Tenerife | Canary Islands, Spain

We needed a week away for sun and warmth. The week I had off work between Christmas and New Year’s was perfect timing. Looking around on Google Flights, my requirements were “less than half a day’s travel, under 1000 € total for flights, and average temperature is above 20 in December.” Tenerife hit all these so off we went.

 

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Booking flights was the most difficult part of this trip. I had never used RyanAir (and really wasn’t interested in budget flying) but they offered several flights over so using Google Flights, I found the connections I wanted and headed to Ryanair.com.

Turns out, to make a long story short, that the budget airlines do not play nice with flight aggregators so what I wanted somehow didn’t actually exist, and when calling for help, if one dials the English line, RyanAir connects you over to the UK company, which cannot help customers in Germany, and the German line wasn’t actually able to see the flight segment I was looking at as it was operated by, and so on and so on. The luggage restrictions are a pain and they’ve changed again recently, the seats on the plane were as cheap as can be (and the flight was a medium one, 4.5 hours), so I’m not sure I would fly with RyanAir again.

But upon arrival, all flight woes can be forgotten. This vacation was chosen with a minimal amount of research beyond weather patterns so we were open to whatever came our way. I didn’t even know what kind of geography or other basic information to expect. I did know a few things were ahead:

  1. Black sand beaches
  2. The need to switch to Hola!
  3. There was going to be a lot of seafood
  4. We wanted to get to the top of Mt. Teide (tay-day) if possible
  5. I’d also be fine with switching from beach to poolside as the most planned out detail of the day.

We took a taxi from the southern airport to the town, La Arena, at a cost of roughly 45 € and a 40 minute drive to the resort. Tenerife is part rocky coastline, part mountain desert, part tropical rain forest, with many, many banana plantations in between.

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The resort was just OK. I’m torn between saying I would recommend it or not, because there was a major obstacle in the way of enjoying it fully, and that was the food. It was terrible. The salad bar made it redeemable but beyond that, just extremely disappointing. Everything was fried, shipped in frozen and reheated, and so overly processed and obviously packaged that I dreaded meals, and dreading meals on vacation is no way to live. On the other hand, the type of reservation we had meant all our drinks were free, whenever they were served.

The mattresses were uncomfortable, but the rooms were clean and more than adequate for two people who prefer to be out more than in their hotel rooms. The hot water in the shower only lasted for 20 minutes, but the balcony had a beautiful sunset view. The pool water was freezing, but there were more than enough lounge chairs, umbrellas and space to go around the outside, and the landscaping was lovely scenery. And while the provided entertainment was aimed for children (or an older crowd) the location was excellent for being situated on the south side of the island, but not in one of the louder, party towns. The nearby beach was small but not crowded and I loved the black sand.

A final note about the resort: if you choose to stay here, and for the price if one doesn’t do all exclusive (to skip out on the terrible food), note that the name has changed to Allegro Isora, though you will most likely see it referred to as Barceló Varadero most often.

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The walk to the beach was about 10 minutes. I had read online that this area was difficult to get around, that the terrain was less than stellar for leisurely walks and everything was spread apart. I learned though those reviews were written for a slower, perhaps a bit older, crowd and in my opinion 10 minutes to the beach with a moderate hill climb in either direction was just fine. It certainly wasn’t hot either, around 20 C for the daytime lows, and one day it reached 25. This is fairly standard in winter.

Disappointingly, the sun wasn’t as strong or bright as hoped. This is also common on Tenerife and more so in the winter. Luckily the day we arrived and the day after were sunny days so these were spent at the pool and laying on the beach, picking out a few excursions to do.

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Boat Tour and Dolphin Sighting

The first tour we did was a sail around the southern cliffs (Los Gigantes, about 30 minutes from Plays de la Arena) for whale and dolphin watching. We took a cab to the marina (about 10 €, 10 minutes) and had a bit of time to look around the main street area. We made note of this inviting oasis to come back to.

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The tour in itself was solely to look at the animals around the island. After 20 minutes, a radio call went out that dolphins had been spotted so we motored over for a look. About 10 adult Bottlenose Dolphins were lazily swimming around and didn’t seem to mind our boat being in the middle of them. After 15 minutes of this, another call went out that another school had been found.

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This one was incredible: over 150 dolphins, with many mother and baby pairs, of Atlantic Dolphins were herding a school of fish for breakfast. This pod was more playful and there was lots of jumping and splashing about.

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Around half an hour later we headed back towards shore and on the way there the crew served a chicken paella. This is not, contrary to popular belief, a typical Canarian dish, but has become expected from the tourists. In any case, though it doesn’t look like anything terribly special, it was delicious. Probably the dolphin sightings and the fresh air on the ocean helped enhance the flavor.

We headed back towards land to get up close to the cliffs and a short stop in Masca Bay. Some of our group went swimming and though we came prepared, decided it would be more fun to stay on the boat and watch the fish through the aqua water.

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We cruised around for another hour and a half or so, ending at the same marina we departed from. We headed for the pretty little pool area we had seen earlier and it was so nice inside, and the coffee and beer so cheap, we hung around and sunned for a little while. With the ocean crashing up the sea wall and the hot sun, this was a perfect early afternoon break.

The rest of the day we lounged on the black sand beach near the hotel. Once it got too hot for this, it was back to the resort for pool-side drinks and lounge chairs.

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Masca Valley

The following day the weather wasn’t as great, however we had a day-long tour around the southern coast plus the Masca Valley booked, so it wasn’t a huge concern. The only real downside was the amount of grey skies that make for uninteresting photographs and it got much chillier than I anticipated.

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We started by picking up other tourists in southern hotels, and then straight up into Teide National Park. On the way up into the park, we drove through what felt like moonscapes. So much harsh rock in brown and black. There was a distinct dropoff in vegetation at one point, but in between that line and the trees, there was a new, bright green forest growing. The green was an excellent contrast against the black. Then we were in the clouds: La Gomera is the next island over and it appeared to be a floating landmass in clouds. It didn’t take us long to drive up above the cloud layers and we got our first clear view of Teide and the caldera. This part of the drive was high mountain desert scrub which I find very pretty. We continued on to the “Finger of the Gods” (not the official name) for a 20 minute photo stop. Not only are the rock formations lovely, there are fantastic views of Teide down in the basin of the caldera. There’s a chapel across the street, a visitor center, hotel, restaurant and, importantly, public toilets. We got back into the bus and then continued the drive through the park.

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We stopped for lunch in Santiago del Teide before heading into Masca.

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The road into Masca was…a trip in itself. Hairpin turns do not describe this road. Here are some pictures instead of written description:

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The scenery has also changed, as we have now entered into the more tropical part of the island. It was hard to enjoy however, as I was pretty sure this was the adventure which would be our last. Any time a car came around a corner, it caused my heart to stop for a minute and I held my breath, in case any extra movement tipped our bus over.

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But we made it to the village of Masca and had a nice break. There was some delicious cactus cake and ice cream to try and a wonderful overlook. However, at this point it had started to snow and I was not at all dressed for snowy weather. We started back up again 20 minutes later and continued on the same twisty road, which only went higher and became more narrow (it probably wasn’t more narrow, but it was much higher so it felt that way).

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Down on the other side, after much cheering and applause for the bus driver (who was an absolute champion) breathing was easier, the air warmer, and we were back at the pretty coastline. Our first stop was at the Dragon Tree, the symbol of Tenerife. Here we also had a tasting of local wines and mojo sauce, and a bit of time to walk around the town.

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Then back onto the bus towards Garachico which was tragically wiped out during the last volcanic eruption in the 1700’s. Today the coastline is rocky and there isn’t a beach due to the debris from the explosion. Do they have many, many natural swimming pools which I assume would be fantastic in the summer. There was an overlook here as well for a quick photo stop.

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Finally back on the bus for a quiet ride home along the coast.

When we arrived back at La Playa, we headed down to a pub we had seen to see if there were any interesting games on. We had a table for two street-side, cheap beers and a hilarious truth or dare phone app we found and spent the rest of the evening snacking and drinking in the remaining warmth.

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Mt. Teide at Sunset

One of the first bits of information I read regarding trips up Mt. Teide (link goes to the excursion we picked) was how much colder it was at the top. All the guides said to bring multiple layers and a coat. Luckily since we were coming from somewhere cold, we had brought sweaters and sweatshirts plus rain and wind shells. We had experienced some of that cold already, from the previous two days of driving around the national park so we had had an idea what to expect.

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But when we arrived at the bottom of the cable car, there was a sign with the temperature from the top displayed, showing that it was currently 0°. I had brought tights with me, and Z had his long base layer, but that was definitely not going to be enough. There was a couple who came in our group who were even less prepared: jeans, sandals, light long sleeve shirts, no jackets. I felt bad for them.

We had also picked a sunset tour, meaning we had already missed the warmth of the day and it was obviously only going to get colder and darker. However there were a few boxes with fleeces from the tour company in them and luckily those of us who wanted one were all able to grab one. Once the day visitors had all left, it was our turn to go up (the tours are split into regular daytime gondola users with no reservation necessary, and us who made the sunset reservation).

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At the top we were served local wine and traditional hot chocolate. We opted for the chocolate as once we stepped off the gondola the altitude change suddenly hit and alcohol didn’t seem like the best choice. Plus, it was absolutely freezing and windy so the thick, extremely hot and extremely delicious chocolate was perfect.

Around the back, where the trail to lookout point was, the wind had died down and it was a bit warmer. I immediately felt the high altitude once we set off, similar to how I felt in Colorado Springs this past fall. So I took it slow which also gave me a chance to take a bunch of pictures.

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As we walked, the sun was rapidly setting so the colors and shadows changed the entire time we were up there.

There was a strong smell of sulfur and we walked past a few vents which were steaming. The rocks around these openings had the distinct yellow tinge to them, similar to Yellowstone Park.

Finally at the point, we could see La Gomera with the red and gold sky behind.

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If you pick the sunset tour: there is a chance it can be canceled due to weather. They almost canceled our group due to the cold. The groups for these are smaller, so book in advance if you know which day you want to go. Bring more clothing than you think you need and a water bottle. The water helped when I began to feel dizzy and sleepy.

When we returned, we were too late for the resort dinner hour. But to be honest, this wasn’t a total travesty and we had expected to be. We’d had our eye on the restaurant across the road so we headed in to try out. And I am so glad we did. Actual fruits de la mere, lovely wine, the servers were friendly, a very comfortable, protected outdoor area. We stayed here for a few hours and enjoyed home made brownies for dessert, as they were especially proud of their “authentic” American recipe. I’m happy to report, these were excellent and tasted like home. If you find yourself in La Arena, definitely make sure to have a meal here. I even saw a family leaving as we entered who said goodbye to the wait staff with “Same time next year!” so clearly some have made this a traditional stop on annual vacations.


Other notes on La Arena

In general, I couldn’t say I’d highly recommend Tenerife as a December getaway. It was a nice break to be sure, and we did enjoy some sun and warmth. We mostly liked it because we were in desperate need of a quiet break without a lot of plans and this fit the bill. We’re not normally sit around on vacation people, but we did lots of napping, sunning and eating or drinking whenever we felt like it so it was the winter recharge we needed.

I enjoyed the town we picked to stay in and though I would choose a different hotel. That being said, the hotel was one that most tour operators knew and had on their pick-up itineraries for excursions. I think though the towns Costa Adeje, Los Christianos and Las Galletas would be better options for a base. They have more in the way of water sports, more beaches, more tours which are nearby and they are much livelier. However if quiet is the ultimate goal, with lovely views and a few good restaurants in town, then La Arena is perfect.

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Something New

This was our first trip with our new Nikon D3400. I really like it and this finally pushed me into trying a new way to display photos. I haven’t been thrilled with how WordPress handles photography displays so I’ve built a portfolio for a better photo experience. Check it out, let me know if you’ve used this site before and have some tips. I’ll probably build a few more and link back to old posts, because I do have 23,000+ pictures and I feel at least some of them deserve display!

Visual Gallery

 

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