Whilst I am a big fan of Lanzarote for a blast of winter warmth and sunshine, I had always viewed its brasher, larger neighbour, Tenerife, with scepticism. I like wild, windswept, low-key, authentic; in my imagination, Tenerife was the polar opposite: all ugly hotels, Sky Sports bars, English breakfasts and manufactured ‘attractions’.
Yet Tenerife’s enduring popularity with young families, triathletes, hikers and the Club 18/30 crew alike suggested it must be more dimensional than the island of my imagination. In the spirit of discovery, I was prepared to give it a go and allow my family to be pleasantly surprised by the place. However, me being me, I certainly wasn’t going to leave the surprises to chance. Having bitten the bullet and booked a week in Costa Adeje, on the south of the island, I set about planning an itinerary that would reveal a new surprise – and a bit more of Tenerife’s split personality- every day.
We travelled to Tenerife for new year as a family of five – me, my wife and our 3 kids aged 2, 6 and 8. We rented a villa as it was much cheaper than hotels during what is peak season on the island. At this time of year, planning not to spend the whole week lolling on the beach or by the pool is a sensible idea. You can expect temperatures of around 20 degrees: perfect for getting out and about and even a bit of sunbathing in a sheltered spot, but pools are rather chilly and sea swimming is for the brave. To follow in my footsteps, and enjoy the ‘surprises’ I list below, you do need to hire a car; this is very cheap and shouldn’t set you back more than a couple of hundred quid.
Surprise 1: Mount Teide
If you do nothing else on your trip to Tenerife, make sure you take the twisting drive up to Teide, the snow-capped volcano (dormant!) that dominates the island. As you leave the coast behind you drive through unexpected Alpine-like pine forests, before emerging in a bizarre desert-like landscape of strange rocks and weird plants. The views all around are incredible and there are places to stop for little wanders. The logical destination and ‘wow’ experience for kids is the cable car to the very top – alas, on the day we went, my son was throwing up so we reluctantly saved a ride for our next visit.
Surprise 2: Masca
Driving to Masca is undeniably hair-raising. You have to navigate umpteen switchbacks (and pray no buses come in the opposite direction). But the setting is breath-taking; the backdrop of soaring cliffs against a valley lush with palms and flower is like something out of Jurassic Park. Although its location makes you feel like you’ve stumbled across a secret, Masca is popular and parking is tricky: we ended up leaving the car somewhat precariously on a roundabout. The kids enjoyed running around the traffic-free lanes, stopping to taste prickly pear. If you’re not hiking down to the sea, there’s not an awful more lot to do – stopping for lunch would extend your visit – but for the sheer contrast with the concrete resorts of the South, it’s definitely worth the detour.
Surprise 3: Garachico
Garachico is a charming, colonial-style town on the dramatic north coast of Tenerife. About an hour’s drive from Costa Adeje, it offers just enough for a day out with little people. We started with lunch at what is probably the best pizzeria on the islands, run by a genuine Italian mama (make sure you leave room for pudding – my kids devoured the tiramisu and demanded seconds). Opposite the restaurant is a collection of unusual seawater bathing pools, carved out of the rocks. These are fun to explore and splash about it – though admittedly the water was icy! You’ll need to hold on tight too to roaming toddlers though as it gets slippery. A visit to the town is best topped off with a wander around the largely traffic-free streets with an ice cream.
Surprise 4: La Caleta
La Caleta is an unexpectedly charming corner of the Costa Adeje resort strip. It’s the end (or start, depending on how you look at it) of a promenade that leads all the way to Los Cristianos, a fabulous, buggy-friendly stroll with kids as its safe with plenty of distractions along the way in the form of ice cream and souvenir shops, trampolines (at Playa Fanabe), boats and restaurants. There’s free parking in the village and you can grab a coffee at one of the waterfront cafes whilst the kids play in the little playground. Once you’ve had a wander, settle down for lunch with a view: the seafood is good and there’s a sunny tapas restaurant to get the kids trying some traditional Spanish dishes. For dessert, there’s great ice cream for sale at the café opposite the car park.
Surprise 5: Playa las Teresitas / Montana Roja
You can get away from the built-up resort beaches by heading to Playa de las Teresitas, on the south coast of the island near the airport. Whilst not exactly beautiful, it offers a wide sweep of sand perfect for long strolls and beach games. At the eastern end is the dramatic stump of Montana Roja – Red Mountain – which is a tantalising climb for slightly bigger legs. I left my daughter and younger son with Mum playing on the beach whilst I took our 9-year old, for a hike. It takes about 25 minutes to get to the top and is just steep enough to provide a challenge without whingeing. The views are great, especially if you are aviation enthusiasts like us. Just so you know, the far end of the beach by Montana Roja where the parasols are for hire is nudist; it’s all very relaxed and didn’t bother us but don’t let that be the ‘surprise’!
Surprise 6: Loro Parque
You’ll see adverts for Loro Parque all over Tenerife. Housing one of the world’s largest collection of parrots in the world, alongside a selection of other creatures and critters (including penguins!), it has the potential to be awful. Thankfully, we found it to be smart, well run and couldn’t really fault the place. To keep you entertained, the staff put on various animal shows. We personally felt uncomfortable with the dolphin show and avoided the orcas altogether (the park has received criticism for continuing to keep killer whales in captivity) but did enjoy the fire-fighting parrots and incredible ‘penguinarium’. All-in-all it was a great day out – declared ‘the best’ by our 9 year old. You can buy a twin-entry ticket with Siam Park, the premier water park on the island, useful if you are in Tenerife in summer months; however, in December, we weren’t up for it!
Surprise 7: Playa de las Americas
We had to poke our nose at this infamous resort, as we were staying in the hills just above. Despite the concrete, it was much smarter than we expected. The authorities have done a fantastic job on the promenade – wide, clean and peppered with sculptures and playgrounds for the kids. We particularly liked the area around Playa El Camison. The kids enjoyed poking around in the souvenir shops, the beach was good for sandcastles in the sun and there’s a nice sun-trap restaurant serving great burgers. We’d happily go back.