Thus far, our adventures in Tenerife had largely focused on historic towns, local restaurants, and hikes through unpopulated areas of the highlands. But there's another whole side to the island; the side to which a huge majority of foreign visitors restrict themselves. Today, we got our first taste of that other side, with a visit to Puerto de la Cruz. And we didn't like it.
At the top of the Orotava valley lies a volcanic crater named La Caldera. Today, it's a popular recreative zone, with camping lots, grills and showers, and is the nucleus of an expansive network of hiking trails. We chose to embark on a moderate four-hour walk through the surrounding forests, to the village of Aguamansa and back.
On the way back from Orotava, we made a pitstop in the seaside town of Sauzal. Why delay our return home? Because we so appreciate charming small towns, of course! Yes, that's it! It had nothing whatsoever to do with the signs pointing towards the "House of Wine", I swear! But as long as we're in Sauzal already...
You won't need to spend much time on Tenerife, before noticing the wooden balconies that hang off so many the island's houses. These "Canarian Balconies" are a famous architectural trademark of the archipelago. To learn more about them, we visited the Casa de los Balcones in Orotava.
Both the valley and the city of La Orotava are blessed with the ability to grow apparently anything. Walking through town, we marveled at the variety of plants, flowers and trees sprouting from every garden, yard, or crack in the ground. But two parks adjacent to one another bear special mention: the Jardines del Marquesado de la Quinta Roja, and the Hijuela del Botánico.
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.
Despite all the hiking we were doing, we definitely weren't losing any weight here in Tenerife. And that didn't surprise me, considering the hearty food, and the outsized portions in which they serve it. But we loved the island's cuisine, which is quite distinct from that of the Spanish mainland.
This is the most historic and culturally significant of any city on Tenerife, and its casco antiguo, or old town, is replete in majestic palaces.
Generally, any whale-watching trip comes with a massive disclaimer: there's no guarantee that you're going to see whales. But the guys from Third Element were either recklessly confident, or the sightings between La Gomera and Tenerife are just that dependable, because they said we'd "definitely" spot some pilot whales, along with bottlenose dolphins.
A time-worn path brought us from the village of Afur, along the coastline to Taganana, and then back to Afur through the forests and hills of the Anaga natural reserve. With perfect weather, a well-marked trail, glorious coastal views, an evocative forest, the surprise kindness of strangers, and just the right amount of challenge, it was one of the best hikes we've ever done.
With its unique collection of aboriginal mummies, archaeological finds, and focus on endemic flora and fauna, the Museo de Naturaleza y Arqueología is one of the premier museums on the Canary Islands. We made it one of our first stops in Santa Cruz.
Any exploration of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is likely to begin in the Plaza de España, an expansive open square near the ocean. At least, that's the first place we headed. We spent a wonderful Saturday morning hanging out in the plaza, and getting a feel for the capital city, which is in turns beautiful, garish, charming, and strange… and definitely has an atmosphere all its own.