To celebrate a couple of big family occasions, we decided to break with our traditional destination on Spain’s Costa Brava and flew to Tenerife, part of the Canary Islands that belong to Spain and are located off the North West coast of Africa.
We decided to fly the low-cost Ryan Air for the 3 1/2 hour journey. As it turns out, it isn’t half bad if you go well prepared. We checked in online well in advance. The in-flight service was fine and the food (which he had to purchase) was decent. In fact it wasn’t any more expensive than the food you’d typically buy at the airport. The biggest inconveniences were the lack of reclining seats and an entertainment system. The former was not an issue because we had empty seats next to us on both flights; the latter was addressed by carrying our tablet which allowed us to conveniently watch a couple of episodes of our current favorite TV show- Homeland. People complain about the advertisements being constantly broadcast through the in-flight announcement system, but it didn’t really bother us. Besides, given the ridiculously low ticket prices they offer, I’m more than glad to put up with some minor inconveniences.
We were fortunate enough to experience what we consider a number of once in a lifetime events on this trip. We did and saw a lot, but in the interest of keeping this post brief I will focus on the highlights. Most the sights and activities are spread out across the island, so it is highly recommended you rent a reliable car.
Whale & Dolphin sighting: We rented a private yacht that took us far out into the ocean. The guide told us the waters were 3,500 meters deep. About 45 minutes in, we spotted a pod of very playful bottlenose dolphins that swam alongside the boat, diving in and out of the water. A little further out we came across a couple of pilot whales just floating around, bobbing up and down with the currents. Every so often they would spout water through their blowholes. These divine and majestic creatures came so close to the boat, you could almost touch them (although we were told not to, in the interest of not stressing out the animals). To make things even better, the water was so clear you could see them even after they dived underwater.
After the sightings, we headed to an isolated bay with water so clear you could see the 5-10 meters to the bottom. We dropped anchor and were told we could jump off the boat and swim around. We did exactly that. We wrapped up the cruise with drinks and sandwiches, accompanied by some sun bathing as we sailed past the beautiful beaches, back to port.
El Teide is technically a dormant volcano, but many scientists still classify it as active. Its peak is 3,718 meters above sea level, making it the highest point in Spain. After driving up the mountain, through the clouds, on roads carved out from impressive dried up lava flows you reach the lower cable car station. A 7-8 minute ride later, you are close to top of the volcano. A visit to the crater requires a special permit. Probably a 45 minute excursion, the path is extremely steep, with freezing winds and air so thin that it becomes hard to breathe.
We skipped the crater but it was an astounding experience nonetheless. Breathtaking views of dormant volcanos litter the landscape with a variety of craters and dried up lava flows. Further in the distance you see the Atlantic Ocean and some of the neighboring islands. If you look down, you see the clouds beneath you. If you walk around, you see the color of the soil change and smell the stench of Sulphur from the gases the volcano releases into the air.
After learning of the strength of this volcano and the fact that it is predicted to blow violently in the future, you can’t help but be in awe of and feel powerless by the raw explosive potential beneath your feet. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Beaches: You can’t visit Tenerife and not spend time on some of its gorgeous beaches. The island is spotted with beaches of all kinds.
Playa de Duque: A beautiful golden sand beach, this is probably the cleanest and nicest of all the beaches. This beach is truly a paradise. Ice blue waters draw you into the ocean and the soft sand, clean water and gentle waves don’t let you leave. Natural sand mounds on the beach allowed us to recline and take in some sun. Later we grabbed cold beers and great burgers from one the many chiringuitos (beach shacks).
Playa de Dominica: This was our first visit to a black sand beach and we were pleasantly surprised. Expecting to find rough and stony sand, we didn’t allocate enough time for this beach. As it turns out, the beach was beautiful. The black sand softer and finer than any of the golden sand beaches here. A must visit for anyone going to the Canary Islands.
Playa de las Americas: A large stretch of overly hyped and highly commercialized beach space, we wish we had skipped this. Filled with drunken tourists, noisy revelers, panhandlers, aggressive store owners and horrible & overpriced food, this beach is an affront to all the other great beaches on the island.
Los Gigantes: Literally translated, this means the giants. These are giant rock formations (steep cliffs), rising from the ocean to a height of close to 800 meters. Impressive when viewed from a distance, or by boat from below.
El Loro: The parrot-but it is so much more. These birds are large, grand and beautiful. I’m not clear on the connection of the birds with Tenerife, but they are very popular here. They might be indigenous to the area, or they might have been bred here to save them from extinction. Notwithstanding, a visit to Tenerife is incomplete without seeing these beautiful creatures. There are numerous sanctuaries and bird parks where you can get a glimpse of these colorful birds. We were fortunate enough to have stopped at a restaurant close to a viewing point for Los Gigantes (above), whose owner was an aficionado and had some of these birds. They stood on our heads and shoulders and even walked on our arms.
Apart from the horrible food on La Playa de las Americas, we had a great experience with food throughout. I would strongly recommend a great little restaurant with outdoor seating called La Buena Vida in Santa Cruz (the principal city) for superb Spanish food and unbeatable service.
We also picked up a couple of great little souvenirs for our collection at home. We didn’t end up getting too much sleep on this holiday, what with all the wonderful activities this island had to offer. The next time we go back there, it will be with a couple of extra days in hand and more time to spend on this paradise’s beautiful beaches.