Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Best Week to Visit Tenerife, Rock, Blues, Bonfires & Quaint Fiestas

If someone wanting to experience the cream of what Tenerife has to offer asked me when would be the best time for holidays on Tenerife, I wouldn't have to think for even a second before answering.

Unfortunately if you're reading this and planning a visit to Tenerife in the near future, my answer is going to be really annoying as it's the week that has just passed.

The period around the official start of summer is always full of activities as well as two of the best festivals on Tenerife's fiesta calender...and you can guarantee that the weather is going to be hot.

The week started with the European Day of Music in Puerto de la Cruz when seven bands welcomed in the summer beside the town's picturesque harbour. I've said it over and over again; if you visit a place like Puerto, you aren't going to see the best of it in a pub which caters for the British – apart from maybe The Majestic, which is a scream. On a Saturday night it's always worth checking out what's going around Plaza Charco and the harbour as that's where the real action takes place.

Anyone who does feel the need to spend their Saturday nights in a bar could always opt for the Queen Bee or the Frigata beside the harbour and get the best of both worlds.

This time of year is also a great time for walking on Tenerife. Temperatures are high, but not oppressively so and we always try to fit in a jaunt in the countryside in between the hectic nocturnal activities. This year we explored a part of the north coast near us and found fishermen's shacks beside beautiful clear rock pools.

The highlight of the week is the midsummer celebrations on the night of San Juan. These take place all over the island and are a real insight into Tenerife's true character. Even in the main resorts in the south like Playa Los Cristianos and Las Vistas, Canarian families head to the beach to make wishes and bathe in the sea after midnight for good health and fertility. It seems crazy, but I've sort of become hooked on the tradition and even though we spent this year exploring celebrations along the north coast, we had our swimming cossies under our clothes. There was no way I was going to risk the wrath of the gods, so wherever we were after midnight I was determined that my body would be bathed with the magic waters. As it turned out we ended up back at the best San Juan party on the island at Playa Jardín in Puerto de la Cruz. A rock band kept the beach bouncing as we picked our way through the crowds to the shoreline where we waited for a break in the waves so that we wouldn't be dragged to San Borondón (mythical Canarian island which turns up on San Juan)as we doused our skin in the waters.

Another magical thing in Tenerife is the time, it disappears at frightening speed and one second it's midnight, the next it's 2am. Not late for a fiesta, but it is when you want to watch el baño de las cabras (bathing of the goats) just over six hours later. Don't be put off by any misinformed suggestions that this is a cruel tradition, it isn't. It might be noisy and messy, but it isn't cruel.

One thing I learned at this year's annual goats' day out is to keep your eyes on the asses at all times. Not a bad life mantra come to think of it. As I was getting up close and personal with a few billies, a tethered mule decided to eat my trousers and clamped its jaws around my left knee.  El baño de las cabras - cruel to goats, no; cruel to photographers, yes.
The week was rounded off by Santa Blues, a small blues festival in the capital, Santa Cruz. It's spread across three nights and lasts from around 9.30 till half past midnight. I love all types of music, but there's something about good blues which just reaches deep inside my soul. Unfortunately it doesn't quite reach my feet and my natural rhythm is akin to Steve Martin's at the start of The Jerk. This year's festival was particularly good with ace performances from Larry McCray and especially Kenny Neal as well as some decent support bands.

Santa Blues is quite a special end to a magical week on Tenerife and here's an even more amazing thing about the week. Everything I've mentioned is completely free.

Going Native in Tenerife – It Reaches the Parts Other Guide Books Don't

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Tenerife North V Tenerife South – But What about the East and the West?

A comment on the previous blog mentioned the east and the west of Tenerife and asked what about Los Gigantes?

That blog was about visitors’ general perceptions of Tenerife – which sometimes are condensed into simplified questions about north and south and as a result don’t paint an accurate picture of the island as a whole.

It would be possible to write reams and reams about why to talk about the island in terms of points of the compass can be misleading when taken out of context. There are far more complex issues involved that go beyond the differences in climate; although climate does usually play a role, but not in a 'is it nice enough to sunbathe' sort of way.

So what about the east and the west?

First the west. There is a world of difference between the western towns on the northern side of the Teno Mountain range and those on the southern.

In many ways the resorts on the south west coast are a microcosm of the Los Cristianos, Las Américas and Costa Adeje area.
Just as Los Cristianos existed as a tiny fishing community before tourism, so did Puerto Santiago. Los Gigantes and Playa de la Arena, like Las Américas and Costa Adeje, are the invention of developers and didn’t exist before a hotel was built. Think about this, Playa de la Arena in English simply means ‘sandy beach’.

It doesn’t mean that they’re not nice places to visit or live; they enjoy the best of Tenerife’s sunshine. However, in days gone by noblemen, wealthy merchants and artists chose the towns on the other side of the mountain range to set up home. It’s on the north western coast in places like Buenavista del Norte, Los Silos and Garachico that travellers can still discover a Tenerife that wasn’t created to satisfy the demands of the tourist industry.

In many ways the other end of the island, the east, is even more interesting. The capital Santa Cruz and former capital, La Laguna are located there (well…north east) and that metropolitan area is home to the greatest concentration of residents on the island. But you wouldn’t know that from much of what you read about Tenerife in tourist brochures or even in the British media.

La Laguna was an ecclesiastical centre and a seat of learning. Its old quarter is a World Heritage Site and is full of beautifully preserved colonial architecture. But that doesn’t mean it’s simply a haven for people who like old buildings and museums. It is home to the university and bars and restaurants exude the youthfulness and vibrancy that you find in university towns. Santa Cruz, the political and business hub of the island, is no different – there’s a reason why most major music concerts take place in the capital. Look in the Spanish press at live music venues and you’ll hardly see a mention of tourist resorts, instead listings will be mainly in these two places…even though Las Américas is the place dubbed the nightlife centre of Tenerife.
In nearly every way, Santa Cruz and La Laguna are the true centres of Tenerife’s world…but not when it comes to tourism. In tourism terms they just don’t hold the same draw as the resorts and that can make them almost invisible to many visitors.

Here’s a little fact which really illustrates how La Laguna’s role in tourism has changed with the rise of mass tourism. In 1864, there were at least six hotels in La Laguna. Nowadays, with all the millions of visitors that descend annually on these shores, there are a grand total of two.

It’s interesting that what attracted the artists, explorers and adventurers holds limited interest for the majority of the mass tourist market. On the bright side, it means that those who still possess a spirit of exploration and adventure have much to discover away from the sun, sand and sangria scene.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Tenerife North v Tenerife South – How Can You Tell if You’re a Northerner or a Southerner?

A question that is regularly asked by first time visitors to the island is ‘what’s the difference between the north and south of Tenerife?’

It’s important to understand what people are normally actually asking by this. What they really mean is ‘what’s the difference between the southern resorts and the northern ones?’ As there is only one main northern resort, that really means the southern resorts and Puerto de la Cruz.

I make this distinction because there is a massive difference between the main southern resorts (Los Cristianos, Costa Adeje & Playa de las Américas) and the towns in the hills behind them.

The most popular answer is the weather and whilst there’s no denying that there are differences, it isn’t the only one, or necessarily the most important. You can sunbathe in both the north and south of Tenerife at anytime of the year. There’s even a place in the north called Puntillo del Sol because it’s rare that the sun doesn’t shine on it. But the weather is generally better in the south (from a sunbathing rather than an agricultural point of view).
The big difference is in what’s on offer and the character of the opposing sides of the island. Las Américas/Costa Adeje offers beaches, water sports, international dining, very diverse entertainment, lively clubbing and all the mod cons of a resort developed to meet the needs of visitors ranging from those looking for cheep ‘n’ cheerful fun in the sun to those looking for more sophisticated dining and entertainment. Only having existed since the second half of the 20th century the area doesn’t have a sense of history or traditional architecture.

Puerto de la Cruz has been around for centuries and therefore does have a sense of history and traditional old buildings, but not the levels of grand colonial architecture found in places like La Orotava or La Laguna.  It was a town, or more accurately a port, first and foremost and because of that its streets exude a completely different atmosphere from those of Costa Adeje. Like the southern resorts, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, only in Puerto most are Spanish or Canarian; however, nightlife is a different kettle of fish. Many people think that it’s low key – not exactly an accurate assumption. The difference is that the nightlife is aimed at the local population, so a lot of live music bars don’t get going until late and aren’t frequented by most visitors. Much of the nocturnal fun is provided at open air fiestas. There are beaches (black sand), but no real water sports.

Whether you’d prefer south or north depends on personal preferences and what you want from a holiday. I have plenty of friends who like both. There are ex-pats who live in the south of the island who enjoy spending weekends in the north and there are many Canarios who head south for weekends. But some people are definitely only suited to one or the other. The question is how do you know for sure which is for you whether for a holiday or for longer?

I have a litmus test; however, you have to visit Puerto de la Cruz to be able to apply it.

Stand for a few moments at Puerto’s harbour at 10am on any morning. If you do and think ‘okay, so what?’ the chances are you’ll enjoy the main southern resorts more. And if you’re more suited to the north…you’ll know it at that very moment.