Tenerife: An island for all seasons

Synonymous with year-round sunshine and sandy beaches, Tenerife has long been a popular destination for holiday makers but, as Kerry Bailey discovers, the island also hides many lesser-known attractions that will appeal to your group.

Playing golf against the backdrop of the Anaga Mountains on the outskirts of Santa Cruz

Playing golf against the backdrop of the Anaga Mountains on the outskirts of Santa Cruz

Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands with 217 miles of coastline, is located in the Atlantic Ocean just 300 kilometres off the north west coast of Africa. Once an important link for sailors travelling between Africa, Europe and the Americas, the Spanish island has inherited diverse traditions from cultures all over the world, which groups will see reflected in its people, food, vibrant fiestas and lively carnivals.

For groups, whilst the colourful cosmopolitan cities and traditional towns are a big draw, the island also has many lesser-known natural attractions to discover from dormant volcanoes to ancient pyramids. As the island benefits from an average year-round temperature of 23 degrees celsius, it makes an ideal group destination all year round, with group activities such as hiking, paragliding and whale watching always available.

Tales of two cities

Whether you prefer the hustle and bustle of the cosmopolitan capital city Santa Cruz or the quiet historic qualities of La Laguna, the old capital of Tenerife, both have plenty of attractions to appeal to groups.

Santa Cruz is set against the backdrop of the Anaga Mountains on the northeast coast of the island. Its mile-long golden beach is a huge draw for visitors and locals alike and, as the largest port in Tenerife, it draws cruise liners and trade vessels from all over the world on a daily basis.

As a result of this, there are excellent shopping facilities available in the centre of Santa Cruz including the principal shopping street, Calle del Castillo and the Parque Bulevar shopping centre as well as, on the outskirts of the city, the popular El Corte Ingles.

A good place to start for groups in search of a spot of Canarian culture is the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre, which examines the history and culture of the Canary Islands. A particular highlight is the collection of mummified Gaunches, the first-known human inhabitants of the Canary Islands. There is a small admission fee and discounts can be negotiated.

A short walk from here, groups will find the main church in Santa Cruz, Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion. The building that can be seen today dates back to the 17th century – when it was rebuilt following a fire – and contains an extensive collection of valuable religious art. Entry is free.

Sculpted busts of Tenerife’s famous historic poets, musicians and philosophers greet visitors to the nearby Museo Municipal de Bellas Artes, meanwhile, where the city’s main library and art collection can be found. The library is located on the ground floor whilst the gallery spreads across the first and second floors displaying important national paintings ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries in 14 exhibition rooms. Entry is free.

For sculpture, head to La Rambla, where works from the likes of Henry Moore, originally displayed during the 1973 International Street Sculpture Exhibition, remain on display.

To get a real taste of Tenerife’s culture, groups can plan their visit to coincide with one of the many fiestas that take place in Santa Cruz throughout the year. The most popular of these is the Tenerife Carnival, which is held annually in the two weeks leading up to Lent.

If carnivals and fiestas are not really your thing, why not pay a visit to the Auditorio, which opened in 2003 and is home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra. As well as performances by the Orchestra, various visiting opera, drama and dance companies perform here. Groups must pre-book.

Offering a contrast to the lively atmosphere of Santa Cruz, meanwhile, is ancient La Laguna, located five miles inland in a valley in the Anaga Mountains. The city was once the capital of the island – until 1723 – and was made a World Cultural and Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

A good starting point for your group’s visit is the Plaza del Adelantado, a central square lined with rustic 15th century mansions, where a traditional daily market takes place. Here, groups can sample and buy all manner of fresh produce in addition to embroidery and lace, the making of which are traditional island crafts.

For an opportunity to view the interior of one of the square’s mansions, head to the Museo de Historia de Tenerife, which is located within the former home of a 16th century family of bankers. The original chapel and gardens remain whilst, elsewhere in the building, exhibits covering five centuries of Tenerife’s economical, social and cultural history can be found. There is a small admission fee for which groups can negotiate discounts.

Also offering group discounts, not far from here, the Museo de Antropologia depicts five centuries of rural island life and is definitely worth a look. Housed within an original 18th century mansion, the attraction boasts extensive gardens, a windmill and orchards, where groups can see traditional produce being cultivated.

Natural instincts

Tenerife has two climatic zones, north and south. The north side of the island receives more cloud cover and rainfall whilst the south side enjoys a warmer, subtropical climate. Comparable with the Galapagos Islands, these varied climatic conditions have allowed Tenerife to nurture a variety of, sometimes unique, plants and wildlife.

The island also forms part of Macaronesia – four of the richest biological areas of the natural world – and groups interested in discovering the more natural attractions and activities will be in their element when discovering this lesser-known side of Tenerife.

Perhaps the best place for groups to start is at the point that divides the island into north and south – the Teide National Park.

El Tiede rises from the Tiede National Park

El Tiede rises from the Tiede National Park

It is home to El Teide, which at 3718 metres, is the third highest volcano in the world. Today, it is completely dormant and groups are able to make use of a cable car, which stops just 170 metres short of the summit, in order to experience its height fully. Those feeling particularly energetic are able to climb El Teide by foot following a signposted route; however, this will take around four hours and groups must pre-book a permit.

The climate and position of Tenerife also makes it an ideal location for astronomic study and groups can pre-book a visit to the Observaci n de las Estrellas, the Observatory at the peak of El Teide, for an evening of solar observation. Groups are equipped with telescopes and the services of a guide and visits can be arranged via the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute.

The Teide National Park itself was founded in 1954 in order to protect the land shaped around El Teide and covers 18,990 hectares making it the largest National Park in the Canary Islands. Nature lovers will find an abundance of plant and animal species living in the volcano’s shadow. There are more than 700 invertebrates listed in this area alone in addition to several rare species of lizards and birds. To be in with more chance of spotting them, GTOs should consider pre-booking a guided walk.

The area that stretches from here to the north coast is The Orotava Valley, also known as the Garden of Tenerife. Most of the land is covered with lush green forests and banana plantations; however, the nearby volcanic activity has also sculpted the coastline over time, which groups will see reflected in the number of black sandy coves around the Valley. Lots of vineyards can also be found in this part of the island due to the fertile soil and many offer pre-booked visits exclusively to groups.

The Valleoro Wine Cellar offers a guided tour of its cellars where you will see its pneumatic grape press, steel barrels and conveyer belt, capable of bottling 3,000 bottles of wine an hour. Wine tasting sessions are also offered.

Also well worth a visit is the nearby Wine Museum, which is housed in 17th century farm buildings and documents the island’s wine making processes throughout history. Wine tastings and talks can be pre-booked.

Another interesting visit and located next door is the House of Honey, where groups can discover different types of local honey, made from flowers and plants existing only in Tenerife. Groups must pre-book.

Traditional Canarian wine making methods can also be seen in action at Bodegas Monje, in operation since 1750. As well as a tour of the vineyards and cellars, GTOs can pre-book wine tastings and traditional Canarian cuisine sampling.

For something a little different, groups can learn the ancient art of horse whispering at Finca Verde, a horse ranch located deep in The Orotava Valley. Here, groups can learn about the behaviour and body language of horses from tutors before they begin riding lessons, followed by a trip into the Valley to discover its attractions on horseback.

On the south side of the Teide National Park, the main attraction for groups is the Pyramids of Guimar. These form six complex ‘step’ pyramids with a rectangular base, which have a similarity to the pyramids built by the Mayans and Aztecs in Mexico. The origins of the Pyramids have remained a mystery for hundreds of years and groups can view a film questioning theories on when and why they were built. Discounted admission is offered.

Tenerife is located on the main migration route for whales

Tenerife is located on the main migration route for whales

Heading to the south coast, another activity popular with groups is whale and dolphin watching. In fact, the Canary Islands are on the main migration routes for whales, with one third of all species passing through each year.

The Nostramo Company operates from its base in the coastal town of Playa San Juan and offers whale and dolphin watching excursions for groups in its two glass bottomed catamarans, the Tropecal Delfin and the Royal Delfin.

Based in the coastal town of Los Gigantes, meanwhile, is Katrin, a wooden sailing boat that takes groups out into the ocean to hunt for good photo opportunities. It eventually moors in Masca Bay, where passengers are able to swim from the boat and try their hand at snorkelling.

In between

Tenerife is sprinkled with many historic villages and towns worth uncovering.

Heading to the northern coast of the island, Puerto de la Cruz has been a popular destination for tourists since the 19th century and, today, is an elegant example of a traditional coastal town. Here, the main attraction is Loro Parque, which stretches across 135,000 square metres and is home to tigers, gorillas, pelicans, monkeys and even a giant turtle from the Galapagos Islands. A real highlight of visiting is the shows, which see sea lions, dolphins, penguins and killer whales performing. There is also a penguinarium. Pre-booked groups are offered discounted admission.

Puerto de la Cruz at sunset

Puerto de la Cruz at sunset

Also offering pre-booked group rates and featuring palm trees, exotic plants and a variety of man-made saltwater swimming pools, the Lago Martinez is a popular complex with visitors to the island for swimming.

Jardin Botanico, meanwhile, was founded in 1788 and houses extensive tropical and sub-tropical plants. Again, pre-booked group rates are available

The highlight of visiting the nearby town of Icod de los Vinos is the opportunity to see El Drago Milenario – or ‘The Dragon Tree’ – as at 56 feet in height with a 20 foot circumference it is the largest tree on the island, dating back to the prehistoric Tertiary period.

The Church of San Marcos is also worth a look as it houses a small museum containing a collection of religious artefacts. Entry is free.

Groups can learn more about the traditional island craft of lace making at the 17th century Casa de los Balcones, in the historic town of La Orotava. Here, costumed staff tell visitors about the history of lace making. Groups can also explore the building’s period rooms for a small fee.

Feeling sporty

Groups that are looking to get active on their holiday will have an abundance of options available to them in Tenerife.

Walking and hiking are both good ways to explore the island and the Spanish Nature Conservation Institute (ICONA) publishes leaflets that detail recommended routes through The Orotava Valley and the Anaga Mountains.

The plentiful coastline and stable sea temperature mean that Tenerife is also popular for diving, with scuba diving centres located mainly on the west coast of the island. For example, The Los Gigantes Diving Centre offers scuba diving training and experiences for groups of all abilities with the added option of hand feeding underwater creatures such as stingrays.

Throughout the island, golf is an activity enjoyed by visitors and locals alike and there are nine courses to choose from. In particular, groups can head to the newest facility, Abama, in Guia de Isora, opened in 2005. The luxury resort features a par 17 golf course with 18 holes, a golf school – where groups can pre-book tuition – plus its own marina, beach and spa.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Tenerife Tourism Corporation
421 Finchley Road
London NW3 6HJ

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7431 4045
Fax: +44 (0)20 7150 7092

Email: tenerifeinfo@axissm.com
Web: www.webtenerife.com