We left our holiday resort, the pools and the beaches and spent a day driving around Tenerife. That was a great family day out most of which we spent in the pretty north coast towns Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and La Orotava.
These towns represent the traditional, real Tenerife. Cobbled streets, colonial houses with wooden balconies, Sunday afternoon on shady squares. I will show you what we saw.
Driving around Tenerife: Garachico
You can easily drive around Tenerife in a day. Driving time is only four hours so there is a lot of time for stops. And driving is nice sinceTenerife roads are so good.
We left the resort, the pools and the beaches…
I will show you our drive on the map.
Driving around Tenerife: the Map
This is the island of Tenerife and the huge volcano Teide, 3718 m in the middle. Its peak is visible from almost every corner of the island. If you drive around the island you don’ have to climb – or you climb just a little.
Our road trip around the island is marked on the map.
We started from our south coast resort from where there is a good motorway finishing at Santiago del Teide. There we took a small side trip to the ridge-top Masca. On the north coast we first visited the lava-buried Garachico from where we continued to Icod de los Vinos that has the dragon tree everybody is talking about. The whole town beautiful town in itself as is La Orotava on the mountain slope above Puerto de la Cruz.
North coast of Tenerife also has a good motorway on from La Orotava so driving on the tropical slopes is easy. Then motorway takes you to Santa Cruz and back to south coast.
Driving around Tenerife, Canary Islands
A village with a dramatic location: Masca, Tenerife
Masca is a small village in the mountains, not far away from Los Gigantes. The village has an exceptional location, it sits on knife-edge ridge.
Below is a deep ravine, Barranco de Masca that leads down to the ocean. The Barranco is a perfect hiking place. If you’re fit you can walk to the ocean shore and back in a day. If not the village is a place to visit in itself.
Masca needs a short side trip. The Masca road turns off at Santiago del Teide and winds uphill and then down the other side. The scenery is dramatic and so is the road.
If you plan to hike or look any longer at the village it’s a good idea to make a separate trip to Masca, it’s not a long way from the south coast resorts.
Masca houses look very different from the ones on the coast. They are old stone houses and typically white-washed like this village church:
La iglesia de Masca
Driving to the North Coast of Tenerife
Stopping for views, Tenerife’s north coast
Santiago del Teide is on flat land and has a wine-growing area around it. The road winds up and then down to the north coast. There are many small villages on the roadside but not really the kind of villages we are looking for. But the scenery is fantastic.
Tenerife Norte is very different from the south. The mountains around el Teide divide the island in two, the lush, wet north that gets the rain and the hot, dry south that is more a desert and cactus zone.
Driving around Tenerife: from Santiago del Teide to north coast
The north has a dramatic scenery that in many places has been formed by lava flows.
Garachico, the town buried by lava
A pretty square in Garachico, Tenerife
Garachico is a place that lets you taste the real Canary Islands. It is an old Canarian town that has a long and dramatic history.
Garachico used to be the biggest port of the island – until the nearby volcano Volcan Negro erupted. That was in 1706 and most of the town was buried when a thick lava layer flowed over it to the sea. Only a few buildings closest to the sea were saved.
But they built the town back as it had been, now on the lava layer. Garachico’s new ocean shore is all black lava and the town also has lava caves and other strange rock formations all over.
Exploring the historic town of Garachico
We spent hours in this enchanting little town, we just couldn’t leave. We walked up and down the cobbled streets and let the kids run on squares and climb church steps.
When we got hungry we sat down and had a fantastic Sunday lunch with the locals, tapas of course. It was the small eatery up in the middle picture, right below the central square Plaza Libertad.
Street in Garachico, Tenerife
Icod de los Vinos
Driving around Tenerife, Icod de los Vinos
The next place we stopped at has a less dramatic background. Icod de los Vinos is Canarian town that has many wooden balconies. Icod looks bigger than Garachico and as the name says it’s the center of a wine-growing valley.
The Canarian town of Icod de los Vinos in photos:
Views of Icod de los Vinos, Canary Islands
The location on the mountain slope makes that Icod has fantastic views of the shoreline – and the town also has views of the famous dragon tree – right from the Plaza de la Iglesia:
El Drago Milenario
A huge, old dragon tree
El Drago Milenario is a huge, old dragon tree. The tree is the oldest of its kind in the world and the symbol of Tenerife.
Nobody knows how old El Drago is, maybe 500, 1000 or 1500 years. 1000 years might be the closest guess. However old the tree is it looks amazing:
El Drago Milenario
To really get close to the famous tree buy a ticket to Parque del Drago and you will see more Canarian plants at the same time.
Parque del Drago
Studying Canarian plants in Parque del Drago, Tenerife
Parque del Drago is a fantastic place to walk in and they have tasks for school kids.
Our children just loved finding their way in the maze. They were looking for different plants and filling in their papers. We spent a long while in the park that also has a dark cave where you can to in.
Exploring dragon trees, bananas and other plants in Parque del Drago, Tenerife
One of the parks in La Orotava
And one more jewel was to follow: La Orotava, located on the banana-filled slope above Puerto de la Cruz.
La Orotava has an untouched historic center from the 17th century. At that time it was home to local aristocrats who settled in the scenic place. They built their great mansions and added wooden balconies in front and flower gardens in inner courtyards.
The lovely town of La Orotava, Tenerife
La Orotava old town is lovely, very well preserved and atmospheric. The steep cobbled streets are like they always were and the town is full of neat gardens. The town has a lot of small shops, cafes and tapas bars, many of them hidden in inner courtyards. You just have to go in and see what you will find.
La Orotava has many sights the most famous of which is La Casa de los Balcones that has carved balconies both in the facade and inside the block. Casa de los Balcones is a museum and a handicraft shop and has a small entrance fee.
Some more views of the valley of La Orotava, from the terrace outside Casa de los Balcones:
Mount Teide from La Orotava, Tenerife
La Orotava evening
As you can see it’s getting dark soon. We were clearly running out of time and had to rush on. The final place we went to was Puerto de la Cruz after which we had to take the motorway back to our resort.
That was also our original plan, just use the motorway at the end. We took our time everywhere we went and were not in a hurry. The island is small and you can always return if you want.
Puerto de la Cruz
Driving around Tenerife, Puerto de la Cruz
So Puerto de la Cruz became our last destination and as we were looking for the original Tenerife we only went to the old town.
We parked in the Plaza Europa garage and walked west along the ocean shore. This is the old core of Puerto de la Cruz where the Muelle Pesquero fishing harbor and historic buildings are. It was very pretty quarters including the city’s oldest building, the Casa de la Real Aduana, a toll house.
Evening views of Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
Plaza de Charco is the old town’s central square and the locals’ gathering place with palms and fountains – and a playground. After we had dined seafood we let the children run a little bit before heading back south. Delicioso!
Enjoying Plaza de Charco seafood, Puerto de la Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz is on the rugged coastline of the north of Tenerife and lacks natural beaches. Yet it has for hundreds of years attracted visitors, beginning with wealthy English families that wanted to escape winter climate.
The town’s scenic location still attracts a lot of tourists and Puerto de la Cruz in one of Tenerife’s main tourist hubs.
The swimming problem was solved by an artificial lagoon, Lago Martianez, on the ocean shore. So Puerto de la Cruz keeps growing.
Taking the TF-1 motorway to Tenerife South
So this was our little island tour, hope you liked touring the coasts. If you want to see the center of the island make another trip to Mount Teide.
You can read about Mount Teide in my post Hiking in Tenerife: Day Trip to Mount Teide by Car.
More about Canary Islands
See my other Canary Island posts: