Tenerife is the largest island of the Canary Islands and officially part of Spain, but located just west of Morocco, off the North African coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Benefitting from a mild climate with even temperatures throughout the year, it’s the comfortably warm winters that make Tenerife, and the Canary Islands as a whole, favorite winter destinations for Europeans, as well as a popular place to retire to.
The island of Tenerife, which is the most populous of the Canaries, offers pretty much everything you could wish from a sunny island getaway, from fiestas in and around the capital Santa Cruz to lovely beaches, a buzzing restaurant scene, and accommodation ranging from camping to luxury hotels. However, its rugged countryside and exciting coastline, plus the fact that it is surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, rife with marine life, draw visitors who like a bit of outdoor activity. Here, there are unforgettable experiences to be had on land and the water.
Here are some great things to do, leaving you with memories you will treasure forever.
1. Tour Mount Teide
The Canary Islands are volcanic in origin, so it will not come as a surprise that there is a volcano in Tenerife. What might surprise you is that the picture-perfect Mount Teide, sitting pretty much in the center of the island, with its more than 12,000 feet, is not only the highest mountain in Spain, but also the third-largest volcano in the world when it comes to height and volume. Often snow-capped, exploring this volcano is quite safe — it last erupted in 1909 — and makes for a wonderful experience, with great hikes, climbs (which need a permit), and tours available. The easiest way to get to the top is to join a tour that takes you up by cable car. Then, you can hike within the national park and enjoy stunning views across the ocean of the islands in the distance.
Pro Tip: The Canaries are famous for their stargazing opportunities within the non-light-polluted interiors of the islands that are far away from the mainland. Take full advantage of Tenerife’s unique position by going up Mount Teide at sunset and joining a star-gazing tour, with the stars’ constellations being so close you can nearly touch them.
2. Island Hop
Once you have seen how close some of the other Canary Islands are from the top of Mount Teide, it would be a shame to only see Tenerife and ignore the rest of the archipelago. There are plenty of daily ferries that take you across to other islands, such as Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, El Hierro, La Gomera, La Palma, or Gran Canaria. Ferry times range from one hour to La Gomera, 1.5 hours to Gran Canaria, to 10.5 hours to Lanzarote.
Go along by yourself, take a rental bicycle or your hire car and treat it as a mini cruise. Maybe even stay the night or two on another island for an extra experience. Staying a night would be worthwhile for islands such as Lanzarote, which is filled with art, architecture, and natural wonders. You could also join a day trip tour to nearby La Gomera on a charter boat with a guide and learn more about the lovely little island capital of San Sebastian.
Pro Tip: There is even a ferry back to the Spanish mainland if flying is not your thing. It does take some 40 hours, but if you have time on your side, this is a great way to travel.
3. Dolphin And Whale Watching
Along Costa Adeje, in the southwest of Tenerife, you can enjoy incredible sightings of dolphins and whales. Some 20 species of marine mammals live and visit here, some all year round, and others pass by the islands during their annual migration. The best seasons to see the most diverse species are winter and spring, but there are whale-watching tours that depart from Costa Adeje year round, and you have choices of boats, timings, and size of groups.
Most tours also have a resident marine biologist on board telling you more about the species you will see. Dolphins come often as a free addition to the tours, as they tend to swim along with the boats.
Pro Tip: You might even be lucky to see an orca, a blue whale, or a sperm whale, but most common around Tenerife are pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.
4. Scuba Dive Or Snorkel With Turtles
From one ocean giant to one of the most popular creatures of the sea: turtles. Here in the Atlantic Ocean and off the coast of Tenerife, you can grab the chance to either scuba dive or go snorkeling with green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles. There are a few good spots in Tenerife to see turtles, such as the protected area of Malpais de la Rasca or El Bufadero in Palm-Mar, and you can either go on dives or boat trips that include snorkeling with turtles.
Pro Tip: For an all-around sporty and adrenaline-pumping day, why not go on a kayak tour? They have been known to include dolphin and whale-spotting, snorkeling with turtles, and great views of the island from the water.
5. Hike The Anaga Forest
On the northern tip of Tenerife, you’ll find the Anaga Country Park, one of Tenerife’s oldest areas, dedicated as a Biosphere Reserve, covering 14,500 hectares of mountains, forests, ravines, cliffs, hidden villages, and spectacular coastal routes. The park is crisscrossed with often ancient hiking trails of varying difficulty levels, although all require good shoes, preparation, and a certain level of experience and fitness.
There is a plethora of stunning scenery. You can either go it alone, reach the park by hire car or public transport, or go on an organized tour with a guide. The guide will pick you up from your hotel and drop you off after so you can get an idea of the location and what to expect. You can always come again later.
6. Boat Trip Along Los Gigantes
Los Gigantes itself is a lovely coastal town that is worth seeing but adds the Acantilados de Los Gigantes, which are, as the name suggests, gigantic cliffs that reach up to 2,500 feet. From that height, you have a truly spectacular setting. There are plenty of things to do in Los Gigantes, quite literally at times in the shade of the majestic cliffs.
From enjoying the black sand beach to a 20-minute saunter to the neighboring town of Puerto de Santiago, roughly one mile away along the coast (note that it is downhill from Los Gigantes, but uphill on the way back, so it will take you a little longer). You could swim in the natural large rock pools under the cliffs, or enjoy a meal at the chic and Michelin-starred restaurant El Rincon de Juan Carlon, which serves superb seafood and local dishes with a modern twist.
Pro Tip: The best way to appreciate the enormous size of these cliffs is by boat. After all, you are on an island, and much of the excitement is boat-related here. As mentioned before, some excursions can tick a few boxes off in one go. With this boat trip, you can enjoy looking up at the cliffs, swimming in the sea beneath, and with some luck, you’ll also see whales and dolphins. Bring your snorkeling gear and you might even add a turtle to the day’s pleasures.
7. Sample The Wine
Wine has been grown and made on the Canary Islands since the 15th century with the help of the black, fertile volcanic soil and mild climate. According to Wine Enthusiast, Listán Blanco (aka Palomino) and Listán Negro are the most widely planted grapes on the islands. Others include white wine grapes Malvasía Volcánica, Malvasía Aromática, and Albillo Criollo; along with red wine grapes Negramoll, Vijariego Negro, and Baboso Negro.
There are also some international varieties, such as Syrah. The interesting thing, apart from the truly excellent wine, is the way the vines are grown. They grow in little shelters of round, walled bunkers made from white rocks that are set against the black soil with green vines growing protected within.
Most of the Canary Islands produce wine, but Tenerife has five wine regions, covering some 8,000 hectares of vineyards. Take a day out to sample the produce, while also marveling at the ingenuity of the planting. There are numerous tours that not only allow you to visit vineyards, but also stop for lunch and a little sightseeing along the way.
Pro Tip: As you are in Spain, if not on the mainland, head to some tapas bars in the larger towns and sample your way across the food and wine menus. Don’t know where to start? There are guided tapas tours to help you out.
For more information on traveling to the Canary Islands, check out these articles: