The Best Things to Do in Tenerife, Canary Islands: Tips from a Former Local
I have yet to find a speck of Spain that doesn’t carry an absurd abundance of charm. That said, one of the most unique spots I had the pleasure of visiting during my years as an expat in España was the Canary Island of Tenerife. Located off the coast of Africa, this island is perfect for a relaxing beach vacation but is also replete with history and culture. Since it’s been nearly a decade since my visit, I was excited to speak with Paulina of Paulina on the Road about her experiences living on the island and ask her about the best things to do in Tenerife.
Thanks for speaking with me about Tenerife, Paulina! What do you love about the island? What makes it special to you?
Well, Tenerife is an island in the Atlantic. It belongs to the archipelago of the Canary Islands and is thus considered as a part of Spain. I visited for the first time during the carnival festivities, which are considered to be one of the most important ones in Spain. But the main idea of traveling to Tenerife for the first time was our boat hitchhiking adventure.
Indeed we were planning to cross the Atlantic Ocean by boat hitchhiking, and Tenerife is the departure point for many sailing boats to cross the Atlantic. Thus, in a way we went to Tenerife for inspection. I liked Tenerife a lot and applied for a seasonal job in order to save money for the boat hitchhiking trip and to work on my sailing skills.
What I love about Tenerife is that it has mountains for hiking, many beaches, great food and people are fantastic! In summer, there are a lot of parties going on, and I loved to be surrounded all the time by the sea.
Wow, that definitely sounds like an adventure! What’s your all-time favorite sight, attraction, or spot in Tenerife?
My favorite spot in Tenerife is probably the area of Los Gigantes in the west part of the island. It is far away from the big touristy complexes, and the canyons of Los Gigantes are some of the highest in Europe.
You also have a view of the neighbor island La Gomera and Teide Volcano.
If a traveler only had 24 hours there, what are some places you’d tell them they absolutely can’t miss?
I highly recommend to stay longer than 24 hours! The unmissable things to visit in Tenerife are the Teide Volcano, the beaches of Costa Adeje, La Orotava town and the Natural Park of Anaga in the north. And try the delicious Canarian food such as papas arrugadas or banana desserts.
I love papas arrugadas! What should travelers know about the local culture or people of Tenerife?
Visitors should know that the Canarian people are very warm-hearted. I feel like I was with one foot in the Caribbean and with the other one still in Europe. The calendar is filled with festivals and people love to go out and meet up. Social life happens in the streets, not inside.
Any cool historical tidbits or important history that visitors should be aware of?
I didn’t know for a long time that Tenerife, like other Canary islands, had its own aborigines, Los Guanches, which have been extinguished by the Spanish. This population did not know how to make fire.
Another tidbit is that La Laguna town served as an urbanistic model for the towns in the New World.
Interesting! What’s your favorite off-the-beaten-path thing to do that wouldn’t be found in a typical guidebook?
I really like the Benijo beach in the north. The location is sublime: dramatic cliffs, beautiful sunsets and rocks towering in the sea. On top you get some of the best seafood close to Benijo beach.
What’s a cool neighborhood you’d recommend to visitors looking for something a little different?
I recommend visiting La Laguna in the north of the island. It has the only university on the island, thus there are many quirky shops and bars. The colorful house fronts make the town particularly enjoyable. Plus, La Laguna has great historic importance.
Tell me about your favorite restaurant (or a few of them!) in Tenerife.
My favorite restaurant is in Puerto Santiago, in the area of Los Gigantes. The Fisherman’s Inn has a great rooftop terrace with views of La Gomera. The sunset is absolutely unique here! And the restaurant is known for serving some of the best fish in the area.
Is there any food, dish, or cuisine that you MUST try when you’re there? Where’s the best place to try it?
When visiting Tenerife, you absolutely have to try the papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes cooked in sea salt), the ronmiel (rum with honey) and grilled cheese with mojo sauce.
Yum! Where would you recommend tourists stay when visiting?
I always recommend staying in Los Gigantes. Even though the area is a bit remote, the natural setting is absolutely breathtaking and you are close to one of the best hikes: the Masca trail. In case you stay in Costa Adeje, you risk being confronted with crowded beaches and large hotel resorts.
You can find my guide on where to stay in Tenerife here.
What are the most photo-worthy or Instagrammable spots? Any fantastic lookouts or otherwise photogenic spots?
The most photo-worthy spot is definitely the Teide Volcano. It is surrounded by a moonscape and thus the natural sight is absolutely breathtaking.
I also like Masca for photoshoots.
Are there any must-see museums or monuments?
There are quite a few monuments and museums, but Tenerife’s best attraction is its nature! My favorite place to visit is Masca, a little village that had no access to the main road until the 60s. It is nestled among the cliffs of Los Gigantes and maintained its rural charm.
What tips do you have for travelers looking to avoid the crowds?
To avoid the crowds, I recommend staying in less touristy areas such as the north of the island or Los Gigantes. I also recommend traveling off season, from September to March.
What should visitors know about transportation around the island?
There is a good public transport system on Tenerife, however the north is not particularly well connected to the south. Thus, in case you want to visit the north of Tenerife and the natural park of Anaga, I highly recommend renting a car. Also, for visiting Teide Volcano, I recommend renting a car, as there are no public buses going up there.
Anything else you’d like to share about Tenerife?
The carnival! You cannot miss the carnival of Tenerife. It is a party that lasts for several days and the best opportunity to enjoy the vibe of the island.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this beautiful island, Paulina! Be sure to check out her blog, Paulina on the Road, and follow her on Instagram and Facebook. And stay tuned for more interviews with locals around the world!