Santa Cruz is the largest city on Tenerife, and joint-capital of the entire Canary Islands. The city lies in the northeastern quadrant of the island, at the base of the Anaga mountain range, and is the center of industry and tourism. We took an initial tour shortly after arriving.
We live next to La Laguna, which is Tenerife’s second-biggest city. But Santa Cruz is so nearby, that its outer urbanizations almost touch those of La Launga. In fact, it’s almost more accurate to think of the two cities as one massive metropolitan area, containing over half of the island’s entire population. The town centers are even connected by tram.
The Guanches had populated this privileged coastal area for thousands of years, a period during which it was known as Añazo. It wasn’t until 1494, when Alonso Fernando de Lugo arrived and planted a cross in the ground, that it took on the name Santa Cruz (or “Holy Cross”). This was the base for Lugo’s subsequent conquest of the island.
Although it was initially overshadowed by its larger and more established neighbor La Laguna, Santa Cruz grew swiftly in prominence. The development was due mostly to its port, which saw ever-increasing activity through the Age of Exploration, and the establishment of a lucrative trade with the New World. In 1833, Spain recognized the city’s ascension by stripping La Laguna of its status, and naming Santa Cruz de Tenerife capital of the entire archipelago.
Santa Cruz probably also has the port to thank for its cosmopolitan flair. This is a culturally diverse city, with large populations of Venezuelans, Cubans, North Africans, Indians, and Koreans. The city is known for having a progressive, tolerant attitude toward differing religions, ethnicities, and lifestyles. In fact, Santa Cruz’s annual Drag Queen Gala, which takes place during Carnival, is televised nationally, and is possibly the most well-known drag event in the world.
Our first visit to Santa Cruz was a lot more enjoyable than either of us had expected. I’m not sure why, but we just didn’t have high expectations for the capital — maybe we had assumed that it would be too big, or too touristy. But what we found was a lively, beautiful city, filled mostly with regular folks hanging out in cafes, and enjoying the mild climate. It’s a good thing we had fun… given its proximity, we’d be returning to Santa Cruz quite often during our 91 days on Tenerife!