Through the ages the volcanic Canary Islands grew from the Atlantic Ocean floor off the coast of Western Africa. I have long been fascinated by these islands so last week I gave myself a getaway exploration birthday present for the Thanksgiving holiday… after all, this birthday was the big one!
I had several decisions to make about going to Tenerife. The first decision was where to stay… north or south on the island. The island actually has two international airports serving mostly Spanish flights in the older north and mostly other Europeans in the newer south. I wanted more of the traditional flavor so I chose the north and the old town of Santa Cruz where fishing was at one time the predominate trade.
The belief is that Tenerife was initially inhabited by people from Africa about 2500 years ago but nobody is quite certain about where the natives came from. As European exploration accelerated after Columbus’ voyages to America, the Canary Islands became a “jumping off” point for voyages to the New World. In the process, Spain conquered the island’s inhabitants in the 15th century and despite attempts by others, has retained control ever since. No where more than in Santa Cruz can you feel traditional Spanish influence. There are no longer any purely indigenous people on the island.
Except where changed by man, the island landscape has been shaped by volcanic activity. I toured the island which is almost the size of Rhode Island in the USA. The difference between the south and north is striking. The Playa de Las Americas in the south is about 50 years old with construction and things to do characteristic of Northern Europe along with its beach with yellow sand imported from Africa. You feel wealth in the south. In contrast, Santa Cruz has traditional black sand beaches with many lava rocks in the water. The visitors in the north are notably older than those in the youthful Playa de Las Americas in the south.
In the center of the island is El Teide volcano and the national park. At 3718 meters (12,198 feet) it is the highest point in Spain. Weather conditions didn’t permit going there during my visit. However, an Ultra Marathon did take place which ran from the south of the island to Santa Cruz and went along the volcano rim! The volcano and national park will be a topic for some future adventure to the island.
During my tour of the island I ate delicious Canary Island soup with potatoes, chick peas, ham, onions, carrots, and short spaghetti-like pasta. I also went to Icod de los Vinos where I saw the famous Dragon Tree in the Parque del Drago. The tree is thought to be about 1000 years old and is one of the most photographed trees in the world. Legends say that when dragons die they become dragon trees. This one is a symbol of the Canary Islands and has a 20 meter diameter at the base and is 17 meters tall. It is thought to weigh about 150 tons!
The Parque del Drago and the dragon tree is located next to the town church in Icod de los Vinos. The architecture in Santa Cruz and throughout the traditional portions of the island is colorful and beautiful. The church at the Plaza De La Iglesia in Santa Cruz is an example in its simplicity and surrounding gardens and fountains. I found this everywhere I went on Tenerife.
The beautiful, traditional town of Santa Cruz is very much like what you see throughout Europe but with a Spanish flare. There are always numerous shops scattered in with the old town buildings. It was fun to walk through “Old Town” along the waterfront, watch the people, and eat at outdoor cafes. Several of the cafes have Christmas decorations displayed and street vendors are now roasting chestnuts.
The beauty of this land comes from the volcanic history which has given shape to the mountains, provides for lush vegetation, has given birth to a banana industry, and provides stunning scenes along the ocean. The island calls for visitors to come, enjoy, and most of all, return.