Natural Beauty and Tranquility
There are many places all over the world that offer the traveller unparalleled beauty; however, from where I’m sitting, the Canary Islands have many destinations beat for the following reasons:
- Gorgeous natural beauty off the coast of Africa (part of Spain)
- Many natural parks, hiking trails, and hidden treasures
- Many micro-climates
- Volcanic beauty
- Easy to get to from anywhere in Europe
- Extremely affordable
- Very friendly
- Easy to travel from one island to the other
- Great roads for driving
- Excellent cuisine
Admittedly, I was fortunate to be visiting a friend who has lived in Tenerife for a few months. Alex is a world traveler and he has excellent taste. He designed my four-day trip to the Canary Islands based on answers to my questions about what I wanted to see and do. I have known Alex for many years; he knows what I like and do not like.
I will not be laying out my trip in order of chronology; instead I will write about what I enjoyed the most, first, then go from there. I will not be writing about every restaurant; however, I will highlight a few that were memorable. I will note all three hotels and I will share several travel tips.
Alex generously sent me the latest edition of Lonely Planet (we both love this guide), so that I could read about the islands prior to traveling.
El Teide is a magical place.
Weeks prior to my visit, Alex and I discussed where we would go and what we would do on my trip. He told me later that the one thing I was certain about was taking the cable car up to the summit of El Teide. This is the highest mountain in Spain, 3718 meters or 12,198.16 feet. I para-jumped out of an airplane a few years ago and I wasn’t as high up off the ground as I was on El Teide.
All of the roads leading up the mountains of the Canary Islands are narrow and not for the faint-of-heart. The views were breathtaking and worth the scare, but I’m not sure everyone would agree. I was fortunate to be with a good driver who was willing to stop whenever I needed a break or wanted to take a photo.
We stayed at Parador Nacional. This Parador was located right inside the Parque Nacional del Teide (see below). I was very happy about the fireplace and the indoor pool, but in truth, the place needed a bit of TLC. Many bikers and hikers use it as a place to stop for a bite or a resting spot. The desk person told us that we needed to make a reservation for the cable car that would take us to the summit. I went to the reception desk at a specified time and the desk person said that they only had a few spots left for a cable car going to the top in 30 minutes. We hustled and made it with time to spare (the Parador was only a few minutes away). It’s chilly at the summit all year round, so dress warmly. The peak is often covered with snow this time of year, but not this time.
Note: twenty years ago I would have insisted that we hike to the summit of El Teide; however, on this trip, I was happy to enjoy the warmth and safety of a cable car.
Paradors are state-owned and there are 94 of them throughout Spain (six in the Canary Islands). I’ve stayed at six or seven Paradors on other trips to Spain. They can be pricey and accommodations vary from castles that are centuries old to buildings that are newer and nothing special to look at. Alex told me that there are three types of Paradors: 1) Paradors that are in a historic setting, Paradors that are themselves historic, and Paradors that are in nature; More on Paradors (click).
Parque Natcional del Teide covers 189.9 square km. and you don’t want to miss it. Drive, hike, walk; it’s beauty and splendor will astound you.
We made a one hour stop in Vilaflor, a small, pretty little town, on the way down the mountain. It was our halfway point to the ferry and worth a stop.
We took a side trip to La Laguna for a walk about and to have lunch. La Laguna is on the Unesco list of world Heritage sites. It is beautiful, young, sophisticated and I wish I had had more time there. We had lunch at Restaurante Guaydil (click for website) and it was by far my favorite meal of the trip. The cuisine was contemporary and the restaurant was packed with happy locals.
La Gomera was my favorite island of the three we visited and I hope to return there someday. We took the car on the ferry (we took the car on all three ferry trips) and after a pleasant 50 minute ride, we drove on a beautiful, windy road to one of La Gomera’s breathtaking valleys. Hermigua, our destination, was a 30 minute drive on a very scenic route.
We stayed at a boutique hotel, Rural Ibo Alfaro, moderately priced and very comfortable. The views from our room were spectacular (see photos below).
In the evening, we took a walk down to the valley to a very nice restaurant, Tasca Telémaco. We had tequila at the bar and then sat down for Almogrote (click for recipes), a cheese paste Alex is very fond of. We also had a delicious seafood Paella; I believe Alex only agreed to share the Paella because I wanted it. He feels very strongly about eating Paella in other parts of Spain where it is prepared properly. He gave me a hard time about putting chorizo in my paella — clearly I am a sinner.
We finally had a chance to hike on this island. There are many trails throughout La Gomera. We chose a trail deep in the forest — reminded me of the Amazon rain forest; very green and very damp. The trail took you to a small church, Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes. It was about 20 minutes from our hotel, near El Contadero. We walked for about 1 kilometer and came upon the church and stream. Alex told me that I was on holy ground. Very peaceful and serene indeed.
Gran Canaria is where my plane landed. I took an easy flight from Lisbon on TAP (Air Portugal). TAP is a bit more expensive than some of the other airlines, but the airplanes are generally newer and service is excellent.
Alex picked me up at the airport and drove me to our first Parador. Parador de Cruz de Tejeda is where we had our best views. Our balcony was high atop the mountains and made the price of the hotel worthwhile. We had a nice breakfast (not cheap) and a very relaxing stay. I would definitely have eaten dinner somewhere else. The Parador had a spa, but it was 25 Euros just to use the jacuzzi (which looked amazing BTW) and the hours were not convenient. I would have splurged in the morning, but the spa did not open until 1:00 p.m. and we were long gone by then. Unlike Americans, Europeans tend to care more about their own staff and spa and gym hours are not always ideal.
Restaurante & Brewery Taxeda — This Tejeda brewery offered delicious tapas and micro brewed beer. We tried the Scottish brew and were not crazy about it; I thought it was way too hoppy. I love trying micro brewed beer and I wish I hadn’t switched to wine so quickly.
We were only in Tejeda for 16 hours, therefore, I can’t say very much about it. The views were spectacular and if you enjoy a curvy climb, you will love the views as you approach Tejeda. We didn’t have the time to hike on this island; however, the trails looked amazing and I’m certain they would not disappoint.
Note: If you enjoy a good cocktail, I do not recommend staying in a Parador. The bartenders have no idea how to mix a drink — I’d say they are generalists who know the bare minimum about bar service.
This Type of Travel
One of the things that struck me on this trip was something Alex said to me several times (to be fair, I don’t always listen). Alex said that tourists visit the Canary Islands and never leave their all-inclusive hotels/resorts. The first thought I had was how unfortunate for them. The truth is that some people are happy to remain in their limited surroundings and just eat, drink, and enjoy the sun. It wouldn’t be fair to criticize these travelers. If that’s the way people choose to vacation, they should be permitted to do so without ridicule. I guess that is why all-inclusive properties do so well.
That’s not the way I prefer to travel. I want to eat what and where I choose to eat. I want to see as much as I can so that I know what to take a closer look at when I return. And if I don’t return, that’s okay too. Alex and I laughed about doing three islands in three days. That meant many hours on the road and three island hopping ferry rides. We originally had a whole week to explore; however, due to my unfortunate calendar errors, our days together were nearly cut in half. It forced us to narrow down our choices and choose what was most important for this short trip. I admit it was a world-wind tour, but I wouldn’t change a thing. When you’re making memories, it’s best to go with it. We were both flexible enough to make some changes if time or circumstances allowed for it; adaptability and flexibility are key.
Be prepared for:
- varying climates
- a good deal of time on the road
- making reservations for just about everything
- some spots on the islands are very tranquil (on purpose)
- this time of year is the peak season in the Canary Islands — the weather is mild (except for at high altitudes)
- be aware of in-season travel and crowds in certain places
- if and when driving, you’ll be waiting for and passing many cyclists
- the motorcyclist will make you crazy (unless you are one)
All of the islands offer these great maps that show roads, historic sites, and hiking trails; use them, they are very helpful.
As you know, when you travel abroad you need your passport for just about everything. We were in the car line for the ferry and Alex wanted me to use the 30 minutes we had to explore Los Christianos, the marine area next to the ferry terminal. He thought I’d enjoy that more than sitting in a hot car. I can make a short story long, so I’m going to cut to the chase.
I needed my passport to board the ferry and I got through the line quickly. I saw Alex on the top deck and made my way to greet him. We enjoyed a very pleasant crossing and 50 minutes later we were in the car and on our way to Hermigua on the island of La Gomera. About 20 minutes into our 30 minute journey up the mountain, Alex received a telephone call on his car Bluetooth. The person said, “Christopher,” and then some other dialogue in Spanish. Alex made some arrangements in Spanish and then thanked the person several times. I was dying to know what was going on. I had dropped my passport on the ferry and someone turned it in. Alex made arrangements for us to pick it up prior to boarding the ferry the following day. Needless to say, I was and still am very grateful. I wonder what I would have been like when the desk person at our hotel asked for my passport and it wasn’t in my pocket. Alex noted that it would not have been pretty. I know I have an angel on my shoulder because had it not been found the remainder of my vacation would have been a downer. Instead I had a few cocktails to celebrate my good fortune and slept like a baby that night. If Alex had not purchased our tickets in advance, they would not have had his cell number. If Alex’s cell was turned off, we wouldn’t have been able to take the call at that moment. If cell service was spotty on the mountain, the ferry staff may not have gotten through. If I had thrown my passport away when I threw away the rest of my trash, I would never have seen it again. The “what ifs” can make you crazy.
The moral of this story: 1) Always put your passport in a safe space, and 2) Be grateful for your good fortune.
Side note: Los Christianos is a strange sort of grungy tourist spot. The sand on the beach is brought there from somewhere else, the food spots are sub-par, and you get this “nobody wants to spend money” vibe. I wouldn’t waste my time here. There are so many other beautiful places to visit in Tenerife.
Added Bonus for my adventures: