Islas Canarias

Before Tenerife was an island it was a giant volcano. During millions of years and countless explosions, the mighty El Teide erupted itself to create the island that we know today. It still remains the highest volcano this side of Atlantic, and at 3718 meters, the third highest volcano of the world. Its sharp summit and surrounding hilltops offer an impressive backdrop to almost anywhere on the island.

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Full moon over El Teide

We stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel on the Costa Adaje, at the west side of the island. Shortly after we checked-in to our room, we were greeted by a full moon rising over the ever-present clouds at the summit of the El Teide and from then on the volcano dominated most of our holiday.

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A detail from the poolside

I like the Hard Rock hotel chain for their big comfortable rooms, funky memorabilia, good restaurants & bars and especially for their non-stop and mostly live music. At Hard Rock Tenerife I specifically enjoyed Ali Ola for its different tapas choices and the club-bar Sixteenth Floor for the incredible views and equally incredible cocktails.

I also like their ingenious use of perfumes in all the closed spaces. Using aromas to create experiences and memories is not a new idea and our brains are hard wired like that, but some use it better than others. The first Hard Rock Hotel I stayed at was at Panama City and I still remember its strong honey and cinnamon aroma. This one reminded me of exotic fruits mixed with the ocean breeze.

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Despite its height, climbing to Mount Teide is easy if you plan ahead. There are many excursions and tours, but after spending a full day at home googling and going over the tour itineraries, I decided that we would be better on our own for two very basic reasons; first we have a rental car so we can drive to most of the places mentioned and second and most importantly we both hate waking up very early, which seemed de-facto for all the tours.

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A surprisingly clear day at Teide 

One thing I learned from my travels, no matter where you are on earth if you want to visit some place popular, buy the tickets online in advance. That is if you don’t like spending half of your day queuing.  It was especially true in the case of the cable car to the top of El Teide where we had to cue for half an hour although we had tickets. Their website is super informative and the service they provide is priceless. To give an example, on the morning of our scheduled trip I got an e-mail and an sms informing that due to extreme winds the cable car would be closed and provided links to change the ticket to alternate days or get a refund. Rescheduling was a piece of cake after that.

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El Teide – The Summit

The next day was spent driving at the Teide National Park and stopping for short hikes to breath in the ever-changing colours and vistas. After driving inside the huge caldera for some time, we arrived at the lower station and took our cabin to 3555 meters. At the top, there are three well marked routes, one to the summit and the others to the north and south sides of the volcano. We were very lucky with the weather that day, it was clear with sun and blue skies. We could see miles and miles ahead from the top.

The views of this natural wonderland took our breath away, so did the 50km/hr winds.

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La Gomerra on the horizon

According to the islands’ aboriginal people the Guanches, life was a struggle between Guayata the devil and Achamón the supreme god. Beaten after a mighty combat, the sly Guayata went hiding inside the El Teide, only showing his angry face when Achamón is not around, but going on with his plans for the dominance of the island.

The constant clash between the land, the sea and the wind is playing a major role in shaping the island even today.  Los Roques de Garcia are great examples of what the wind can do to rocks over the course of a few short millennia.

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Roque Cinchado – the most famous of the Los Roques de Garcia

Apart from the majesty of its volcano, Tenerife is an island of contrasts with its lush green hills and bare rock formations. There are many more interesting places in mainland Spain or on the Mediterranean coast. But it’s one of the places where Spaniards got things right when it comes to offering something interesting for every kind of visitor that one gets spoilt for choice.

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Fishermen at Los Christianos Harbour

We spent a fun afternoon whale watching on board the Bahriyeli, an old Turkish gullet. We took off from Los Christianos and saw our first whales just a few miles away from the harbour. The weather was warm and sunny and the island’s resident whales, the blunt head short-fins loved playing with our boat. About 700 hundred of these peaceful giants call these waters home. The captain and the crew were very respectful for these beautiful creatures which were guarding their babies and thus we spent almost two solid hours among them, watching their games and learning about their habits. They  are also called pilot whales for helping the boats in stress.

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To explore the island fully we spent a couple of days driving around and visiting its towns and villages. Of them, I will never forget Masca, or rather the road reaching to that village built on hilltops more suitable for the wind and eagles rather than humans. It was a twisting narrow road, climbing through misty hills and every second was a thrill.

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Road to Masca – it was as thrilling as it looked

 

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And … Masca !

Leaving Masca behind and after some more winding roads we found ourselves in Garachico, a rich seaside village of natural pools, little alleys and good restaurants. Garachico was the main commercial port of the island until the eruptions of 18th cc drastically destroyed the area.  With its landscape reshaped with lava, today it is one of the most photogenic villages on the island.

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Lava pools and religion – Garachico
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Garachico

After a pleasant walk in the village we stopped at Restaurant Aristides with its little terrace overlooking the town square and devoured a mouth-watering dinner of pimientos de padron, chorizo, papas & pulpa, all washed down by a cold bottle of Chivite, my favourite local rosado.

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Iglesia Santa Ana

The islands’ cuisine is mainly typical Spanish tapas and seafood with some traditional touches.  One of the best-known local dishes are the Papas Arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes), made of potatoes boiled in salted water, served with two delicious “mojos” or sauces; the mojo picón and the mojo verde.

After the first bite papas became a welcome addition to our table.

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Papas Arrugadas

There are also quite a few sushi restaurants on the island, which is not a big surprise considering the variety and freshness of the daily catch. We tried one in Adaje and it was superb. One of the best ones is Kazan in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which also has a Michelin 1 star. We couldn’t try it due to a local holiday, but there’s always a next time.

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Los Gigantes

On the west coast, Los Gigantes and Santiago del Teide also worth a visit as well as the Playa de las Americas with its world class boutiques, lux hotels and seaside promenade. Searching for a nice bar we found La Palapa on the beach. It proved to be a lovely choice, both for a sunset cocktail and a delicious dinner.

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Sunset at Playa de las Americas

On the north east tip of island, there is the great Anaga massif, a wild and remote mountain range formed by the eruptions of nine million years ago. The lava and the rocks are covered here by lush forests, but it is still possible to see the bones of the mountains. We drove close to an hour in that region and with every turn of the road our wonder of this amazing nature grew.

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Anaga Massif  

Following the road, we found ourselves at Roque de Las Bodegas, a small fishing village and a popular local spot for its small playa and the group of rocks in the sea. It was lunch time and we took the last table at El Mecha, a family run restaurant, crowded and noisy, serving no fuss but delicious food. Thanks to our beginners Spanish and lots of hand gestures, we ended up eating a big plate of local fish, salad and papas with bottles of cold cerveza.

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Auditorio de Tenerife – Adan Martin

Our last day in Tenerife was reserved for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the twin-capital of Canarias -an honour it shares with Las Palmas of Gran Canaria- and one of the most important ports of the Atlantic. It is a major stopover for boats wishing to cross the Atlantic to catch the prevailing northeasterly trade winds.

While preparing for his epic journey, Christopher Columbus visited Santa Cruz in 1492 and witnessed the first ever recorded eruption of El Teide during a trial run between La Gomerra and Gran Canaria.

 

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A stall at Mercado de Nuestro Senora de Africa

Santa Cruz was a fishing village first. Nowhere that feeling is stronger than the Mercado de Nuestro Senora de Africa, an amazing open market specialised in seafood and local artefacts. On the ground level there are several bar-restos packed with locals and tourists alike,  their seafood coming directly from the stalls and served as a fresh and tasty lunch.

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Fish Market 3

We had an almost gourmet experience where the delicious plates are prepared in front of us and served to perfection with a bottle of chilled cava. The result was a feast, both for the palate and the eyes.  The roll de aguacate con tartare de salmón and carpaccio de gambas y foie in particular were both to die for.

Today Santa Cruz is a buzzing city, combining the old and new both in architecture, cuisine and daily life. The Auditorium Adan Martin  is a brilliant example of the Spanish expressionism.   Walking along it’s streets, we witnessed a political rally just an alley down from a progression for Easter, each carried out with the same enthusiasm and gusto.

 

Afterwards we took the ferry to Gran Canaria for the last part of our tour and spent a few days enjoying the sun, the sea and the famed sand dunes of Maspolamas.

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Faro de Maspolamas at sunset

We stayed at a hotel in Playa del Ingles mostly based on the comments on TripAdvisor; which taught me another lesson : don’t ever trust a single source. Although everything was quite satisfactory, nearby village of Meloneras would be a more suitable option for us for such a short stay.

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Puerto de Mogan

We spent a day exploring the south west coast of Gran Canaria from Playa del Ingles to Puerto de Mogan.  Apart from few exceptions, it is full of huge hotels and holiday homes, in other words too much cement and concrete.  There are a few golf courses on the hills , which provides the only greenery for miles.

A pleasant surprise was Puerto de Mogan, a cute fishing village turned holiday destination centred around a small port. We had a late lunch at a restaurant on the harbour, walked around and soaked in the sun.

 

 

We had a lot of fun in Maspolamas, playing with the waves, walking for miles on the

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Tipsy Hammock

beach, watching the local artists making quite impressive sculptures from the sand, going crazy at the boutiques at Meloneras and sampling the restaurants and bars.  Our favourites were the Tipsy Hammock at Playa del Ingles with its vast choice of mojitos (my favourite was the blueberry mojito) , Café del Mar at Meloneras with its great food (try their tataki de thon)  & cool jazz players, and the 19th Hole, the rock bar with its live performances. Most of the famous clubs of Ibiza, like Pacha are also resident in Gran Canaria.

 

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Cathedral Santa Ana – its nave reminded me of a small forest

We spent the last day in the old town of Las Palmas, the Vegueta, walking its cobblestone streets and visiting Casa de Colon where the great explorer stayed both before his first epic journey and a few times afterwards. We also stopped at the Cathedral Santa Ana, dedicated to the patron saint of the islands. We climbed it’s clock tower to look over the city and visited its small but well kept gardens.

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After a quick bite and some more sangria, it was time to say goodbye and go back to the real world.

Hasta Luego Canarias !

 

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Casa de Colon 
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