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The Canaries Uncaged

Canary Islands, Spain

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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.

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