Exploring Northern Tenerife
Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz enjoys an incomparable setting, even if its manmade parts are a little overdone. It is the second-largest town in Tenerife, the first real tourist resort to develop on the island, but its personality is far more hospitable than Santa Cruz, with a laid-back air and a laissez-faire approach to the good island life.
In walking around Puerto de la Cruz, it seems like a jumbled mess of vacant hotels and cheap eateries flapping with plastic patio windows. Concrete too often interrupts the sand and there are rows of lifeless, shuttered apartments. But there are good memories as well. There is the tawny man with dreadlocks creating a delicate sand sculpture of Poseidon the sea god from the sand of the Playa Jardín; the waves crashing up against the sea wall near El Castillo de San Felipe; the unique series of seawater pools designed by Canary architect César Manrique; the carnivalesque Plaza del Charco; the green hills rising up behind Puerto de la Cruz with Mt. Teide beckoning just beyond. Puerto de la Cruz enjoys an incomparable setting, even if its manmade parts are a little overdone. It is the second-largest town in Tenerife, the first real tourist resort to develop on the island, but its personality is far more hospitable than Santa Cruz, with a laid-back air and a laissez-faire approach to the good island life.
Following a 1706 volcanic eruption that, in a wash of lava, mostly buried what had been Tenerife’s most prosperous port town, Garachico settled into a less vital role on the island. The village, which rides a bed of lava rock nudging out into the ocean, has pleasant, bougainvillea-colored plazas, cobblestone streets lined by old fishing cottages and palaces of vibrant, ornate design, as well as two monuments: the 16th-century Castillo de San Miguel and the Iglesia de Santa Ana. Don’t miss the curious natural pools of El Caleton, formed in the bay after the 18th-century lava flow had coalesced.
Icod de los Vinos
Since the Middle Ages, Icod de los Vinos has been respected as the island’s only wine-producing region, owing to its moist and comparatively cool climate. Its hearty Malvasía wines come from grapes matured in rich volcanic soils – the small, privately owned vineyards of which are seen throughout this area.
Icod de los Vinos is also the site of the island’s oldest, and certainly most awesome drago tree (dracaena draco), a rare and choosy species that looks like a giant bouquet of green flowers clutched in a fist. It can, in the right conditions, live thousands of years. The species was historically used for its medicinal qualities and, when more prevalent centuries ago, its sap was commonly used to make candle wax. With the death of neighboring La Orotava’s older drago tree during a 19th-century hurricane, the Drago Milenario in Icod de los Vinos became the island’s oldest surviving specimen, by some estimates 2,000 years old and still growing. The tree commands attention (and an admission fee) from its small plaza at the heart of this mostly 16th-century village, near the lovely Plaza de la Pila and the Iglesia de San Marcos.
On the winding road from Puerto de la Cruz to Las Cañadas del Teide, the flowery village of La Orotava can’t be missed. From it a panoramic view includes the surrounding Valle de La Orotava, full of banana plantations, the outer fringes of the rustic Teide national park, and the ocean, before Puerto de la Cruz merge in one panoramic visual. If you happen to be on the island during the first weeks of June, the splendorous, centuries-old streets of Oratava will be covered in fragrant tapestries of flowers lain in volcanic ash to celebrate the local festival of Octava del Corpus.
Beaches and Surf
The beaches of Puerto de la Cruz include Playa Jardin and Martianez, both naturally formed of dark volcanic sand. While typically crowded during the high season, they are no match for the crowds on the sunnier southern beaches Los Christianos and Las Americas. Surfers do occasionally venture out into the break, but serious ones swing around to the northeastern or southern coasts.
Parque Nacional del Cañadas del Teide
From Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife’s northern coast, the road winds upward towards the netherworld of Mt. Teide National Park, passing first through banana trees and past the pretty village of La Orotava, with its flower-strewn balconies. Around 2000 m (6,500 feet) above sea level the road enters a thick forest of endemic Canary pines before emerging into one of nature’s more bizarre scenes – the fantastical red and grey rock formations of Las Cañadas. An immense volcanic depression, Las Cañadas evolved when the stacked highlands formed by repeated eruptions of the Mt. Teide volcano (which began over half a million years ago) began to collapse under their own weight. Subsequent erosion has created a landscape that resembles Mars in color, sculpture and barrenness to surround the cloud-shrouded and, for much of the year, snow-capped cone of Mt. Teide. At 3,718 m (12,195 feet), it is Spain’s highest point, the third-biggest volcano in the world (behind Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea). It’s as alluring to hikers and climbers – who should prepare for the nose-tingling emissions of sulfur at the top – as to naturalists.
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