Wondering what the best things to do in Tenerife are? Here’s all you need to know on where to go, what to eat, and more from a former expat!
Beautiful beaches and sizzling nightlife are two of Tenerife’s main draws – but there’s also the colonial charm, unique cuisine, and varied topography that can allure even the pickiest traveler. Known as “the island of eternal springtime,” Tenerife is the perfect destination to visit all year long.
As a nine-month resident of Tenerife, I spent a good amount of time traveling around this tiny paradise, and have compiled up all of my recommendations about the very best the island has to offer.
I’ve divided this guide up into a few different sections:
What to Eat in Tenerife
I love food, and tasting the local cuisine is definitely a top priority when I travel anywhere. Spanish food is famous the world over for being delicious, and Tenerife’s island food is definitely no exception. If anything, I liked it more than the rest of Spain! Because it’s an island, Tenerife’s food focuses more on what’s local, easily available, and fresh. They grow tons of their own fruits and vegetables, which you can find either at a grocery store such as Mercadona or at any local market.
Goat and Goat Cheese
Tenerife is a mountainous, volcanic island, so animals such as cows aren’t much of an option. However, goats are perfectly happy to scamper up and down cliffs that would give anyone a serious case of vertigo. For this reason, skip any beef entrees you might find and order the cabra you see on a menu. It’s local, stewed for a long time in a mix of spices until it’s fork-tender and delicious. The goat cheese is also fantastic. You can find a wide range of varieties in both markets and supermarkets. My favorite was a slightly aged cheese with pimientos, but everyone has their own tastes!
You’re on an island! The seafood in Tenerife is fresh, plentiful, and relatively cheap. Octopus especially is a popular dish here. Pictured above is one of the tapas they served at one of my favorite local joints. It features octopus, pimientos, a quick-pickled onion, and drizzled with a vinaigrette made with the fruity local olive oil. It’s just about as perfect a dish as you can imagine.
Mojo is a sauce that comes in both red and green varieties (mojo rojo and mojo verde, respectively) that is delicious on e v e r y t h i n g. It is truly the Ranch Dressing of the Canaries. The green sauce has a cilantro base, while the red sauce is slightly spicy, with a pepper base. It’s often served with salty boiled potatoes (another specialty of the island, but nothing to write home about).
Not to be confused with that bag of clothes you’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill, ropa vieja is a delicious, slightly spicy dish you’ll actually enjoy getting. It’s made of oh-so-soft shredded meat, garbanzos, potatoes, and (occasionally) red peppers, all swimming harmoniously together in a thin but rich broth. As an alternative, you can also try carne fiesta, grilled meat which normally comes served up with a side of fries.
Just like, all the fruits and vegetables
Contrary to what you might believe so far in this post, I don’t eat a lot of meat usually. In fact, at home I normally only cook vegetarian dishes. During my time on Tenerife, I’d normally go to the market at the beginning of the week and stock up on whatever local produce was in season. At Mercadona, the local grocery store, they marked where the foods came from, so in an effort to be eco-conscious I’d try and pick the ones that were from Canarias. I was never disappointed with my decisions: the volcanic soil makes for some seriously delicious produce. I’d especially recommend the bananas. There are tons of banana farms all around the island!
What to Drink in Tenerife
As most mom memes on the Internet will tell you, drinks play an essential role in y̶o̶u̶r̶ ̶b̶u̶r̶g̶e̶o̶n̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶a̶l̶c̶o̶h̶o̶l̶i̶s̶m̶ staying sane. On vacation, you can indulge even more with that treat yo’self mentality popularized by t̶h̶e̶ ̶f̶i̶n̶a̶n̶c̶i̶a̶l̶l̶y̶ ̶s̶e̶l̶f̶-̶d̶e̶s̶t̶r̶u̶c̶t̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶a̶d̶u̶l̶t̶s̶ ̶o̶n̶ “Parks and Recreation. “(P.S. no judgement here this is actually a lot of self-deprication).
Vino Tinto (and maybe a caña)
As mentioned before, the volcanic soil on the island produces a lot of delicious fruit, including grapes. Want to know how to make grapes even better? Smash ‘em up, ferment for a bit, and then drink. The wine on Tenerife is delicious, dirt cheap, and available everywhere. Most restaurants (especially guanchinches) produce their own wine! If you want to take some home, they don’t sell it by the bottle. Instead, you’ll have to bring your own container and they’ll fill it up. I once saw a woman in my hiking group arguing with a waitress for a good five minutes because she only had a plastic bottle with her. She eventually managed to convince the waitress to give her the wine, but with the strict promise that she’d drink it by that night. (This was the best hiking group I’ve ever been in.) Beer is also widely available, and it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures to sit on an outdoor terrace on a warm day and sip a nice, cool caña (because nobody says “cerveza,” gringo).
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I should include this one, as, for me at least, it left me wishing for the sweet embrace of death. However, if you have a bit more self-awareness than me (and the bar you go to isn’t manned by a friggin psychopath) there is no reason you shouldn’t enjoy a nice mixed drink at the end of a long day watching Teen Wolf with your German housemate. The picture you see here is not a tiny bottle of Coke, but rather a full sized bottle of Coke with enough rum for a full-sized Koi fish to swim through. Don’t be like me and take it as a challenge. Sip wisely. Oh, and BTW rum is also produced on the Canary Islands so you can make your binge drinking a cultural experience!
Coffee is something else you can find locally produced in the Canaries. There are plenty of coffee shops everywhere, ranging from bars where have to stand to slurp your java to chain coffee joints in the more tourist-y section. You can even buy the local beans at the grocery store! Coffee is also drunk after meals often; I guess this is to negate the effects of some of that vino you had at lunch.
Fruity frozen drinks
At my heart, I am but a mere white girl trying to make my way through this life. And I love me a fruity frozen drink. If the fruit is good and fresh (like it is on Tenerife), the day is warm (like it is on Tenerife), and there’s a beach nearby (like there is on Tenerife), it creates the perfect environment to sit back and slowly savor something delicious.
The Local Liquor
There’s plenty of local liquor (like the rum I talked about earlier) to try on Tenerife. The most popular and well known, rum miele, is a honey rum produced on the island. However, there’s a plethora of different types out there. The one pictured above is a small shot that a grandpa gave me after I’d eaten at his restaurant, to drink as a digestif. Let me tell you, it was a way to finish out a meal.
Sightseeing Things to Do in Tenerife
The Canary Islands are a starlight preserve, meaning that light pollution is severely restricted. Coming from the neon-lit nights of South Korea as I was, this was incredible. At night sometimes I’d go up on the roof of my apartment building just to look at the sky. The stars are even more incredible if you escape from a city or town and head out into the wilderness. You can check out the tour below for an idea of what you’ll get, but basically you’ll be taken out by professionals with professional equipment to see all the celestial bodies at their best. Note that even though the days in Tenerife are warm, the nights can get chilly so make sure you dress appropriately! Book a tour here
The sea swirls fiercely around the Canary Islands, making them the ideal spot for surfing. My unathletic self went exactly once, at the request of my much more athletic friend, and let me tell you, although it wasn’t the sport for me (and I was, tbh, hungover and exhausted from staying out the night before with the aforementioned friend), that the instructors we had were excellent. They made sure we slathered on sunscreen and stretched out before we got into the water, and provided boards and wetsuits (that water is cold but wetsuits are actually amazing) for us. If you already know how to surf, there are plenty of shops and even hotels and hostels that will rent you out a board, if you didn’t bring your own.
Did you think you could read a listacle about a paradise island and not hear about the beaches? The beaches of Tenerife range from small, scrubby local beaches to sprawling, beautiful black sand beaches packed with German tourists trying to pack on a tan. I will warn you that quite a few of the beaches are nude beaches, which shouldn’t be a surprise for those of you acquainted at all with beach culture in Europe. If you don’t feel like your birthday suit should be shown off to the sun gods, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear clothes: my poor white ginger body was guarded by an enormous hat, a sun shrug, and further hidden under an umbrella. My friend told me I looked like a middle-aged lady, but I’d rather look like that than a lady bug.
Getting out to the Ocean
There are a lot of different tours you can do out in the bright blue seas surrounding Tenerife, ranging from fishing to dolphin watching! As with the beaches, you might as well make the most of your time on (or rather, off the coast of) an island.
It’s both cheap (starting at 15 euros a day) and easy (so long as you have an international license) to rent a car on Tenerife. Car rental shops are in virtually every city, and the people working there are often trilingual, able to speak English, German, and, of course, Spanish. I will warn you that most of the cars available are manual and that renting an automatic is almost double the price, but some are available. When my friends visited me, we would always rent a car to make our way around the island. Buses on Tenerife are pretty bad, and it can be hard to get to a lot of places. It’s also really nice to take your time and pull off at any interesting places you see.
Hiking in Tenerife
When I was in Tenerife, I usually hiked at least once a week with a group I’d joined. Hiking around Tenerife is a little different from hikes in other places I’ve done. For one, the UV Index is crazy high in Tenerife, which meant that I always wore long sleeves, leggings, a hat, and, of course, sunscreen no matter how hot it was. Secondly, the hikes around Tenerife might not have as many amenities as you’re used to, such as conveniently-located information centers, water fountains, or toilets. Make sure to bring everything you need, and to pack plenty of water! Last, Tenerife has hugely different levels of hikes, ranging from a flat stroll that’s no more difficult than walking around a mall to hugely difficult, steep climbs where you will pass goats that look like they’re fearing for their balance. Make sure to thoroughly research what, exactly, you’re getting yourself into before you start a hike.
Teide National Park comprised most of the center of the island, and Mount Teide – which is actually both Spain’s tallest mountain and a volcano that might explode and kill us all one day – is easy to see from almost all of the island. Teide National Park is a true nature reserve that I hiked in at least once a month.
If you hike in Teide National Park, you can also get enough elevation that you’re actually above the clouds. This creates a phenomenon known as mar de nuebes, literally meaning sea of clouds, as the clouds slowly look like they’re lapping up against the side of the mountain. Of course, being above the clouds means you aren’t even going to get the shade one can provide, so again, make sure to bring a hat.
Masca is one of the most visited spots on Tenerife, and it’s not hard to see why. The mountains and valleys here are truly gorgeous, but they’re not for the faint of heart! It’s easiest by far to get to Masca in a car – especially if you’re hiking – and the roads are steep and full of switchbacks. It can also get dangerously windy around Masca, to the point where I have struggled to open a car door and decided (along with my group) that if we tried walking any we’d likely be blown out to sea.
You might not expect a tropical island known for its massive volcano to have much in the way of forests, but Tenerife – diverse as its landscape is – has a lot to offer. The woods are cool and quiet, but often open up to let you see magnificent views. There are several sylvan hiking spots to be found around the island, but Anaga is perhaps one of the most famous, and offers several hikes that aren’t too difficult.
Guimar offers a very easy hike that snakes from the seaside into the desert and back. The black volcanic soil, desert plants, and bright blue ocean create a scene – and unique color palette – that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Guimar is probably one of the hikes that’s easy to access without a car, as you can start hiking directly from the town instead of in the middle of a national park.
I’ll be straight with you. M friend and I first decided to go to Taganana just because of how so darned fun it is to say. It, like the other hikes listed here, is gorgeous but in an end-of-land type way. The sheer mountains drop straight into the ocean, and because Taganana is located on the north coast, it’s often overcast.
Towns to Visit in Tenerife
Puerto de la Cruz
Known by the locals simply as Puerto. For all of its 36-flavors-of-ice-cream-type charm, Puerto de la Cruz still holds a good sense of authenticity when compared to all of the touristic, Brit-saturated cities to the south. Puerto has one of my favorite views of the island: an old Spanish fort, peppered with palm trees, with a view of the ocean swirling down below. There’s a huge seawall that you can walk along from the fort that goes outside of Puerto a ways, which makes it a lovely walk after dinner.
La Orotava, the tiny town I lived in for those nine months I spent on Tenerife, is known for being one of the most beautiful on the island. Time and again I was told the same story: down in Puerto lived the poor sailors and fisherman, whereas all of the money – largely possessed by the rich farmers – made its way to La Orotava. This town truly is gorgeous. It’s painted in different colors, and the buildings have such an attention to detail. Small parks are also dotted through La Orotava, which makes it a delightful spot just to wander around for an afternoon.
Plus, there are a lot of cats who like to hang out on the roofs and they are all pretty friendly.
La Laguna and Santa Cruz
La Laguna and Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife, are so close the cities pretty much blend together. While La Laguna boasts historic, beautiful streets, Santa Cruz has more people and a bigger nightlife.
La Laguna is known as one of the most beautiful cities in the Canaries, but unlike La Orotava, it’s much bigger. A few days could be spent wandering around these streets, especially if you take the tram over to Santa Cruz.
As the capital, Santa Cruz has a lot to offer. It has everything from dive bars (one actually owned by the only other American I met living on the island) to nice restaurants. It’s also convenient to travel not only to La Laguna from Santa Cruz but other cities around the island.
Playa Los Americas
Did you come to Tenerife to party? Have you been bored this entire time by my talks of scenic hikes and colonial architecture? Well, get ready for a TONE CHANGE because baby, it’s time to talk about Los Americas.
Los Americas is the place you want to go if you want to party and got bored of Vegas. I only really went there once, and was offered mary jane by four o’clock (in the afternoon) and coke by seven. Straight-laced teacher that I am, I went home to watch Harry Potter instead but no judgement if you want to indulge in that and ah, all the other pleasures Los Americas has to offer.
It may not surprise you to hear Los Americas is among the most touristic cities on the island, where people will speak to you in every language but Spanish because real Spaniards are nowhere to be found.
The beaches are lovely, though, and you can catch glimpses of some of the other islands.
For more posts from Spain:
- 6 Must Visit Cities in Andalucia Spain
- Renting a Boat and Sailing the Balearic Islands
- Tips on Backpacking Madrid
- Visiting Valencia
- Barcelona: tapas, sangria, and life lessons