When I think of the word holiday, I kind of associate a lazy energy with it. I suppose that’s what a holiday should be really: a time to unwind, de-stress and relax. But I also feel like it means placing emphasis on the sunbed more so than the adventure.
When I think of the word trip, there’s a little fire that ignites in my belly. It feels like I’ll be pioneering, exploring and intertwined with the beautiful. Oh, and the epic – never forgetting the epic.
So a week off work to go on a ‘holiday’ I guess I did. Only, the way we did things was more trip than holiday. We flew across to the beautiful Canarian island of Tenerife and ventured far and wide.
Tenerife has always intrigued me. It’s got volcanic soil, it’s got the mighty Teide that can be seen from almost everywhere on the island it seems, great food and lots of outdoor pursuits. It is also incredibly relaxed once you get away from the swarms of tourists in the southwest.
I never did the whole package/all-inclusive thing growing up and I still don’t really understand the appeal. But hey, that’s probably just me being judgemental. If you like that kinda thing, go for it. I just never understood why people fly all over the world only to sit in a hotel and eat the same food they would at home, surrounded by people who probably don’t live very far away from them! But perhaps I’ve missed the point?
No, not my style. If I travel somewhere, I want to understand the way people do things there – in that part of the world. I want to eat what they eat. I want to live how they live. I want to at least try to understand what makes the people tick. Travel has taught me that it’s the best way to learn, about the world obviously but also yourself. There’s nothing that’ll make you feel grateful about being able to drink your tap water quicker than going somewhere where the only choice is bottled. There’s nothing that will make you more grateful for tarmac and pavement than shitty dirt roads with mega pot holes.
But it’s not really about going somewhere to suffer and thus look forward to going home (though, granted that’s one benefit). It’s about opening your eyes to how differently humans live around the planet. You might just learn a thing or two about life in the process.
For this trip, we Air BnB’d it up in Icod de los Vinos. Totally away from the tourists, our gracious host Andrés was a delight at the Finca de Bebedero. High on the clifftops overlooking the town and ocean below, we awoke each morning to orange trees, bird-of-paradise flowers and a happy purring resident kitty. It was truly paradise on earth.
From there, with our trusty little hire car we had the perfect base to explore the entire island as we pleased. This included the lost villages of the northeast: El Benijo and Taganana, Teide, Masca, Los Gigantes, Puerto de la Cruz and Garachico.
The drive across the island from Icod to Anaga National Park is ridiculous. In a good way. As you whiz past Puerto de la Cruz you start heading up the mountains and into lush greenery. An island with 11 microclimates, Tenerife continues to surprise you as you explore further. Mirador Cruz del Carmen should not be missed for an incredible view of the towns below and right across the island to the mighty Teide in the distance. From there, the drive continues north east to the laid-back surf villages of Taganana and El Benijo. Think: long windy roads and Indiana Jones vibes. We’re talking off-grid terrain that screams to be photographed.
From there we crossed to the south-coast where San Andrés meets you with its playfulness and Playa de las Teresitas wows with its imported white sand. Further down the coast Santa Cruz appears with its unexpected metropolitan sprawl as if out of nowhere.
One cannot go to Tenerife and not either climb or cable-car up Mt. Teide. The highest point in Spain at 3,700 metres, this volcano truly is majestic. The drive through the national park up to either the starting route of the walk at Montaña Blanca or the lower cable-car station starts to look more and more like one would imagine Mars might look. Oh, and your ears will tell you you’re increasing in altitude, even if your eyes don’t.
The cable-car takes you just shy of the top by a couple hundred metres. A permit is required to hike to the very summit during the hours the cable-car runs. These aren’t well advertised and a lot of people arrive disappointed that they can’t do this. You can apply here to avoid disappointment. They’re free but limited and often all reserved well in advance.
I was informed of this valuable piece of information too late for me to get my hands on one, however there was a way around it. The Refugio de Altavista is a hostel at 3,200 m where you can book yourself a night and get to the summit before the permits are required. So yes, at dawn.
One can hike or cable-car it to the top, taking all food and water needed for a night there (though they do have vending machines that sell bottled water, coffee and a few snacks if you’re mega desperate). You’re plonked in the hostel with a bunch of other mountaineering enthusiasts (capacity is 54 people) and left to cook your dinner, chat with whoever speaks your language and watch the best sunset you’ve ever seen in your life. This is followed by the clearest night sky you’ve ever seen too.
After broken sleep, you’ll force yourself awake around 4:30 or 5:00am and prepare for the 500m hike in the dark to the summit, making sure to be there in time for the sunrise. You’ll be exhausted and struggle a bit due to the altitude and lack of sleep, but you’ll have never felt so happy as you reach the warm and smelly sulphur vents of the top. You’ll perch to watch the night sky be replaced by bands of red, orange and pink as the sun rises over the island. Slowly all the islands of the Canaries will be visible and you’ll warm up a bit and feel utterly high on life. It’ll be one of those moments you know you’ll always remember – ‘nowstalgia‘ if you like.
Masca & Los Gigantes
My friend Matt recommended Masca as a must for our trip. I did some research and it seemed that many people rated this as their favourite part of Tenerife travels. We got there and it wasn’t difficult to see why.
Masca is an almost tropical park in the north-west of the island. It is rich in biological diversity, mesmerising and boats an awesome hike through the river canyon down to a private beach that can only be accessed by said hike or a water taxi from nearby town Los Gigantes.
Jonny and I parked our car in Los Gigantes after reading that the roads were pretty gnarly up to Masca. Boy were we glad we did. I thoroughly recommend doing this! We parked up and got a taxi to the start of the hiking trail for about 25 euros. Los Gigantes is pretty touristy and there’s a taxi rank right outside the main hotel, so you’ll have no problem reserving one. I would also recommend parking further up in the more residential area rather than trying to battle with the busy harbour.
We hiked the 2-3 hour trail down the canyon. It’s a really varied, picturesque hike that I can describe quite simply as fun. Teide was endurance, this one was fun. You get to do some river-crossing, rock climbing, scrambling through bamboo tunnels and eventually end up on a secluded beach with a perfect pier to cannon-ball off of.
We decided to kayak back along the coast to Los Gigantes rather than taxi boat it. I would recommend Teno Activo if you’re fairly confident with your Spanish. The guide speaks a few words of English though, so as long as you know how to operate a paddle, I can’t see it going too wrong. We spent a couple hours kayaking the coast, stopping for a snorkel along the way and it was sublime.
Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz was our nearest major town, so we used it for the supermarkets and some good local food. Upon our host’s recommendation for great tapas, we ate as La Tasquita de Min and were blown away. Go there, please. Do yourself a favour and try the hot peppers!
Icod de los Vinos & Garachico
This was home for the week and despite getting lost on the side roads of Icod numerous times, the place still captured our hearts with its laid-back vibes and great views. Garachico was the choice for our last night. It’s a small town just along the coast to the west. It’s really scenic, has a great sea-front where you can wander all along the rocks amongst the crashing waves and has probably the best seafood restaurant I’ve ever been to: Casa Gaspar. It serves great local catches from the harbour and the service was exceptional.
Tenerife is an island that has captured my heart and one that I cannot wait to return to. If you’re hesitant that its simply a resort-island, I encourage you to challenge that opinion and venture over there. You’ll be blown away.