As Tenerife was forming millions of years ago, a gravitational landslide sent a huge chunk of the island into the ocean, carving out the Orotava Valley. From great violence can be born great beauty… and this expansive, verdant valley at the base of the Teide proves it.
La Orotava is located midway up the valley, overlooking the coastal town of Puerto de la Cruz. Because it’s not right on the ocean, it manages to largely avoid tourism — Europeans visit Tenerife for the beach, and not much else. The elevated position also provides the town with an amazing view, and abundant access to water. There are gardens everywhere in Orotava; in yards, parks, plazas… even the weeds blossom with exuberance.
The mid-valley placement of Orotava also means that it’s steep, and if you have a problem with hills, you’ll likely find the city a difficult place to tour. But it’s also the kind of town which rewards patience and a slow pace, providing a handy cover for sloth: “No, the hills are no problem! I’m just taking in the sights!”
We started our tour of La Orotava at the Iglesia de la Concepción, built in the late 1700s. Nearby (and up a hill of course) is the neoclassical City Hall, whose large plaza is the site of the famous carpets of Corpus Christi. Every year, alfombristas cover the plaza in colored earth taken from the Teide, creating dazzling religious motifs. We wouldn’t be around for this year’s festival, but check out images from previous years to get an idea of how detailed these are.
From the City Hall, a street leads by the Plaza de la Constitución, with its open air cafes and views over Puerto de la Cruz, to the Iglesia de San Augustín, whose interior is apparently replete in Moorish decoration — unfortunately, we found it closed for renovation.
We also walked up into the neighborhood of Doce Casas, which is known for its Canarian-style wooden balconies, as well as its old water mills, which were used for grinding gofio. These mills are now obsolete (all retired except one), but it’s incredible to see the work that went into producing Tenerife’s favorite food. Also interesting that all these mills were on the same street, one down the hill from the other, sharing the same aqueduct and water.
More than any particular site, we just enjoyed being in La Orotava. There’s a real sense of pride about the town; all of the houses are immaculately cared-for, the walls recently painted, the streets clean, the gardens manicured. It’s clear that the people of Orotava appreciate living here, and why shouldn’t they? This is a beautiful place to spend some time… and it will also keep your calves in shape.