dressed in costumes reflecting some kind of theme. For example, there was a group, which wore costumes covered in threads and buttons and had sewing machines planted on their heads. The marathon itself was more like a slow walk than a run since the participants were exhibiting their costumes and falling sometimes from their towering heels. Finally, we escaped the crowds to have seafood at Cofradía de Pescadores, enticing with its contemporary and airy design.
After partying in the carnival, we were happy to rest and to visit less crowded places in the north of Tenerife. For a few days, we stayed in the apartment in a country house which had a nice garden with flowers, cactuses and orange and avocado trees, and even offered a sauna and jacuzzi. The owner was an interesting and helpful German lady who was born in Mexico and decorated the apartment in her handmade art with some Mexican touches.
The location of the house was convenient to see what the north of Tenerife has to offer. The town of Orotava charmed us with its Renaissance mansions, churches, squares and well manicured gardens. It had an aristocratic atmosphere since it was home to many of the island’s wealthiest and noblest families who settled here after the Spanish conquest to grow sugar, vines and bananas in the surrounding valley. We drove through some of banana plantations to get to a restaurant El Calderito De La Abuela with a beautiful ocean view and delicious and authentic local cuisine.
The well-preserved old town of San Cristóbal de La Laguna is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This historic town served as Tenerife’s capital until 1821 and is a gateway to Anaga Mountains. These breathtaking mountains, covered in lush laurel trees and ferns and intersected by deep ravines, offer many splendid hiking trails. They were surprisingly not touristic and a nice change from the beach scene.
We took a winding and steep road through Anaga to get to Taganana, a fishing village, which offers a spectacular panorama of the ocean. We devoured fresh seafood dinner in one of the restaurants on the nearby point while watching the sun setting in the rocks in the ocean.
A group of daring Canarians who swam in the cold ocean told us that this hidden spot is one of the best on the island and advised us to stay away from populated beach towns. If you look for another pleasant restaurant with a view of the ocean, just such called La Caseta it is located in a small village Punta de Hidalgo.
No visit to Tenerife would be complete without a visit to Teide National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage site, to see Teide volcano, the highest Spanish peak. The park provides evidence of the geological processes that support the evolution of oceanic islands and atmospheric conditions, which create a unique landscape.
It also has many walking trails leading through pine trees. After a long walk we were happy to discover a local restaurant near the parking lot. It was crowded with sporty locals who came to ride bikes in the park and the elderly who chatted away and enjoyed the sun by the entrance. The best surprise was the menu of the day. Without an explanation, the waitress just took me into the kitchen and showed huge pots with five different kinds of homemade stews.
Typical Canarian dishes include varied stews made with fresh fish, vegetables, meats, watercress, and beans. We also recommend to try Rabbit in Salmorejo Sauce with local spices.
The food is usually accompanied with papas arrugadas, "wrinkled potatoes" which basically are potatoes with peel cooked in salted water and served with green and spicy orange sauce known as mojo.
In addition to the islands' mojos, another fundamental product to Tenerife's food dishes is what's known as "gofio canario," which is a locally produced flour created by grinding roasted sweet corn and other toasted grains.