WHY TENERIFE SUR?
Tenerife Sur is one of the best ways to experience natural science and understanding the importance of responding to climate change crisis. It’s also a wellness retreat for Europeans looking for a dry, warm climate to recuperate in. Someplace to let the old bag of bones relax.
In other words, Tenerife Sur can be whatever you make of it for whatever kind of travel experience you’re looking for. You can lounge in sunny Los Cristianos or head into Teide National Park to challenge yourself physically and reward yourself with some stargazing at night, pondering the cosmos and our place in the ever-expanding universe.
WHERE TO GO
Los Cristianos is a tourist city. There’s no getting around it, so better to embrace it going in than to be disappointed. If you’re looking for a sunny hotel along the southern coast, then this is the place to go. The Arona Gran Hotel served our needs perfectly in that regard. Walking the paseo or boardwalk will yield a number of large restaurants with hosts pleading for you to come in. You know the routine if you’ve done any kind of traveling in tourists towns before.
“No thanks, we’ve already eaten.”
“Take a look at the menu anyway and make a reservation for tomorrow!”
Anecdotally, Los Cristianos appeared to be something of a geriatric utopia. Rascal drivers swerve in and out of pedestrian crowds like Mario chasing down his evil cousin Wario for dropping that koopa shell back during the first lap. Multitudes gathered around the bocce ball court with admirers watching on, making it clear this was the senior citizen take on Miami’s muscle beach.
If none of this sounds like your speed, fear not. Los Cristianos still is a great geographic location for starting off a trip to Tenerife Sur and it is possible to get off the tourist trek. First off, it’s a short 20-30 minutes by bus from the Tenerife Sur airport. Most other major cities will be a further hull. It’s also home of Montaña de Guaza, an environmentally protected area great for some uphill trekking.
You can also meet up with Cycling In Tenerife for a bike ride around the area suitable for everyone ranging from tourists to professional training cyclists. Besides the great workout, you’ll get unspoiled vistas of the southern coastline as you climb over a thousand meters above sea level and roll across streets most tourists never see. You’ll also stop in Chío at Snack Bar Parada for lunch, owned by a Canarian who’s a cyclist himself and has designed his modest restaurant with that theme in mind.
Eating off the tourist trek is admittedly difficult due to the aforementioned paseo. While not necessarily off the tourist trek, the UNION Café Bar is a short walk away from the Arona Gran Hotel and is great for patio snacks. Their chorizo and chickpea combo was as great an introduction to Canarian cuisine as anyone could ask for. There’s also Restaurante Raymond on Avenida Los Playeros with reputedly the best paella in Los Cristianos if reception at the hotel is to be believed. Indeed, it did not disappoint, and with a mostly Spanish-speaking crowd, it at least gave the feeling that this is a local favorite. (The tourist traffic picks up heavily again just west of here past the church.)
When all is said and done, Los Cristianos is a great compromise for traveling couples who are split between wanting to relax in the sun and those looking for a physical challenge.
TEIDE NATIONAL PARK
For me, this was the highlight of the trip to Tenerife Sur. The park is dead center on the island, but the portion of the park covered in this guide is at the southern entrance and is just an hour bus ride from Los Cristianos.
Teide National Park is home to Spain’s tallest mountain, which admittedly seems like an odd claim to fame considering Tenerife is further from mainland Spain than Okinawa from Honshu in Japan. National flags aside, it’s high enough that you’ll start to feel the altitude at the base of Teide Volcano, and the temperature drops significantly. If you’re spending time on the coast and in the park, you’ll need to pack for two very different trips.
The best decision we made on this trip was to stay at Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide, the only hotel in the national park. Public transport drops off right at the hotel with many travelers making a day trip out of it. Except with a day trip, you’re stuck taking the 4 p.m. bus back into town. Not only will you be rushed, but you’ll miss out on the stars at night. I for one have never seen stars like I did right outside of this hotel. The Milk Way, Mars, and pick your constellation were clearly visible with the naked eye. This is no surprise because Teide is known as one of the best places in the world for stargazing and is home to the Teide Observatory on the eastern side of the park.
A number of hiking trails surround the hotel, too, with direct access from the hotel property. A favorite is to hike up to the Alto de Guajara, approximately 11 kilometers round trip with 650 meters of climbing. (Tip: Hike this loop starting south if you prefer descending gradually on the return.) The most difficult option takes you up the side of Teide and is rated as the most difficult hike in the area surrounding the hotel. Again, pack warm if you’re going even further up. If you have aspirations of getting to the peak, you’ll need to plan ahead and get a permit. It’s free, but only 200 people per day can go to the peak due to environmental concerns. Naturally, these permits go quickly. You could also through the national park and pay for a guide.
Speaking of the park, they run a number of tours around the area. We joined for the Sunset and Stars option, itching to see some stars. The package gets you the sunset on Teide (reached by cable car), snacks, dinner, and stargazing by telescope. (Note that the sunset viewpoint will be moved if weather conditions make the cable car unsafe.)
The tour was all well and good, especially meeting with like-minded company from all over the world. I especially enjoyed the 80-some-year-old Belgian tourist who thought one way to deal with Tenerife’s mass tourism problem is to screen people based on their interests. Those looking to hikes and embracing the natural sciences will move to the front of the permit line.
Something to keep in mind when signing up for a tour, however, is the time you’ll spend in transportation. Being in Los Cristianos, we were the first picked up and the last ones dropped off. We spent around three hours in transportation before starting the first activity, then, of course, it was another long trek back. If I were to do this again, I’d ask for an estimate on how long we’ll be in the shuttle. Another consideration is using this as an opportunity to transfer to the Parador hotel. There’s no audio tour or conversation on the way back, as is there is on the initial ride into the park, so you wouldn’t be missing a thing.
(Tip: Pay attention to the audio tour. It was the only opportunity I had to learn about the history of the island, why it’s Spanish territory, and what happened to the indigenous population. In short, Tenerife was a stopping ground for the Spanish Empire en route to the so-called New World. As you can imagine, they did to the Canary Islands what they did to the Americas, namely slaughtered and colonized the native population. Our guide explained that native Canarians were forced to marry with Spaniards to essentially breed themselves out of existence. Anyone native to the island today, she continued, is mixed with Spanish, Portuguese, and indigenous Canarian blood.)
TITSA is your public transport option with an easy pickup right outside the Tenerife Sur airport. It’ll get you to Los Cristianos in under 30 minutes and continues traveling around the island. Use Google Maps or their official website for route information.
However, I found Google Maps’ travel estimates to be wildly inaccurate while traveling along the coast contrary to travel from the airport and the time we took it up to the hotel in the park. Google estimated the trip from Los Cristianos to a stop in Costa Adeje to be an eight-minute trip. It’s hard to say if it was the traffic or if Google’s information was incorrect, but whatever the case, the trip took well over 30 minutes. Traffic is, indeed, much busier along the coastal towns where tourism is rampant. Once you start heading north toward and into the park, things tend to thin out significantly. That explains why TITSA was actually able to beat Google’s estimate of 90 minutes when heading to the park hotel.
Also, take note of TITSA’s limited availability for certain routes. If you’re heading to the park, you have a morning option and one afternoon option for a return. This is important to keep in mind, especially when planning day-hikes or return tickets from the airport. Should you neglect to consider TITSA’s limited service, then you might be stuck taking a cab — estimated at €60 from Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide.
If you’re not interested in lounging by the pool and generally detest all things touristic, then just get the long haul from the airport to the national park over with on day one. Doing it directly from the airport to Parador de Las Cañadas del Teide will take a little over two hours. But again, you’d need to make sure you catch that morning bus to the park.
Spanish language skills are not necessary along the coasts, but it will separate you from other guests among the hotel staff. One gentleman offered the tip for Restaurante Raymond (mentioned above) and another shared her story of studying tourism in Germany before getting her hotel job in Tenerife Sur. (Most hotel front desk staff speak at least Spanish, English, and German to accommodate the majority of their guests.)
Watch a sunset at Playa Montaña Pelada, as recommended by Tenerifelicidad. Get that permit and hike to the peak of Teide. Spend time in La Orotava and use it as a base to visit guachinches — typical Canarian restaurants. Hike in the Anaga Mountains of the northeast. Find time for a day or two in rocky La Gomera — another small island just west of Tenerife. Recreate Alexander von Humboldt’s week in Tenerife from Santa Cruz de Tenerife to La Orotava and the peak of Teide. (A book about the Prussian explorer’s time in Tenerife is available at the Parador gift shop in Spanish and German.)
BEFORE YOU GO
There are a number of local publications and bloggers you could check out for additional information. The Real Tenerife is probably your number one source followed by the Spanish blogging couple at Tenerfelicidad. The latter provided the tip to download the Guachapp for information on where the island’s guachinches are popping up complete with ratings. Unfortunately, this required creating a new Apple ID to associate it with the Spanish Apple Store, but it’s worth it when you consider the opportunities it opens up. After downloading it, you’ll notice that an overwhelming majority of the establishments are located in the north.