Published on 04 Apr. 2021
Estimated Reading Time: 12 min
by Anna Osowska
The Island of Eternal Spring
Welcome to the next part of our journey through the volcanic kingdom of Tenerife. In the previous part of my story, we visited the king himself in his palace - Mount Teide and Teide National Park. If you haven't had the chance to read it, I invite you to read part one of my mini blog series about North Tenerife: “Mount Teide – King of the Canary Islands”. In this blog post, we will hike on trails of the black mountains and rest together at the northern coast, drink coffee in beautiful post-colonial towns and admire Tenerife's wonderful nature.
Wall of Hell and Machu Picchu of Tenerife - Teno Mountains
Our “two weeks headquarter” was right where the black peaks of Teno Mountains meet the ocean. We rented an apartment in the small town of Los Silos, a place where many Germans retire. I am not sure if I met any of them, but maybe they were just well-camouflaged. When we took the car from the airport, the road started climbing very quickly uphill with sharp turns, cliffs, and fog, which made the scenery appear eerie, dark and mysterious. When the road finally began to run downhill, the fog was still limiting our sight. I felt that the surroundings must be amazing. When we got to the vast green banana plantations, right on the edge of the ocean, I saw black walls disappearing in the fog. Only the next morning I could see the Teno Mountains – and how beautiful they are.
In the south of the island, between the mountains and the ocean, small towns are scattered, surrounded by banana trees, and in the east, the mountains flow straight into the ocean. These eastern slopes form one of the most amazing and most famous cliffs of Tenerife - Los Gigantes. The beauty of black giant, vertical cliffs, reaching up to 600 m in height, gives rise to fascination and admiration. This was not always the case, before the colonial times, when Tenerife was inhabited by their indigenous people called Guanches, the cliffs aroused fear. They were called the “Wall of Hell". The cliffs are usually seen from the town of Los Gigantes located on their southern side, from here you can also set sail on a catamaran or sailboat for a few hours. During the cruise, you can not only see the cliffs up close, but also admire whales and dolphins.
But I recommend you another wonderful and magical place to admire the cliffs. Punta del Teno is the most northerly point of the island. This is where you can see the cliffs from the north side. This place is a hidden gem, not many tourists go there. The road itself for passenger cars is open only in the morning and evening depending on the season. These hours vary, so don't forget to check them in advance. The route is beautiful and so picturesque! On the one side, there are rocks hanging overhead on the other, the abyss and the vastness of the ocean. The road is of very good quality, there are railings and nets protecting the rocks. A small lighthouse and breathtaking views await you on the headland.
The village of Masca in the Teno mountains is one of the most recognizable attractions in Tenerife and by looking at it, it is hard to not compared it with Machu Picchu. The settlement is located in a gorge and according to legend, it that it was once a shelter for pirates. The steep road to the village is already an attraction with stunning views along the way. The road is called "the road of death", which is probably a bit exaggerated since I have seen much worse roads that did not have such a nickname, but certainly a skilled driver should sit behind the wheel.
There are about 50 buildings in the village, most of them are restaurants and souvenir shops. Built of volcanic stone with the facades resemble a black and white mosaic, the houses have a very characteristic architecture which cannot be found in other parts of the island. Most likely it was due to the late connection of the village with the rest part of the island. The road was not built until the 1960s.
From Masca you can also go down the gorge Barranco de Masca to the coast. Though, when I was there, this wasn’t possible because it was forbidden to enter the gorge because of the risk of collapsing rocks. It takes around 3.5 hours to climb down and the route is very picturesque. When arriving at the coast, you need to take a boat to get out of there, or come back the same way, which can be quite an exhausting option. Of course, these are not the only attractions of the Teno mountains, trekking trails, gorges make it an ideal place for lovers of mountains and breathtaking views.
Evergreen Land from Millions of Years ago – Anaga Mountains
Now let's move to the northwest. The Anaga Mountains are one of the oldest regions in Tenerife. Formed about 7 million years ago, the mountain massif has been part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2015. In Anaga it is often foggy and even when it is sunny in all other parts of the island, it seems like the mist does not want to leave this land.
The most amazing part of Anaga are the evergreen forests. The laurel forests that cover the mountains are a relic of the forests that covered northern Africa and southern Africa 20 million years ago. The uniqueness of this place is evidenced by the fact that you have to sign up to use the trekking routes in the park in advance; some of them may only be entered by a few dozen people a day. For those who don’t want to sign up or don’t have the time to spend the whole day trekking, the park offers a very interesting and physically and timely not too demanding opportunity to experience a beautiful forest with all senses. In the heart of the mountains are the so-called Sendero de los sentios. Short, well-marked routes that allow you to experience this gorgeous place. The shortest route is prepared in such a way that it can be covered even by a wheelchair user. Another good way to explore the Anaga Rural Park is to go by car and make stops at the many viewpoints.
Where Anaga meets the ocean in the north, you will find mesmerizing black sand beaches, often hidden between rocks like the village of Benjo. So in case you are traveling to Anaga by car, don't turn back too early and go further to the coast, it will be worth it!
There is one more place worth mentioning when writing about Anaga. On the south side of the park, near the capital of the island of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, you will find one of the most stunning beaches on the island. Enter Tenerife in Google and view the photos. This is it, shown on all tourist folders, blue water, yellow sand, and black rocks. Here is the most recognizable beach in Tenerife: Playa de las Teresitas. This beach is definitely one of the most beautiful and picturesque beaches in Tenerife. It is covered with yellow sand brought from the Sahara Desert, surrounded by the black Anaga Mountains - the contrast of colors is impressive. As one of the few on the island, the beach has a breakwater, which is why you can safely swim here. It is also worth checking out the viewpoint by following up the road above the beach - it is an unforgettable view!
Beautiful and Blue-Eyed Demigods – Guanches
The subject of colonialism always arouses a lot of emotions in me. I get angry, even when the world tries to consider the pros and cons of colonialism. For me, every situation when one state tries to annex or influence another state by force, is invariably bad for me. I must admit, however, that post-colonial towns have a lot of charm. I like to see them, I like to visit them - so I have quite a feeling of cognitive dissonance. Before being conquered by Spain, the Canary Islands were inhabited by Guanches. Wikipedia says about them: "a population of unknown origin, at the level of the Neolithic culture at the time of the arrival of Europeans in the Middle Ages”. They mostly inhabited rock caves and spoke their own language. Most of them died during the resistance, the rest were sold as slaves. Only a few converted to Catholicism and survived, but they died out as a population and their culture disappeared, leaving only few traces. Scientists continue their efforts and disputes to determine where they came from on the Canary Islands and there are still many legends and myths about them. They were very tall for those times, between 170 and 180 cm, had blue eyes, light blonde or red hair, and a swarthy complexion. Almost like beautiful and strong demigods.
On the east coast of Tenerife is the town of Candelaria, where the blue of the sea contrasts with the black sand and snow-white houses. Thanks to the miraculous figure of the Virgin Mary, it became an important religious sanctuary. Along the sea and at the square in front of the Nuestra Señora basilica, you can find nine bronze statues that arouse feelings of admiration and respect for the kings of Guanche.
Colorful Walls and Wooden Balconies - the Charm of Post-Colonial Towns
Tenerife has many charming cities and towns to offer. You can admire the colonial architecture which has been preserved in many places in almost perfect condition since the times of the first conquistadors. It is almost impossible to name all the monuments, treasures, beautiful views, not to mention the lovely restaurants, bars, cafes they hide.
If I had to choose my favorite town then it probably would be La Orotava which located in the Orotava Valley, where grapes ripen in the sun, waiting to be processed into the best Canarian wines. The colonial architecture in the town is full of greenery and colorful flowers. Steep and narrow streets add charm and offer dazzling views. The city has stopped in time, there are no modern architectural ‘mistakes’, ugly and big hotels here. The colonial architecture shows itself at its best side with beautiful wooden balconies with detailed carvings and ornaments. The most famous building is Casa de los Balcones - an 18th-century colonial house. Many people come to La Orotava just to see it. It's gorgeous, but don't hesitate to wander the steep streets further and soak up the atmosphere of this lovely town for a little bit longer.
Another charming town is San Cristóbal de La Laguna, or simply La Laguna. The city owes its unusual name to the lagoon that used to be in this place but drained in 1837. The old town, inscribed on the UNESCO list, has been preserved almost intact. It is full of beautiful, restored mansions and charming patios and churches, for example the Iglesia de San Miguel de las Victorias or Iglesia de Santo Domingo, representing sacred architecture.
When I told you about the king of the island – Mount Teide, I also mentioned the former most important port of the island of Garachico, which was destroyed twice by the king's order. The town, however, didn’t give up and rose from the ashes twice like a phoenix. The remnant of these events is the gate that led to the former port, visitable in the Parque de la Puerta de Tierra. However, the city is best known for another reason. Frozen lava, after contact with water, created natural pools called El Caletón. The area is fenced and the individual pools are connected by footbridges, but unfortunately, this place is usually very crowded in high season.
Not far from Garachico, you will find another picturesque northern town - Los Silos. This town was my home during my stay on the island. Peaceful and surrounded by banana plantations, you can easily experience the real, slow Canarian life here. The coast here is stunning with black, jagged cliffs and the rough ocean. Here, too, the flowing lava created natural pools, hidden among the sharp volcanic rocks. Compared to nearby Garachico, they are much wilder, naturally beautiful without crowds of tourists, so you can easily find your own private swimming pool.
It is impossible to talk about the delightful north without mentioning the city of Puerto de la Cruz. Here, the colonial charm has a very strong competitor. Its coastal location combined with the colorful colonial Spanish buildings of the old town make Puerto the perfect destination to marvel at street art. So much so that the historical district of the city has become an ‘outdoor museum’ entitled ‘The Museum of Ephemeral Art’. The Art of Puerto de la Cruz comes in all shapes, sizes and themes. Definitely worth seeing!
And last but not least, the capital of the island: Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The city is bustling with life and there you will find souvenir shops, large markets, beautiful green parks, restaurants, cafes and charming streets.
Where Dragons have their own Trees
The north of Tenerife is characterized by black rocks, the blue of the ocean and beautiful, juicy green forests. You cannot talk about the island without mentioning its abundant vegetation that makes up the beauty of Tenerife. The tropical climate, which, combined with the volcanic origin of the archipelago, has shaped the unique flora of the island. There are as many as 140 endemic species in Tenerife, which means that there are plants that can only be found there. I already told you about the laurel forests of the Anaga Mountains and about the beautiful purple flowers that grow in Teide National Park, but of course this is not everything.
The north of the island is the kingdom of flowering perennials, and the steep mountain slopes are the favorite habitat of the fig opuntia. Canary Island pines, palm trees, cacti, aloe vera, agave and much, much more grow here as well. In the north of Tenerife, to be more precisely in Icod de los Vinos, another charming town, is the most famous specimen of dracaena, also known as ‘dragon tree’, and it is said to be almost a thousand years old. For this reason, the plant was named Millenaria. Banana plantations and vineyards in the Orotava Valley do one last thing to add charm to the island. Beautiful, bright green, and often shrouded in fog floating from the mountains.
Is that all?
Of course not. This is just an introduction to getting to know the north of Tenerife with mountains, valleys, ravines and all the treasures hidden amongst them. Also remember that I haven’t shared anything about the tourist resorts in the south and the famous amusement parks that fuel the tourist traffic on the island. Despite these gaps in my story, I hope I managed to arouse your interest in Tenerife. The north is absolutely worth visiting, really beautiful and still mostly untouched. If you want to visit this or other islands of the archipelago, don't hesitate to let us know. Giving Getaway will help you plan an unforgettable journey to The Fortunate Isles.
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