Imagine an island where pine tree forests soar high on mountain slopes, volcanoes idle but have left their mark in giant peaks, deep troughs, underground tubes, and the black sand of its beaches. Nearby a rainforest hugs vertiginous cliffs – providing hikers with all manner of incredible locations to explore. This may not be the Tenerife you’re familiar with if you’re used to its beach resorts. But head to northern Tenerife and your holiday will be entirely different, as we highlight in this travel guide. We will cover what to do in Tenerife’s north, places to visit for a real experience and where to stay for luxury travellers.
Most visitors to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, head to the beach resorts of the south, and despite the many attractions all over the island, a good number of people never leave these resorts. But if you want to experience its culture and authentic attractions you really must explore northern Tenerife.
With historic cities, charming towns, and dramatic natural attractions – there are many things to do in Tenerife’s north. This guide to this fascinating area of the island takes in the capital, Santa Cruz, as well as its historic capital city, cultured San Cristóbal de La Laguna, and the popular resort town of Puerto de la Cruz. It will also highlight towns such as Icod de los Vinos, Garachico and La Orotava, as well as spectacular natural attractions in northern Tenerife – from Teide National Park to the Anaga rainforest, via producers of Tenerife’s delectable wines.
What to do in Tenerife – a guide to the island’s north
This north Tenerife travel guide includes places to visit in this part of Tenerife as well as where to stay. It may include some affiliate links, which means we will make a little money, at no expense to you, if you were to click and book. Don’t miss the annotated map at the end, which you can add to your phone to guide you when you’re on the island.
But first get a feel the destination in our video of the best things to do in northern Tenerife…
The real Tenerife – natural attractions of the island’s north
Tenerife is home to many a natural spectacle, from its ocean life, viewable on dolphin and whale tours, to mountain highs in its interior. It has an abundance of wildlife across the 11 ecosystems that are found on the island. Here are some of the wildest and best places to visit in Tenerife’s north.
Explore Mount Teide
If you want to start your visit to Tenerife with a bang, you will find little more impressive than the island’s epic volcano. At 3,718m Mount Teide is Spain’s highest mountain and Teide National Park provides an experience you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.
Mount Teide is very much an active volcano, but it is carefully monitored, and with its last eruption taking place in 1909, it is enjoyed by more than four million visitors each year, and even sees athletes and Formula 1 drivers head to its slopes to train at altitude.
Mount Teide can’t truly be described as being in northern Tenerife, as it certainly dominates the skyline from the south, the west and parts of the east of the island. In fact, it is one of the first views you will see of Tenerife on arrival by plane.
You can drive up to Teide National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, from the resorts of the south coast. However, it could be said to be more easily accessible from the towns and cities in the north. I have driven there from Los Gigantes and Los Cristianos in the south, and San Cristóbal de la Laguna in the north and found the journey from the latter more direct and less winding.
But whichever direction you approach Mount Teide from, you will very quickly find hillside farms and villages giving way to forests of pin straight pine trees stretching skywards. Gaps between the trees frame views across the island and out to the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. You can even glimpse the neighbouring Canary Island of La Gomera.eading another 20 minutes into the journey and as the high altitude cools the air, a thick blanket of cloud gathers above the deep valley crevice (yes, it can be pretty cloudy on the northern slopes of Mount Teide while there are dazzling blue skies on the peak). Here the landscape transforms revealing for the first time the source of Tenerife’s foundations – the blackened soil and rocky deposits of Teide’s volcanic eruptions.
Changing landscapes – Teide National Park
As you drive further up its slopes, the shapeshifting landscape changes before your eyes with colours ranging from black to rust red, and then ochre. While the trees have long since given up their march on the hillside, short yellow-green shrubs form an endless carpet across the land, until you arrive at the Las Cañadas caldera. It is well worth stopping here, not only the views across this vast, deep depression in the landscape, but because you suddenly find yourself in an otherworldly place. Just a few turns in the road since you were cutting your way through the clouds and pine forests, Mount Teide has transformed to something akin to a lunar landscape. The ground beneath your feet turning into yellow pellets while blackened chunks – deposits of lava dumped by volcanic eruptions have piled up around you.
It is truly one of nature’s great spectacles, and one of Tenerife’s greatest experiences.
Many visitors go no further, choosing to enjoy the views, hike the caldera or the many paths across the rest of the park, but you can summit Mount Teide. Continue from here by road and you will find a cable car station which takes you from 1,999m to the upper station at an altitude of 3,555m.
The view from here is spectacular, however this is still not the very top of Mount Teide. To reach that, you will need to be ready for a hike of the Number 10 route or Telesforo Bravo trail, which takes you to the impressive Teide crater at 3,718m. I have to confess to not having taken that hike myself, but I’m sure it would be an incredible experience.
Whatever your level though, and however you choose to experience Mount Teide, it is one of the very best things to do in Tenerife and should not be missed.
Tips for visiting Mount Teide
Mount Teide is the third highest and largest volcano in terms of area, in the world. But visiting is easy, here are some tips:
- Beware: as hot as it may be on the rest of the island and as bright and sunny as it likely is on Mount Teide without the cloud cover below it, the weather here is significantly cooler than it may seem. Even at the height of summer temperatures can fall into single figures on the mountain, so wear layers, take sunglasses and plenty of sun cream.
- If you don’t want to drive up yourself there are plenty of coach and small group tours (my preference because it allows for a more relaxed trip) leaving from the island’s northern and southern resorts.
- There are also many organised hiking tours of Mount Teide and even quad bike tours.
- There can be very long queues at the cable car station so book ahead and get a skip the line ticket.
- Stop at restaurant La Bamby along the way, just beyond Las Cañadas caldera, to try a barraquito. This sweet liquor coffee is made from Licor 43, espresso and condensed milk.
- Enjoy a unique experience and stay on Mount Teide at a Parador – a Spanish hotel group offering accommodation in incredible locations. Parador Hotel Canadas del Teide, at 2,200m, is the only place where you can stay in the national park. Alternatively you can drop in for lunch and dine on traditional Canarian food at the Parador’s restaurant.
- Another great experience on Mount Teide is a visit to its observatory. The Canary Islands are one of the three best locations in the world to observe the night sky and for those with an interest in astronomy a trip to Tenerife Observatory, the largest solar observatory in the world, is a must. You can also book a stargazing tour with dinner – perhaps one of the most unique things to do in Tenerife.
A little adventure – Cueva del Viento
Conquered Mount Teide? Next, head underground to see how the volcano shaped the island’s interior.
Just outside of the north Tenerife town of Icod de los Vinos you can descend the steps into the lava tubes of Cueva del Viento – the fourth longest in the world. It’s a chance to come face to face with 27,000 years of geography, history and geology.
Cueva del Viento, or Cave of the Wind, is so-called due to a gently cooling breeze that continuously refreshes the subterranean air in the lava tubes.
Discovered 90 years ago after a shepherdess fell down a 16-metre hole into the lava tubes, this labyrinth of caves stretches 17 kilometres. The lava flows of past volcanic eruptions from Pico Viejo, the other volcano in Teide National Park, have left an underground world of fascinating caves, rock formations and sculptured surfaces.
Thankfully the shepherdess survived her ordeal with a few broken bones, but what was a tragic accident for her resulted in a geological bonanza for lava tube research and exploration.
The first notable thing on entering the caves, carved out by the intense heat of the lava flow, was the rugged and very uneven floor – each step had to be carefully placed. In a couple of areas there were examples of where the roof has caved in, but all that has now been made safe for visitors. Clearly visible on the ceiling were the beginnings of the formation of stalactites.
The temperature in the lava tubes was comfortable but got cooler as we trundled further into the bowels of the caves.
There’s a rich variety of life in the lava tubes but very little of it can be seen. Some 190 species have been found in this volcanic complex, including fifteen that were new to science, and steps have been taken to protect them and keep humans away from their habitat. Get a feel for the lava tube experience in this short video.
Tips for visiting the Cueva del Viento lava tubes
- The lava tubes are only accessible on a two hour tour of Cueva del Viento, which starts with a safety presentation.
- Visitors should wear trainers or hiking boots to visit the lava tubes and no large bags or backpacks are allowed.
- Have no fear. I’m an arachnophobe and only saw spiders from afar, others in my group were claustrophobics but they felt comfortable in the wide walkways of the lava tubes.
Visit the Drago Tree – one of the most unusual things to do in Tenerife
It’s rare that I would recommend anyone add a tree to their list of must sees but then this is the first time I’ve written about a tree that is thought to have existed since biblical times. Also it is super close to Cueva del Viento in Icod de los Vinos, so worth popping in to see while you’re in this neighbourhood of north Tenerife.
Set in peaceful gardens is a feat of nature – a tree that is 22 metres high, weighs 70 tonnes and is thought to be an absolute minimum of 1,000 years old, but it could have been there looking out to sea for 3,000 years.
The drago, or dragon tree looks somewhat upside down, with a broad network of branches that shoot like roots in a circle that stretches to 10 metres wide.
There are plenty of drago trees across Tenerife, but none are as large or legendary as the one in Icod de los Vinos.
Discover Tenerife’s rainforest at Anaga Rural Park
Tenerife’s extraordinary natural story continues in the Anaga region, approximately 70 kilometres from Teide National Park and in the island’s northeastern corner, close to the historic city of San Cristóbal de la Laguna and the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Anaga though could not be further from the rush of the city. The kind of switchbacks that make you happy for local drivers, take you higher and higher to Anaga’s jagged peaks, where it seems a giant green carpet has been unfurled. In contrast to Teide’s peak, Anaga is Tenerife’s verdant corner, rich in plant and animal life, so much so it was declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2015. With rocks here dating back 7-9 million years it is considered the oldest part of Tenerife and has four protected areas – the rural park and three natural reserves, plus a Special Bird Protection Area and Special Areas of Conservation.
Become enchanted by Anaga’s laurel forest
Naturally, Tenerife’s unique ecosystems are at play here too – Anaga is home to a dramatic laurel forest.
It was the first stop of my day in Anaga and after just a few steps along the red earth paths beneath the gnarled, twisting branches of the laurel trees, I felt like I was in an enchanted forest. The air here is humid and damp – it is a rainforest after all, but the laurel forest is nothing like the jungles you might imagine finding in the Amazon. Instead there is a magic to Anaga – you can almost sense the trees and the forest taking each breath, your own heart rate lowering in time with the slow pace of its nature.
Anaga’s mountains to its coast
Next we headed to the hamlet of Chinamada, which has incredible views over Anaga’s mountain range as well as out to the Atlantic Ocean, and is also known as the heart of Anaga’s cave house community. The houses are set in ancient caves amid terraced farms.
After soaking up Anaga’s historic houses and views you can finish your visit to this part of the island by heading down to the town of Taganana. You can choose how you get there – it’s a 45 minute drive, but this is Tenerife’s hiker’s paradise, and many people have lost themselves in the mountain, forests and ravines of this part of the island – some for a few hours, others for days or even weeks. The beauty of Anaga though, is that you can take it at your own pace.
Taganana tends to be the end of the road for many who have journeyed through Anaga as not only is there a town among the hills, where you can rest and take in the views over the coast, but wind your way down to the hillside and you will arrive at the seafront, where surfers take to the wild waves that roll into shore beneath the shadow of Anaga’s peaks.
You can also do like I did here and stop for a bite to eat just across from the largest beach in the area, Roque de las Bodegas. Food at Restaurante Playa Casa Africa is very traditional with Canarian fried fish, papas arrugadas (small, wrinkled potatoes), served with mojo sauces and salad. It’s a simple meal, but very affordable and makes for a tasty lunch stop.
Tips for visiting Anaga Rural Park
- From San Cristóbal de Tenerife and Santa Cruz, Anaga Rural Park is a short 15-20 minute drive. But be prepared – it’s a spectacular but foot-on-the-brakes mountain drive around lots of hairpin bends.
- From the Cruz del Carmen visitor centre and museum, where there is car parking, you can wander into the laurel forest on foot and take in a number of hiking trails.
- Some of the trails go distances as long as 10 kilometres, up peaks to 917m and down ravines to Chinamada.
- You can also book a two-hour beginners hiking tour of the Anaga area.
- But you don’t have to be in the least bit adventurous to enjoy Anaga’s wonderful laurel forest – follow the Sendero de los Sentidos, or Path of the Senses. This route is perfect for families with children and starts with a boardwalk section for people with reduced mobility.
Enjoy the golden sands of Las Teresitas
Mount Teide’s eruptions have left their mark on so much of Tenerife, and one of these things is the black sand beaches found across the island. But if you’re looking for a golden sand beach there are a few exceptions, where sand has been shipped in from the Sahara Desert, in Africa.
In the north, Las Teresitas is the only golden sand beach you will find. It sits below the Anaga Rural Park and is an 18 minute drive from Santa Cruz, and a lovely place to visit if you’re staying in Tenerife’s north east. A 1.5 kilometre stretch of sand, Las Teresitas has calm seas and is home to a few cafés and beach clubs. But you can also take a short stroll just south of the beach, to the small town of San Andrés for a few more lunch time dining options.
Places to visit in Tenerife’s north for culture and history
The main cities on the island are to be found in the north of Tenerife. San Cristóbal de la Laguna is the historic capital, but Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the island’s modern day capital city. Meanwhile it could be said that Puerto de la Cruz is Tenerife’s northern tourist capital.
Alongside these cities, which have their own culture and history to tell, the towns of northern Tenerife also hold plenty of charm and interest.
Highlights of Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is often just spoken of as a centre for shopping in the country. And yes, Santa Cruz has its fair share of good shopping, including Spain’s favourite department store, El Cortes Ingles. But there is much more to Santa Cruz than just shops. The city is a cultured centre for the arts and boldly celebrates the island’s traditions.
Cultural spots in Santa Cruz
Take the Auditorio de Tenerife Adán Martín for example – designed by famed architect, Santiago Calatrava. I think it’s worth going to see just to take in its wave-like curved architecture, even at night when it is usually lit in white lights. It is considered the finest modern building in the Canary Islands and has become a symbol of Tenerife and its capital city. But it also hosts concerts, dance and theatre performances, and is home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.
Make for TEA – the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (Tenerife Space for Arts) and you can spot its art installations, visit the library or enjoy coffee amid it’s grand modern architecture.
Dance to the Carnival Museum
Also make time to visit the Casa del Carnaval, where the story of Tenerife’s annual carnival extravaganza comes to life!
Tenerife’s carnival is the second biggest in the world next to the one held in Rio in Brazil, and not only does this museum do a great job of getting you in the mood for the carnival, but it made me want to go back to the island in February to experience the colour of the carnival for myself. You can get a taste for Tenerife Carnival here.
The museum, which opened in 2017 tells of the history and culture of the carnival – from its foundations to it being banned during Franco’s military rule. Tenerife renamed the carnival as a Winter Festival and partied on despite the despot, because the spirit of the carnival can never be undermined. The museum doesn’t provide a stuffy retelling of history – it’s all done with a burst of colour, shiny sequins and the party pizzazz you might expect from the carnival – one of the most fun things to do in Tenerife.
There are a huge number of costumes on display from carnivals held over many decades. Each is something to behold – with plenty to dazzle and some leave you wondering how anyone might be able to wear the costume and still samba down the street.
This is particularly true of the ginormous glittery garment that takes pride of place in the museum – that year’s winning carnival queen’s costume.
This is not your average museum, and as if to prove it, at the end of the exhibition it is all but compulsory to dress up yourself and dance to some carnival drums.
Discover cultured La Laguna
The north of Tenerife has always been its commercial and administrative powerhouse, even though Santa Cruz has not always been the capital city. Historic capital San Cristóbal de la Laguna, or La Laguna for short, is an easy 20 minute drive from Santa Cruz, but is like taking a journey 300 years back in time.
La Laguna, is for me, one of the best places to visit in Tenerife. It is the second of Tenerife’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and one of the most historic and authentic places on the island. It’s a city where history seeps through the walls of its buildings and winds its way around streets filled with stately architecture.
This 15th-century city’s claims to fame extend beyond being the island’s old capital though. It still has most of its original street layout, which clearly worked well, as La Laguna’s grid-like plan was used as a template for cities across the Americas, and it is the reason why the likes of Old Havana, Lima and Cartagena, bear a striking similarity to La Laguna today.
Most new cities are built on a grid, and it is a lesser known fact that that structure has its roots in this tiny city in Tenerife.
La Laguna has a number of old buildings worthy of viewing if only to enjoy a moment in their inner patios, some of which even have pretty gardens and fountains. But it’s also a really lovely place to while away an afternoon in authentic bars like El Rincon de Tintin.
Where to go in Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz is known as Tenerife’s main tourist resort in the north of the island but unlike the south, it’s said to offer visitors a more authentic Canary Island experience.
Puerto de la Cruz is often seen as being a German tourist enclave of the island as it has long attracted more German visitors than the resorts of the south, and even has architecture and a few beer houses extending that Germanic feel. But at heart, Puerto de la Cruz is typically Canarian, with wooden balconies hanging from its old buildings.
It is Tenerife’s second city but is relatively quiet with an old town area graced with historic sites and a host of beaches.
Nature in the city
The closest to the city centre, Playa Martianez is great for fun in the Atlantic surf and is home to the popular Lago Martianez – Puerto de la Cruz’s excellent lido designed by renowned Canary Island’s artist and architect, César Manrique. At the other end of the city is the garden beach of Playa Jardin, arguably one of the best in northern Tenerife and the most popular in Puerto de la Cruz. At one kilometre long it is an enticing stretch of fine black sand set against a backdrop of fabulous tropical gardens.
Nature has made its home in the centre of the city too Plaza del Charco is the place to sit and watch the world go by, while bright green parakeets swoop and flutter from tree to tree. While one of the most peaceful experiences in the city is to wander it botanical gardens. The Jardín de Aclimatación de La Orotava, located to the east of the city opposite Hotel Botanico, is home to plants from the four corners of the globe.
Must see towns in northern Tenerife
About 15 minutes drive inland from Puerto de la Cruz is one of the jewels in the crown of northern Tenerife. La Orotava is known as one of the most traditionally Canarian towns due to the hanging wooden balconies that grace its buildings (the best example being Casa de los Balcones) and the colonial churches that tower over squares lined with palms and Drago trees.
Walking through its streets is like walking through history, treading the same path as Tenerife’s earliest inhabitants the Guanches through to La Orotava’s 18th century gentry who lived in its elegant houses.
The town’s main church, Iglesia de la Concepcion, with its pink candy-striped dome is not to be missed. Here idols peer down from its altar and divine stained glass windows send multicoloured chinks of light dancing across the room.
Each year the Corpus Cristi festival sees crowds flock to La Orotava to see the alfombristas (or carpetmakers) at work. They create carpets of flower and sand in the town’s streets and squares that are really is something to behold.
Garachico isn’t just one of the loveliest places to visit in Tenerife’s northern reaches, it also has to be the island’s most optimistic town. Over the centuries it has turned a history of setbacks – plague, fire, and devastating lava flows into opportunity.
More than 300 years ago lava from Mount Teide devastated the town, destroying its thriving port and plunging this once rich and sophisticated town into great hardship. However, its historic heart has been preserved along with its Canarian architecture, particularly in the main square Plaza de la Libertad, which has a statue of South American revolutionary Simon Bolivar, whose ancestors originated in Garachico.
Another lovely thing to do here is to visit the natural rock pools at El Caleton, formed by these lava flows. Filled with sea water, the pools have a curious beauty and are an unusual place to go for a swim.
Finally I’d recommend heading out to the old gate that once led to Garachico’s port. Since the volcanic eruption extended the size of Garachico, the gate is now located in the heart of the town and has a lovely public garden with statues and sculptures of Garachico’s former great and good, as well as and a 17th century wooden wine press, pointing to Garachico’s dominance as an exporter of wine in its heyday.
Icod de los Vinos
Speaking of wine, I arrived in Icod de los Vinos in time for Fiesta de San Andres – a fabulous festival of wine. Each year on November 30 (St Andrew’s Day in Scotland) Icod’s wine cellars throw open their doors for the tasting of new wines.
I visited the day before when celebrations were only just building up, but I still managed to join in some of the festivities, while there were others I left to the locals as they looked rather dangerous! It’s tradition that when the new wines come out, people come from all over Tenerife to sample the new wines alongside a basket of roasted chestnuts. Once you’ve had more wine than you can handle, you hurl yourself down an extraordinarily steep street on a waxed wooden sledge.
I only caught the children’s day, when wine was off the menu for them, but the kids were powered by the bravado of an 11-year-old. The street was not as steep as the near vertical one they use for the adults event, but it seemed just as crazy to me. Still, the wine was great, and once you’ve had a few glasses you too can career down a hill like a wine-crazed sledder. Or if you’re like me and only want to watch the mayhem, it is one way to join in with local festivities.
Aside from the annual event, the main attractions in Icod de los Vinos are the ancient Drago tree and Cueva del Viento. However you could also pop into the Museo de la Malvasia with its pretty little garden and museum dedicated to telling the story of this grape, and rustic shop that sells snacks and wine.
Finally visit Casa de los Cáceres, an 18th century house with a central patio and veranda held up by columns. It is said to have 365 windows and doors – one for every day of the year.
Back to the wine though as the island has a dynamic wine industry and the north of Tenerife is ground zero for wine production. So it would be rude not to sample local wine before you head for home.
And there is nowhere better than Casa del Vino, in El Sauzal, a small town between Puerto de la Cruz and La Laguna. This wine museum charts the history of Tenerife’s wine industry and you can also do a tasting here and buy those you enjoy. I clearly enjoyed quite a few of them as I left armed with a number of bottles.
Casa del Vino also has a lovely restaurant with a modern take on traditional Canarian dishes.
Hotels in north Tenerife
I stayed at La Laguna Gran Hotel which is a two-three minute walk from the historic centre of San Cristóbal de La Laguna. It has very comfortable modern rooms a rooftop swimming pool, lovely lobby bar and a one-Michelin star restaurant, Nub, one of just five that have been recognised on the island. Dishes here fuse Italian and Chilean recipes with traditional Canarian flavours amidst La Laguna’s cultural attractions.
Other hotels in northern Tenerife that are highly recommended are beautiful boutiques in Garachico, Hotel San Roque and La Quinta Roja, set in a restored 16th century mansion. Also consider five-star luxury resort, Hotel Botanico & the Oriental Spa Gardens on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz.
Map of northern Tenerife
More travel tips for the north of Tenerife
- I would recommend staying in northern Tenerife for a few days, or even basing yourself here for your whole holiday, but it is also possible to visit the north of Tenerife from the south for the day. There are tours of Mount Teide combined with Tenerife north. Driving to north Tenerife from the south of the island is also pretty easy. If you have a head for heights and can handle driving numerous switchbacks, you can drive from Adeje (the region covering Los Cristinanos, Fañabe, Playa de las Americas and other popular southern resorts) to Puerto Cruz via the TF-1 road going west. This will definitely save on petrol, as it is just 74 kilometres, and this road also takes you through parts of Teide National Park. However if you prefer straighter, faster roads, I’d recommend ignoring Google Maps (it recommends the mountainous route because it is the shortest as the crow flies) and take the longer route on the TF-1 via Santa Cruz – it is 106 kilometres this way but as the road here is a motorway, it is straighter, faster and has far fewer hold-your-breath narrow roads and turns. Both routes take around one hour and 15 minutes.
- Northern Tenerife is renowned for being the island’s green side, and with that comes a different climate to the south. It can be as much as 10 degrees cooler between the north and the south, and the north of the island can have much more rain than the south. But don’t let that put you off. The weather in northern Tenerife can also be wonderfully warm and sunny and there is less of the humidity of the south. You can check the best times to travel to northern Tenerife here.
- Tenerife has two airport – Tenerife North and Tenerife South. Most flights go to the southern airport but if you are planning to stay in northern Tenerife it is better to seek out flights to the airport in the north – a five minute drive from San Cristobal de la Laguna, or 25 minutes from Puerto de la Cruz. However if flights to the south are better for you, arriving into this airport will just mean a longer transfer time to the north – 45 minutes to San Cristobal de la Laguna and two hours to Puerto de la Cruz.
- Visit Tenerife Tourism’s website for more tips and inspiration on what to do in Tenerife’s north.