Holidaying in Tenerife is synonymous with big resorts, bright lights, glossy malls, souvenir shops, and banana boat rides. The largest and most visited of the Canary Islands, sees its population of just under one million increase up to fourfold throughout the year, its most popular resorts are rarely quiet, thanks to year-round warmth (it’s on the same latitude as the Sahara) .
More adventurous visitors are persuaded off the beaches by the world’s third-largest volcano, Mount Teide – which last erupted in 1909 – and surrounding national park. But the combined Canary Islands are focusing on lesser-known experiences in an attempt to attract tourists from mainland Spain this summer and I was curious to join them.
Boarding a catamaran from Puerto Colón in the south west, it took just minutes for the crew to spot a pod of bottlenose dolphins launching out of the sea. The dolphins were clearly used to tourists entering their waters, coming almost within touching distance of our vessel. They leapt from the waters and swam beneath the trampoline mesh, teasing us with their proximity.
As the pod carried on swimming through the turquoise ocean, we moved further out in search of pilot whales. This is the second largest dolphin species behind the Orca or killer whale and can grow to more than 7m long, weighing more than 3,000kg.
Whale watching has been given a boost here after the stretch of water between Tenerife and neighboring La Gomera was named Europe’s first Whale Heritage Site last year, due to its unique resident population of pilot whales. The waters are home to one of the largest populations of pilot whales in the world, with the chances of spotting one on a boat tour around 80 per cent, guide Ancor Robaina explained.
At a distance, it was easy to mistake the pilot whales for dolphins; they dip in and out of the water in a similar fashion to bottlenoses. But up close, their long and thick fins and bulging foreheads set them apart. They were also more timid, but they still swam relatively close to the catamaran, allowing us to appreciate their beauty.
Inland, Tenerife is home to many protected landscapes and parks, including sites up in the remote Teno Mountains, in the northwest. It’s a dramatic contrast to the bustle of the southern beach resorts.
From the Mirador Archipenque lookout, I could see the impressive cliffs of Los Gigantes – “The Giants” – of Teno Rural Park. The cliffs tower over the town below and break through the clouds above.
Manuela Quercioli, a tour guide with El Cardon NatureExperience, was keen to tell me that the surrounding Masca valley is the most authentic part of the island. Tenerife is effectively split into “two worlds”, she said and described the mountainous area as a hidden gem that is often missed by tourists.
Together, we drove up endless switchbacks to the village of Maska. The route here is relatively new – until 1991 the village was unreachable by road. Initially, the landscape gave more of an impression of Machu Picchu than Tenerife, with mountain folds and ravines rising steeply to sharp peaks and sinuous roads weaving through the greenery.
The hamlet – home to around 90 residents – is tucked in the folds of this ancient Teno Massif and lining its steep, wind-blown paths is a collection of orange-brick houses. Many still show signs of how the town functioned before it was joined up with the rest of the island, with roofs designed to collect water and a wealth of homegrown produce in the surrounding fields.
On the drive back down, we stopped to sample a regional specialty, Barraquito coffee, which gives hikers a much-needed boost of sugar, caffeine and alcohol with its layers of coffee, condensed and frothed milk, lemon and vanilla liqueur.
Sipped from the terrace of a mirador café, overlooking the drama of the ravines, you’ll be glad to have diverted away from the crowds.
How to get there
British Airways has resumed flying from London Gatwick to Tenerife. Single fares from £74.
Week-long packages to the luxury Ritz-Carlton Abama – with two Michelin star restaurants, seven swimming pools, an 18-hole golf course and spa – cost from £799pp with flights, luggage allowance and B&B.
All over-18s must provide proof of vaccination or recent infection to enter Spain and the Canary Islands, or a negative PCR (72 hours before travel) or antigen test (24 hours before travel). Under-12s are exempt.