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Driving around Tenerife: What to See in the North

We left our resort pools and 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 afternoons on shady squares. I will show you the places.

Garachico street and cactus

Driving around Tenerife: Garachico

You can easily drive around the whole island in a day. The driving time is four hours, which leaves a lot of time for stopping and sightseeing. As Tenerife roads are so good, driving on the island is very pleasant.

Los Cristianos Beach, Tenerife

We left the resort, the pools and the beaches

First of all, I will show you our drive on the map:

Driving around Tenerife: the Map

 

Map of our drive around Tenerife

This is the Canarian island of Tenerife with the massive volcano Teide, 3718 m, centering it. Teide is so prominent that its peak is visible from almost every part of the island.

As the highest mountains are in the center part of the island and the coasts lower areas, you can well drive around the island without taking any winding mountain roads  – or you only climb a little.

Our Itinerary

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

On the north coast we first went to the lava town Garachico, from where we drove on to Icod de los Vinos where the dragon tree everybody is talking about is located. Icod de los Vinos is beautiful town in itself, and so is the next destination La Orotava on the mountains above Puerto de la Cruz.

Just like the south coast, the north coast of Tenerife has a good motorway, so driving on the hilly mountain slopes of the north is easy.

At last motorway takes you on to Santa Cruz and back to south coast.

Driving around Tenerife, Canary Islands

Driving around Tenerife, Canary Islands

Now the places on the roadside.

Driving around Tenerife: Masca

Masca, Tenerife

A Tenerife village with a dramatic location: Masca

The remote village of Masca is not far away from Los Gigantes. Masca is a mountain village with an exceptional location. It sits on a knife-edge ridge.

Below is a deep ravine, Barranco de Masca that descends 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 visit in itself.

Masca requires a short side trip, the road turns off at Santiago del Teide and winds up and then down the other side. The scenery is dramatic and so is the narrow winding road.

 

Masca, Tenerife

If you plan to hike or stay any longer in the village than just stop, 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 look like 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

The town of Santiago del Teide is on flat land and has a large wine-growing district around it. From Santiago the main road winds up a bit and then down to the north coast.

There are small villages on the roadside, but not really the kind of villages we are looking for. The scenery, however, is fantastic.

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

 

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

The dramatic scenery of the north has in many places been created by lava flows from the mountains.

Garachico, Tenerife

Garachico, a town once buried by lava flows

Driving around Tenerife: Garachico

Square in Garachico, Tenerife

A pretty square in Garachico, Tenerife Norte

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

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

They soon built the town back, trying to make it as was, but now on the lava layer. Garachico’s new ocean shore is all black lava, and the town also has deep lava caves below it, and other strange rock formations all over.

 

Exploring the historic town of Garachico

We spent hours in this charming little town, just couldn’t leave. We slowly wandered the town’s cobbled streets and let our kids run on squares and climb church steps as they loved it so much.

When we got hungry we sat down and had a fantastic Sunday lunch with Garachico locals, ordering tapas of course. It was the small eatery up in the middle picture, stairs down from the central square Plaza Libertad.

Street in Garachico, Tenerife

Street 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. Icod de los Vinos is one of those Canarian towns that have many wooden balconies.

Icod looks like a bigger town 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 locals can enjoy fantastic views of their vineyards and the Atlantic shoreline.

What else does the town have? Of course the famous dragon tree off the Plaza de la Iglesia:

El Drago Milenario

El Drago, Icod de los Vinos

A huge, old dragon tree

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

Nobody knows how old El Drago Milenario is, maybe 500, 1000 or 1500 years. 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 to the famous tree, buy a ticket to Parque del Drago. You will get close to the tree and also see more Canarian plants at the same time.

Parque del Drago

Parque del Drago, Tenerife

Studying Canarian plants in Parque del Drago, Tenerife

The lush Parque del Drago is a fantastic place to walk and they have tasks for school kids, why not for adults too?

Our children just loved running in the maze and finding their way in the park. They loved looking for different plants and filling facts of them in their papers.

We spent a long while in Parque del Drago that in addition has a black 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 parks in La Orotava

More was to follow: La Orotava on the banana slope above Puerto de la Cruz.

La Orotava has an exceptional, historic center from the 17th century. At that time local aristocrats found the scenic location and wanted to settle there. They built their great mansions in La Orotava, adding wooden balconies in front and flower gardens behind their mansions.

 

The town of balconies: La Orotava, Tenerife

The old town of La Orotava a lovely place, so well preserved and so 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 hidden in inner courtyards. You just have to go in and see what you find.

La casa De los Balcones

La Orotava has many sights, the most famous of them La Casa de los Balcones with carved balconies both in the facade and inside the block. Casa de los Balcones is not a normal house, it’s been made a museum and handicraft shop and and there is small fee when you enter.

Some more views of the valley of La Orotava, from the terrace outside Casa de los Balcones:

Mount Teide from La Orotava

Mount Teide from La Orotava, Tenerife

Lantern, La Orotava

La Orotava evening

As you can see in the photos, 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 our plan, just use the motorway at the end. Driving around Tenerife, we took our time in all places we went to, thinking about that the island is quite small and 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 Puerto de la Cruz was our last destination, and as the theme of the trip was to look for the original Tenerife, we only went to the old town.

We parked in the Plaza Europa garage and walked west the ocean shore. The place is the old town of Puerto de la Cruz with the Muelle Pesquero fishing harbor and many historic buildings. It is  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 place where the locals gather between palms and fountains. And there is a big playground! After we had had a seafood dinner we let the children run a little bit before heading back south. Delicioso!

Enjoying Plaza de Charco seafood, Puerto de la Cruz

Enjoying Plaza de Charco seafood, Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz is on the rugged, rocky coastline of North Tenerife and totally lacks natural beaches. Even without beaches, the city has attracted visitors for hundreds of years, beginning with wealthy English families that wanted to escape their own winter climate.

The town still attracts tourists, and even today Puerto de la Cruz in one of Tenerife’s main tourist hubs.

The swimming problem was solved by an artificial lagoon, Lago Martianez, they built on the ocean shore. So Puerto de la Cruz keeps growing.

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 tour of Tenerife, hope you liked to read about the places we went to.

Now you have seen what the north coast is like. Then there is the center of the island. You should make a day trip to Mount Teide. To plan your Mount Teide trip, read about our trip in the post Hiking in Tenerife: Day Trip to Mount Teide by Car.

More about the Canary Islands

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