Tenerife is the largest of Spain's seven Canary Islands. With its stunning black and golden beaches, an active volcano, unique ecological diversity (plants from all over the world can live and thrive on the island’s multiple climate zones), and charming cliffside towns, it’s no surprise that it’s also the most tourist-popular. A natural wonderland packed with adventure and no shortage of things to do, Tenerife graces many a bucket list.
The Canaries are located off the coast of Morocco, but the easiest way to reach the island is usually via a two-hour flight from Madrid. The central capital city and Tenerife are often combined for an urban-to-island dual excursion. Make certain not to miss Tenerife's top and most underrated attractions while you're there.
Stargaze in Teide National Park
One of Tenerife's most awe-inspiring and under-the-radar activities is stargazing at Teide National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering about 73 square miles (190 square kilometers) surrounding Mount Teide. It's so far away from the brightly lit cities of Spain that you can see the Milky Way and 83 of the total 88 officially recognized constellations. In fact, it's even illegal for planes to fly over the island at night. An observatory, operated by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, is located at 7,841 feet (2,390 meters), offering a closer look at the universe. You can explore the area yourself for free or book a Teide By Night stargazing tour.
See the Chinamada Cave Houses
Located near the top of the Anaga mountain range, Chinamada is certainly an off-the-tourist-track destination. Here, among the terraced potato fields, a small community of troglodytes exhibit modern-day cave dwelling. There are about 30 half-underground houses and a restaurant, La Cueva, protruding from Chinamada's steep and photogenic cliffsides. At the eatery, you can dine within the very walls of the cave, then folllow a popular, 5.6-mile (9-kilometer) hiking trail to the fishing village of Punta del Hidalgo.
Sample the Local Cuisine
You'll find traditional Spanish food, such as tortilla española (aka "Spanish tortilla," an omelet with potatoes and onions) and paella (a rice dish usually loaded with seafood) in Tenerife, but there are a few dishes unique to the island that are worth trying, too. Papas arrugadas (literally meaning “wrinkled potatoes”) are small potatoes, boiled and salted, usually served with red and green mojo sauces as either a side dish or alone as a tapa. For dessert, there are churros—but not just any churros. Rather, Tenerife's version goes easy on the cinnamon and is traditionally served with a side of hot chocolate sauce for dipping.
Other common foods of the Canary Islands include gofio (a type of flour made from wheat or corn that is often whipped into a savory puree or sweet mousse), papayas, bananas, and wine. Food and drink in Tenerife is typically inexpensive. A good-sized, sit-down breakfast at a restaurant will rarely cost more than $10, and a liter of good, local wine can cost as little as $12.
Hit the Beaches
Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Tenerife is by no surprise a major beach destination. To marvel at black sand, head to Playa Jardín on the north side of the island in Puerto de la Cruz. There are several bars and restaurants nearby, and on a clear day, you may even get a view of the tip of the volcano. Popular golden sand beaches include Playa de Las Americas (also popular for its nightlife scene) on the south side of the island, and Playa de Las Teresitas in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. On most beaches, you can rent chairs for several hours for only a few euros.
Summit Mount Teide
The highest point in Spain, topping out at 12,198 feet (3,717 meters), happens to also be an active volcano. You can reach the peak of Mount Teide by hiking—though the Telesforo Bravo trail is 10 miles long and requires a permit—or by cable car. The Mount Teide Cable Car is a five-minute ride that offers scenic views of the volcano and surrounding national park, stopping about 600 feet short of the peak. The last stretch, like the whole ascent, requires a permit, and they must be applied for several months in advance. A ticket for the cable car, however, can usually be copped a few days ahead of time.
Once you get off the cable car, there are a couple short trails providing different viewpoints. While a clear day will offer the best views, you can still usually enjoy the spectacular sight of a cloud inversion when it's overcast.
Live Like a Local in Garachico
Located on the northern coast, this quaint little town is often overlooked by visitors, so it’s retained more of an authentic culture. A couple hours here will allow you to grab a bite and walk around the colorful town. In an afternoon, you can do that plus learn about the town’s history at the convent-turned-museum Ex-Convento de San Francisco. Don't forget to allocate some time to exploring the volcanic coves, natural pools that were formed from lava after a volcanic eruption. If you’re up for a brief hike, take the pathway from Plaza de la Libertad up the hill to an overlook where you'll be treated to a bird's-eye view of Garachico's rainbow buildings and coastline.
Explore the Historic Town of La Orotava
La Orotava is one of the oldest towns in Tenerife, once housing some of the island's wealthiest residents. Its old-timey stateliness is evident when you walk in the shadow of its grand and colorful mansions. An example? The famous Casa de los Balcones ("house of the balconies"), with its gorgeous, wrought iron-surrounded platforms overlooking the cobblestone streets below. Another scenic site is the Jardines del Marquesado de la Quinta Roja, an area of walkways through lush, beautiful gardens. There’s also a botanic garden where you can see a very Tenerifian dragon tree.
Escape to the Mountain Village of Masca
Tenerife is packed with natural beauty, from beaches to mountains, and the town of Masca on the west side of the island offers one of the most breathtaking scenes. The drive itself—a narrow mountain pass dotted with viewpoints and pulloffs galore—is half the reason to go. The views continue once you get to Masca. From the souvenir shop and restaurant perched on the side of the mountain, you can enjoy a drink while taking in the wild scenery below. A few different walking trails will lead you further down into the village, showcasing the area's unique vegetation along the way.
Find Adventure in Los Cristianos
Head to this town on the southern side of Tenerife and you’ll probably notice immediately that the climate is drier, more desert-like than the lush, tropical north side of the island. The warmer temps and sunnier days make Los Cristianos a popular destination for adventurous water sports. Along Playa de los Cristianos, you’ll find company after company offering scuba diving, snorkeling, dolphin and whale watching, fishing, and more. Additionally, nearby El Médano is popular for windsurfing.