If you’ve got limited time to explore a new place and are eager to experience as much as possible, putting together the right itinerary can be quite challenging. So if you’re planning a visit to Tenerife, we’d like to help. This North Tenerife sightseeing itinerary provides a list of must-see natural and cultural landmarks along the island’s northern coast, but skips the two largest cities in the North — capital Santa Cruz and former capital La Laguna — for two reasons. First, because to do either city justice you’d have to spend more than a day in each, and second, because there’s way more to Tenerife than these two (arguably gorgeous) urban centres.
Note: Hiring a car is pretty much the only way to pull this itinerary off comfortably. Also, even though the island isn’t that big, we wouldn’t recommend attempting this route while staying in the South. In fact, while accommodations in Santa Cruz or La Laguna are fine for the first leg of this trip, you might prefer a base in Puerto de la Cruz, or at least spending the night on the northwestern coast on days 4 and 5.
Day 1: Anaga
Starting on the east coast and moving westward, your first must-see is the Anaga UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Quite unlike the remainder of Tenerife, the peninsula’s hallmarks are tall mountains carpeted in laurel rainforest and authentic rural living, complete with terraced fields.
The two most famous mountain lookouts in Anaga are Pico del Inglés and Cruz de la Carmen, located within about 1.5 km of each other. The latter is the starting point of the famous Sendero de los sentidos or Trail of the Senses, which in fact consists of three scenic circular hiking routes of varying length and difficulty (see the map).
Relatively isolated from the rest of Tenerife, Anaga’s hamlets are small, mostly seaside settlements with whitewashed buildings and quaint local churches. The largest is Taganana, which has two beautiful churches, Nuestra Señora de las Nieves and the Santa Catalina chapel.
A bit farther up the coast is the Benijo beach, famous for its black volcanic sand and great view of the Roques de Anaga. There are plenty of eateries around Benijo, but if you’d like to experience something a bit different, don’t miss the La Cueva Restaurant in Chinamada.
Alternatives to a DIY approach to exploring Anaga are signing up for a guided tour of the reserve — which can help you into areas with restricted access — or booking a 4WD minivan tour, which is a full-day activity that includes lunch.
Day 2: Loro Parque
The #1 zoo in Europe and #2 worldwide, Loro Parque is without question one of Tenerife’s main attractions. Situated in Puerto de la Cruz, the zoo owes its name to its incredible collection of parrots (loros in Spanish), second to none in the world, and also boasts a penguin collection and an enormous aquarium with orcas, seals, sharks, sea lions and more.
The ticket price includes admission to any of the many shows throughout the day (orcas, sea lions & dolphins), although you can pay extra if you want VIP access to fun & play with the animals. Booking online guarantees you a fast-tracked entry and offers various options including the choice of a combo ticket to Loro Parque and Siam Park. If you’re staying in Puerto de la Cruz, you can get to the zoo by taking the free yellow train which departs from the Reyes Católicos square every 20 min starting at 9 am.
Day 3: Puerto de la Cruz & La Orotava
Spend the morning in Puerto de la Cruz
Hundreds of years old, the city has been Tenerife’s major northern port ever since Garachico was destroyed by Teide’s eruption in 1706. The historic heart of the city is known as Old Town, and that’s where you’ll find the landmark church Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia as well as the Museo del Pescador (Fishermen’s Museum), a free, low-key but high-quality companion to the Archaeological Museum of Puerto de la Cruz. If you like architecture, you should also stop by the San Telmo Hermitage.
The city’s world-renowned botanical gardens (officially the Jardín de Aclimatación de la Orotava), are nearby, too, as is the popular Taoro Park, and another piece of history — the Anglican All Saints Church and cemmetary.
An afternoon in La Orotava
Old Town in neighbouring La Orotava is also more than worth a visit. Hallmarks include the Iglesia de la Concepción church, the local branch of the Puerto de la Cruz botanical gardens, the musem/arts & crafts shop La Casa de los Balcones, and the museum/restauran Casa Lercaro.
The latter is a good choice for lunch, or you could go the local route and dine at Guachinche la Casona. Wine lovers should take the time for a detour north to El Sauzal, where they can taste different local wines, have a meal, and enjoy the exhibits at Casa del Vino.
If you’d rather stay in La Orotava, other sights include the Museo de Artesania Iberoamerica (Latin American Craftwork Museum), and the churches of San Domingo and San Agustín, both famous for the carved woodwork.
Day 4: Garachico & Icod de los Vinos
Icod de los Vinos
Home to tha famous Drago Park (known and named for its centuries-old dragon tree) and its unique Mariposario or butterfly garden next door. Adjacent to both is the beautiful Plaza Andrés de Lorenzo Cáceres, while the remarkable Iglesia de San Marcos church is located a bit farther north, near the seafront and the scenic volcanic beach Playa de San Marcos.
Before moving on to Garachico, make sure to stop by one of the incredible local volcanic rock formations — the underground network of incredible lava tubes known as Cueva del Viento (or Cave of the Wind). However, make sure to buy tickets online in advance as this is not only required by management but, depending on time of year, a guided tour in your language might not be available every day. Also leave at least half an hour of extra time in addition to the tour’s 2 hours, because they are known to run overtime.
As mentioned, the town was once the central port on Tenerife’s northern coast, but was nearly completely destroyed in the early 18th century. Today, the rebuilt settlement is nevertheless famous for its beauty, as well as for its volcanic natural swimming pools and the underwater Garachico Tunnel. While enjoying the latter requires proper diving gear, it would be a shame to forgo a dip in one of the local charcos.
If you chose to heed our advice and spend the night on the west coast before venturing to Masca & Teide, we recommend staying in Buenavista del Norte. The scenic little town is known for its lighthouse, landscape and preserved colonial architecture.
Day 5: Masca & Teide
Our last day fudges with geography a bit, given that Masca is on the border between North and South Tenerife, while most of Teide National Park falls squarely in the South (although in actuality the volcano is completely distinct from both the North and South in climate, vegetation and landscape). A tour of the best Tenerife has to offer, however, absolutely has to involve Masca & Teide, so we’ll leave it at that.
Masca is a miniscule hamelt set at the head of the Masca Gorge — atop a mountain and surrounded by forest. It’s a popular hiking destination for anyone who loves a good view and is frequently included in jeep tours of National Park Teide.
The Teide park is enormous, so exploring it on wheels is your only option if time is short. Be sure not to miss Los Roques de García (with Roque Cinchado), El Paisaje Lunar, Zapato de la Reina, Las Cañadas or a trip to Pico del Teide (get an access permit online). And before heading back, you might also want to tour the largest solar observatory in the world — the Teide Observatory.