The Canaries Uncaged
Canary Islands, Spain
Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and has something for everyone:
bright lights, fun and beach life at Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos,
whale-spotting and bird-watching, climbing the volcano, savoring the atmosphere
in elegant La Laguna.
Most ships will put in at the bustling harbor of Santa Cruz de
Tenerife. This gives cruisers an instant advantage over people flying in as the
port city has a genuine Canario feel - unlike the main southern resort towns.
There are a couple of museums: the Museum of Nature and Man features multimedia
volcanoes, flora, fauna, skulls, Guanche mummies and pottery. The Military
Museum has El Tigre, the cannon credited with blowing off Admiral Nelson's arm.
Check out a couple of churches too: the baroque Iglesai de San
Francisco and the ancient Iglesia de la Concepcion with its shimmering silver
altar are both richly atmospheric and typical of the islands’ distinct
architectural heritage. After you're done with serious sight-seeing you can
head for the Parque Maritimo Cesar Manrique for a dip in one of the designer
pools followed by a lazy hour or so admiring the views from a lounger with a
cocktail by your side!
If you're lucky enough to be in Tenerife in February you'll be
able to enjoy Carnaval: the Canarian fiesta. Only Rio de Janeiro gives better
carnival than Santa Cruz, and not by much. Expect gala performances, fancy
dress, masked balls and a permanent frenzy of friendly frivolity.
Shopping is good in Santa Cruz - the Canaries are a tax haven.
The main shopping area is centered on the Calle Castillo. You can get good
deals on electronic goods, watches and even brand-name jeans. If you're
souvenir hunting the handicrafts kiosk near the post office should give you an
idea of the local talent, embroidery work is a popular choice.
If your shore leave is limited and you don't want to waste time
traveling to the south of the island for beach life, make straight for Puerto
de la Cruz. This is a well developed coastal paradise and will cater to the
needs of any sun seeker or watersports enthusiast. The big attraction in Puerto
de la Cruz is the Parrot Park: impressive unless you object to performing
animals, including seals and dolphins - and, surrealists take note - a parrot
on a bicycle. More seriously they have the world's largest collection of
parrots, a well-stocked aquarium, gorillas, chimps, flamingoes, penguins and
even a bat cave. If you've got kids this really is a must-see. Alternatively go
bananas at the Bananera el Guanche plantation near Puerto de la Cruz. After
tourism, bananas are how the Canaries make their money. Everything you could
ever want to know about the history and cultivation of this giant herb and lots
of other exotic flora.
Tenerife is justly renowned for watersports and adventure
sports. You should be able to organize some diving, a catamaran trip,
parapenting, parascending, caving or climbing without difficulty in Puerto de
la Cruz or Los Cristianos. The best dive site is probably the Cliffs of the
Giants at Puerto de Santiago. Your cruise operator might also have arranged a
whale-watching or dolphin watching trip for non-divers. If you've had enough of
water on your cruise ship you'll find plenty of places offering one-day guided
mountain bike trips, a good way to appreciate the scenery, especially as
transport to and from the start of the ride and a picnic are usually included
in the price.
Although Tenerife is famous as a beach destination if you're
ready for a change of scene the del Teide National Park is a dramatic landscape
sculpted by long extinct volcanoes and dominated by the 3718m Pico del Teide,
Spain's highest mountain. Bizarre basalt, midnight black obsidian and spongy
pumice rock formations make for dramatic visuals, especially set alongside the
menacing lava flow that reaches down to the road in a reminder of the volcano's
active past. You can get the cable-car almost to the top: a breath-taking eight
minute ride and then wander round enjoying the superb view from the rim of the
crater. The other choice is to hike up - allow about four hours, and make sure
you’re in good shape before you start! If this seems too demanding the park
brochure lists plenty of other walks that'll give you a tour of the weird
whorls and twists of the lava landscapes, and they're helpfully graded in
difficulty. There are also guided walks in English: the pace is gentle, with
frequent pauses for photographs and information to give you a chance to get
your breath back.
Cruisers who focus on the daytime delights will return to their
ship wondering why so many visitors venture no further than the artificial
beaches and nightclubs - they're missing the best of this Spanish paradise.