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Driving around Tenerife: What to See in the North

We left our resort pools and spent a day driving around Tenerife. It became a great family day out, mainly on the island’s scenic north coast.

The postcard-pretty north coast towns of Garachico, Icod de los Vinos and La Orotava represent the traditional, real Tenerife. Cobbled streets, colonial houses with wooden balconies and locals spending their Sunday afternoon on village squares.

We will now show you what the north of Tenerife is like.

Garachico street and cactus

Driving around Tenerife: Garachico

You can easily drive around the whole island in a day. Driving the loop only takes four hours, which allows a lot of stops and sightseeing during the day.

So go ahead! Tenerife roads are good to drive and that makes driving fun.

Los Cristianos Beach, Tenerife

We left the resort, the pools and the beaches

First of all, our drive on the map:

Driving around Tenerife: the Map

 

Map of our drive around Tenerife

This is the Canary island of Tenerife with the massive volcano Teide, 3718 m, centering it. The Teide is so massive that its peak is visible from almost everywhere on the island.

As the highest mountains fill the center of the island and the coasts lower, you can drive around the whole island without climbing to mountains  – or you only climb a little.

Our Itinerary

We started from our south coast resort, from where there is a good motorway until Santiago del Teide. There you can take a side trip to the pretty ridge-top village of Masca.

On the north coast we went to the lava town Garachico and then on to Icod de los Vinos where the famous dragon tree is located. Icod de los Vinos is nice town in itself, and so is La Orotava, located a bit futher above Puerto de la Cruz.

Just like the south of Tenerife, the north has a good, new motorway that makes driving on the hilly slopes of the north relaxed.

Then, at the end, we took the motorway on to Santa Cruz and back to the south coast.

Driving around Tenerife, Canary Islands

We are driving around Tenerife, Canary Islands!

Now, what to see on the roadside. First Masca:

Driving around Tenerife: Masca

Masca, Tenerife

A Tenerife village with a dramatic location: Masca

Masca, Tenerife is a tiny mountain village with an exceptional location: the remote village sits on a knife-edge ridge. Yet it’s not far away from Los Gigantes: on the other side of the steep mountains,

Below the village is the deep ravine of Barranco de Masca that leads down to the ocean. When in Masca, the Barranco is a perfect place to hike. If you’re fit, you can walk to the ocean shore and back in a day. If not, the village is a place to see in itself.

When driving around Tenerife Masca needs a short side trip. The Masca road turns off at Santiago del Teide and winds up the mountain and down the other side. The Masca road scenery is dramatic and so is the winding road.

 

Photos of Masca, Tenerife

If you plan to hike or stay any longer in the village, it might be a good idea to make a separate trip to Masca. It’s not a long way to drive from the south coast resorts.

Building style in Masca looks very different from what it is on the coast. Most Masca houses have the same look as this white-washed village church:

La iglesia de Masca, Tenerife

La iglesia de Masca, Tenerife

Driving to the North Coast of Tenerife

Stopping for views, Tenerife's north coast

Stopping for ocean views on the north coast of Tenerife

Santiago del Teide, the town, is on flatland and has a wine-growing district around it. From Santiago the main road then winds up a bit until you will see the north coast.

There are small villages on the roadside, but not really of that kind we are looking for. Never mind, the scenery is fantastic.

Tenerife North is a very different region to the south, it’s almost like day and night. The mountains around El Teide split the island in two zones: the lush, wet north that gets the rain, and the hot, dry south, the desert country.

 

Driving around Tenerife: from Santiago del Teide to the north coast

In many places the dramatic scenery of the north is a result of a lava flows from the mountains:

Garachico, Tenerife

Garachico, a town created by flowing lava

Driving around Tenerife: Garachico

Square in Garachico, Tenerife

A pretty square in Garachico, Tenerife North

Garachico lets you taste the real Canary Islands. The old Canarian town has its roots in the long and dramatic history of the Canary Islands.

Once it was the biggest port of the island – until the nearby Volcan Negro unexpectedly erupted. That was in 1706, and on that day a thick lava layer flowed over Garachico and into the sea, leaving most of the town buried. Of the whole town, only a few buildings next to the sea were saved.

The inhabitants soon built the town back, trying to recreate it as had been, but now on the lava layer.

Garachico’s new ocean shore is all black lava, the town has deep lava caves below it and strange rock formations exist all over.

 

Photos of the historic town of Garachico in Tenerife north

As we  just couldn’t leave, we spent hours in this charming little town,. Slowly wandering its cobbled alleys we let our small ones run on squares and climb the church steps. They, too, loved Garachiko so much!

When hungry we had a fantastic Sunday lunch with Garachico locals, ordering tapas, what else? It was the small eatery up in the middle picture, stairs down from the central square Plaza Libertad.

Street in Garachico, Tenerife

A narrow alley in Garachico, Tenerife

Icod de Los Vinos

Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife Norte

Driving around Tenerife: Icod de los Vinos

The next place we went to has a less dramatic background, no lava problems as far as you can see. Icod de los Vinos looks like a bigger community than Garachico, it’s the center of a wine-growing valley – as the name says.

Icod de los Vinos is one of the many Canarian towns where wooden balconies decorate houses

The Canarian town of Icod de los Vinos in photos:

 

Views of Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife

Icod’s location in a mountain slope makes that the locals can enjoy splendid views over their vineyards and the Atlantic shoreline.

What else is there? Of course the famous dragon tree, located off the Plaza de la Iglesia:

El Drago Milenario

El Drago, Icod de los Vinos

The huge dragon tree El Drago Milenario

The tree, El Drago Milenario is a huge, old dragon tree. The oldest of its kind in the world has become the symbol of Tenerife.

Nobody knows how old El Drago Milenario is, maybe 500, 1000 or 1500 years. Maybe 1000 years might be the best guess. However old the tree is, it looks amazing:

El Drago, Icod de los Vinos, Icod de los Vinos

El Drago Milenario de Tenerife

To get as close as you can, buy a ticket to Parque del Drago. In the park you see the tree at a close distance and in addition a lot of different Canarian plants at the same time.

Parque del Drago

Parque del Drago, Tenerife

Studying Canarian plants in Parque del Drago, Tenerife

The lush park of Parque del Drago is a fantastic place for a walk and they even have tasks to solve for school kids that are interesting for adults alike.

Our children just loved running around in the maze, trying to find their way in the jungle-like park. And they also loved looking for Canarian plants and filling in the facts of them in their papers.

We spent a long while in Parque del Drago that, not to forget, has a dark cave where you can to in.

 

Studying dragon trees, bananas and other Tenerife plants in Parque del Drago

La Orotava

Park in La Orotava

One of the pretty parks of La Orotava

And more beauty will follow: the historic town of La Orotava located on the banana-filled slope above Puerto de la Cruz.

La Orotava has an exceptional, historic center from the 17th century. At that time the local aristocrats found the scenic location and decided to settle there. So they built their mansions in La Orotava, adding well-decorated wooden balconies in front and luch flower gardens behind them.

 

The town of wooden balconies: La Orotava, Tenerife

The old town of La Orotava a lovely place, well preserved and atmospheric. The steep cobbled streets are just like they were in the 17th century, and the town is full of gardens.

La Orotava has a lot of small shops, cafes and tapas bars, many of them hiding in the inner courtyards. To find them just have to go into houses and see what there is.

La Casa De los Balcones

If you like old architecture, La Orotava has many interesteing things for you. Maybe the best known Orotava sight is La Casa de los Balcones, a large building full of carved balconies both in the facade and inside the block.

Unlike many others, the Casa de los Balcones is not a normal house where people live, it’s been made a museum and handicraft shop and they will charge a small fee when you enter.

Some more views of La Orotava Valley, as seen from the viewing terrace close to the Casa de los Balcones:

Mount Teide from La Orotava

Mount Teide seen from La Orotava, Tenerife

Lantern, La Orotava

La Orotava Valley evening light

As you can see in the photos it’s getting evening and dark. We were clearly running out of time now and had to rush on.

The final place we went to was Puerto de la Cruz, after which we had to rush to the motorway and back to our resort.

That also was our original plan, just return along the motorway at the end. Driving around Tenerife, we took our time each place we went to. Thinking about that the island of the size that we could always return if we missed something.

Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz harbor

Driving around Tenerife, Puerto de la Cruz

So we missed Santa Cruz this time, Puerto de la Cruz became our last destination before dard. As our theme today was to look for the original Tenerife, we only went to the oldest part of the tourist resort.

There we parked in the Plaza Europa underground garage and walked along the ocean shore. The place was the Old Town of Puerto de la Cruz where the Muelle Pesquero fishing harbor is located, and many more historic buildings. It was some quite pretty quarters, including the city’s oldest building, the toll house Casa de la Real Aduana.

 

Evening views of Puerto de la Cruz Old Town, Tenerife

Plaza de Charco, the old town’s central square is the place where the locals gather to meet each other – in the shade, between palms and fountains.

And the Plaza also has a huge playground! After a seafood dinner we let the kids run a little bit, and then headed back south.

Enjoying Plaza de Charco seafood, Puerto de la Cruz

Delicioso! Plaza de Charco seafood, Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz is on the rugged, rocky coastline of North Tenerife, a region that totally lacks natural sandy beaches.

Even without any beaches the city has attracted crowds of visitors for the last hundreds of years, beginning with wealthy English families that wanted to escape the British winter climate.

It’s easy to understand why the North Tenerife coastal city still attracts tourists and has become one of Tenerife’s main tourist hubs.

The swimming problem they solved with an artificial lagoon, Lago Martianez, that they created on the ocean shore. The lagoon helps Puerto de la Cruz grow.

Driving around Tenerife, TF-1 to Tenerife South

Taking the TF-1 motorway to Tenerife South

Back to the South

So this was our family trip around Tenerife, hope you liked reading about the places in the north. Now you know what the holiday island’s north coast is like.

Want to see more of the island? Go to its center and see it on a day trip to Mount Teide. To plan your Mount Teide adventure, read about our trip through Mount Teide National Park: Hiking in Tenerife: Day Trip to Mount Teide by Car.

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