Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands is a popular tourist destination. With pleasant weather year-round, amazing beaches, natural treasures and a lively, but chilled out vibe (that we like so much about most islands in the world), it deserves to be. However, there are a few things that might come as a surprise to visitors.
These things are not necessarily good or bad, but it’s good to know about them when you consider Tenerife as a destination to visit. Also, they can help manage your expectations. We say this, because lots of people think of the Canary Islands, including Tenerife, as the perfect beach holiday destination any time of the year, with palm trees and golden sand beaches, eternal sunshine and magical sunsets. There’s some truth to it, still it’s not exactly like that. It’s not to say that Tenerife is not an ideal destination year-round, but let us clarify a few things.
Natural beaches are black or grey
Tenerife is a volcanic island. If you imagine beaches with golden sand (like most people), you’ll be surprised to see Tenerife’s black beaches. Some are sandy, some are pebbly or rocky, but all of the natural beaches on the island are grey or black. How come you can still find a few golden sand beaches? Because they were made artificially – and mainly for tourists, I guess. The sand was brought from Africa.
We have mixed feelings about this. We have no problem with golden sand beaches (we adore them!), but when we travel to explore new places, we want to see them and love them as they are. We don’t want anyone to create golden sand beaches for us, just because that’s how people usually imagine a nice beach. We wish nature could remain as untouched as possible, because it’s beautiful as is, and it’s not nature’s fault if someone doesn’t see its beauty.
And black sand beaches are so cool and unique, by the way! Just like black lava rocks. They are not that common, and they make Tenerife’s beaches even more special in our eyes.
Not all beaches are safe for swimming
Tenerife is in the Atlantic Ocean, and the ocean is powerful. If you’ve ever been to any ocean beaches, it might not surprise you that they’re not always safe for swimming. Tenerife’s beaches are no different, the currents can be strong and dangerous.
How do you know where to swim then? Most of the popular urban beaches have a lifeguard on duty and a flag to indicate whether it’s safe to swim (green flag), requires caution (yellow flag) or not recommended at all (red flag). Remote beaches don’t have flags or lifeguards, obviously, but they’re usually not suitable for swimming, because they’re not protected enough. They might be safe at times, but you should decide that for yourself.
On the other hand, lots of beaches in Tenerife are made to be safe. Artificial reefs were built from large rocks to protect these beaches from the giant waves and strong currents. It’s very similar to how they protect harbors, and yes, it makes these beaches also somewhat artificial. It’s not the same as carrying golden sand from Africa though, because the goal here is safety. Nevertheless, it’s an intervention, and we’re happy that lots of beaches are left untouched. Even though we can’t swim at most of them, we enjoyed their majestic beauty, and our favorite beaches are among those remote, unspoilt, dangerous ones.
Skies are often cloudy
Tenerife is dominated by its 3715 meters high volcano, Teide. One of Teide’s effects is the “Sea of Clouds” which means clouds building up on most days at around 1600 – 1700 meters altitude. It’s a fascinating sight, and we were also impressed to learn how it helps separate Teide’s continental climate from the subtropical climate of the coast. But it also means clouds gathering in the sky above the coast quite often (while you can have perfectly clear weather at higher altitudes in Teide National Park).
Perfectly clear days on the coast are rare. The south of the island is drier and sunnier while the north receives more rain, especially La Laguna and Anaga Rural Park. Clouds are often only veil clouds though. That is to say that cloudy days won’t necessarily ruin your beach holiday, it’s just to warn you not to expect perfect sunshine every day.
It’s rather the island of eternal spring than eternal summer
Located so close to the Equator, one could expect Tenerife to be unbearably hot and humid. It’s not. With one of the lowest differences between daytime and night-time temperatures and the highest temperatures being around 21°C in winter and 26-28 °C in summer, Tenerife has one of the best climates on the planet. (Well, if you think warm is the best which is our opinion. 😀 )
The effect of Mount Teide and trade-winds make Tenerife’s climate far more pleasant than that of Florida, Egypt or Morocco, though they’re all at a similar latitude. It also means that Tenerife is rather the island of eternal spring than eternal summer – which we are happy about. Because we can’t only feel good when on the beach, but we can enjoy many other activities. Like hiking (about which we’ll write a lot more soon!).
But as tiny as it is (you can drive around the island in about 2.5 hours), Tenerife has a surprising number of micro-climates. A great example of this is La Laguna and Santa Cruz, two cities being about 15 minutes drive from each other, one with about 16.5°C average temperature and the highest rainfall in Tenerife (that’s La Laguna), the other with 21°C average temperature and almost as sunny as the south part of the island (that’s Santa Cruz). Altitude and distance from the ocean have a significant effect on the climate of a certain place.
Not really a year-round beach destination
So Tenerife has pleasant, not too hot weather. The temperature of the ocean ranges from 18 to 23°C – closer to 18°C in winter and spring, and warmer in the summer months, reaching its warmest between August and October.
I don’t know about you, but 19°C definitely counts as cold water to us. It should be very sunny and hot to tempt us for a swim. But Tenerife’s winters and early springs are not very hot, rather pleasantly warm. If we’d have wanted a beach holiday, we’d have aimed for September (because August is always crowded, everywhere in Europe).
We’re not beach addicts, though. Hah, Csaba actually mocks me about not being able to lie on the beach for more than an hour or so. I usually go walking in the waves, swimming or exploring tidal pools – or playing chase with Tomi most recently. And after a day or two on the beach, we usually yearn for something more active. (Like hiking, as you probably guessed.) So March and April was a great time for us to visit Tenerife, because the weather was perfect for hiking, and spring wildflowers were wonderful, but we didn’t swim much. We didn’t plan to, and we didn’t mind.
I’ve already heard of people though, who went to Tenerife in winter and enjoyed their beach holiday. However unbelievable it sounds to me, I accept the fact that there might be such people on the planet who enjoy swimming in water below 20°C when the air temperature is about the same. So while we don’t think that Tenerife is a suitable beach destination for most people in winter and early spring, it might be for some. You decide. 🙂
When it becomes unpleasant: calima
We haven’t experienced this, only heard about it from locals. Calima is the name of the red dust suspension blown across the Atlantic from the Sahara. It causes hotter temperatures and an effect that is similar to smog. It’s recommended spending as little time as possible outdoors during the calima which usually lasts a few days. Your car will get dusty, too. While it’s only annoying for most, people with respiratory conditions should be more cautious.
If you’re lucky, you won’t experience it during your holiday.
Roads are excellent
But let’s get to more good things. Like roads. Tenerife has excellent roads!
We’ve driven in some of the Greek Islands and on lots of minor mountain roads in Central Europe, and we often hate the driving part of our adventures there. Because roads are extremely narrow, their quality can be very bad (lots of potholes), yet drivers are impatient or just plain careless.
Since Tenerife is a small island, we didn’t expect much. But let me tell you that we found all the roads there in excellent condition. Sure, mountain roads are not highways, but they were not extremely narrow either, two cars from the opposite directions could usually pass each other without much of a headache.
Driving in Teide National Park was a pleasure: views are great, roads are great – wide and good quality. There are highways, too, southbound and northbound. The worst roads we stumbled upon led to some remote beaches, and they were bad only because they were too narrow and too busy, meaning you constantly had problems with cars from the opposite direction. An example is the last section of the road towards Playa El Bollullo, but I can’t even think of many more. Even minor roads in Anaga or Teno Rural Parks were fine.
But even good quality roads can freak me out if they’re too steep. We rented a normal, small city car, and sometimes its engine truly struggled to climb the steep streets of certain towns. Not to mention parallel parking on those streets. (No, I didn’t do it, I freaked out even thinking of doing it, I admit. And I adore Csaba for taking care of it.)
You can explore the island from one base
Tenerife is relatively small. There’s a high chance that you can reach anything in maximum an hour and a half by car, wherever you book your apartment. (Not counting the very remotely located ones, of course.) We don’t think it’s worth the hassle of changing accommodation several times during your stay. It depends on your travel style though.
We don’t mind driving an hour in the morning and an hour at the end of the day. And travelling with our toddler, it was simpler for us to stay in one place. Our base was in Icod de los Vinos for more than two weeks. It’s a smaller town and a bit further from the coast, surrounded by green and mountains (and it has those steep streets that scare me). In the very beginning we spent a few days near Los Cristianos. Both were good, and we could have chosen lots of other towns, too, so we considered the price, size and layout of the apartments much more than the location.
You might need heating in your apartment
You’d think that one can never feel cold in Tenerife, don’t you? Not true. Houses are isolated so poorly that night temperatures indoors can get very close to the outside temperature by dawn. It means 10-15°C. To be fair, this poor isolation combined with the lack of central heating (or any proper heating in most cases) is typical for many warm places in the world. By the way, you won’t need heating at all in Tenerife’s climate in a properly isolated house, but I really wonder whether there’s any. Maybe people are not motivated to isolate their houses if they can’t freeze to death. Anyway, have some warm clothes just in case.
In our apartment we had only one small portable radiator that we had to use every night. Since we and Tomi slept in different bedrooms, we heated his room and used all the extra blankets we could find in our room.
Explore beyond the beaches!
Tenerife is great as a beach destination, but it offers so much more! Teide National Park, amazing coastal trails in Anaga and Teno Rural Parks, dolphin and whale-watching excursions, several wildlife parks, charming villages… It’s worth seeing more than only the (undoubtedly amazing) beaches – and even those can be seen from a different angle, like a boat trip or a kayak tour.
What do you think? Is it a destination for you?
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