Teide and mountains in the clouds
When i visited the biggest of the Canary Islands in February, I was first surprised to see how diverse it is. The magnificient mountain Pico del Teide was wearing its snow cap, while the surrounding hills were already full of the colours and fragrance of spring. In the south of the island you could go swimming and sun yourselves on the beautiful beaches, which have become a guarantee of a sunny holiday for many tourists. In the north,however, it is cold and rainy and on your way to Teide you can see families with children playing in what is left of the snow as if they have never seen it before. The colours of the tuquoise sky and azure sea on the coast change as you enter the Teide National Park into the ochre, deep brown and crimson of the lava . You feel as if you are suddenly on the moon. The volcanic Pico del Teide and its suroundings is the only subtropical Alpine area in Europe. Teide, as the mountain s normally called, is 3,717 metres high, which makes it the highest mountain on Spanish territory. Several roads lead into the national park. The most picturesque leads through La Esperanza and it was this one that we took. We found ourselves surrounded by high forests with massive pine and eucalyptus trees. As we began to climb steeply we went above the clouds to see the snow-clad peak of the mountain. It was like the view of the specific climatic conditions, the Themis observatory was built in the national park to investigate the movement of the sun and the earth`smagnetism. The climb up the volcano Teide is rather demanding, but you can tkae the Teleférico del Teide cable car. It won`t take you right to the top For that you will have to climb a further 200 metres. However, it is really worth all the hassle as on a clear day you can see all the way to Africa and all the other Canary Islands. Teide is on the edge of a massive volcano. It either erupted long ago or its peak collapsed. The massive crater can be seen from a place called Los Roques. To the northwest of the national park we discovered a completely different landscape. The narrow serpentine road, which has some really hairy bends, leads through the Masca range. When you see the road leading up the steep mountain side, you will understand why up until recently the only means of transport posiible was the good old donkey. The picturesque village of Masca is an ideal place to stop off. Here you can admire the surrounding hills that are reminiscent of Machu Picchu. At the end of February there was already the fragrance of jasmine and the grassy hills were beginning to fill with the colours of rare wild flowers. On the way from Masca to the northeast there is a magnificient view of the picturesque municipality of Garachico. The town, which used to have an important harbour, was largely destroyed by a volcanic eruption at the beginning of the 18th century. A lone rock, which became an object of veneration, stands in the sea opposite the town. It is certainly worth taking a walk through the town where you will see many slick houses with balconies typical of the Canary Islands. It also has large number of chapels for a town with such a small population. On the way to the east in the direction of Puerto de la Cruz, you can see another miracle of nature. In the idyllic village of Icod de los Vinos you can see a massive dragon tree, which is estimated to be up to one thousand years old. The magnificent Anaga nature park is in the eastern corner of the island. Its hills lead gently down to the sea and it is quite the opposite of the rather dangerous Masca region.
The towns in Tenerife are all different just like everything else on the island. The old town of La Orotava with its narrow lanes with beautifully carved wooden balconies and little shops selling artefacts and jewellery made of lava stones, or crocheted tablecloths and scarves. This town is famous for the June Corpus Christi celebrations when the streets are covered with beautiful carpets made of flowers and different coloured sand and the locals turn out in their colourful folk costumes. The second biggest town San Cristóbal de la Laguna is just as old as the island is, i.e. 500 years. It is the most imposing town on the island and it is the duty of every visitor to walk through its streets to see the old palaces made from volcanic rock and the famous balconies carved out of pine wood. It is not by accident that the town was entered in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. It is especially pleasant to walk through the Plaza del Adelantado, where the locals sit out in the open air, along the lane called Calle Obispo Rey Redondo to the Nuestra Senora de la Concepción, which was the first church built on the island.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
The capital city of Tenerife has a rather pious name, but it is more than an administrative centre than one of churches and mountains. It also happens to be in a good strategic location for trips all over the island, which you can do by car within a few hours. However, it would take you many weeks to get acquainted properly with the island. Not far from the city is the beautiful beach called Playa de las Teresitas. Those that like art and culture will be drawn to the opera building called Auditorio de Tenerife designed by architect Santiago Caltrava, who was also responsible for the Town of Art and Science in Valencia and the Olympic Stadium in Athens. The programme includes top opera singers and conductors. Those that like the fine arts might appreciate the collection of surrealist pictures made by Tenerife artist Óskar Domínguez, in the beautiful Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (TEA).
Santa Cruz saves its greatest treasure for the month of February. This is the time of the biggest carnival in the Canary Islands. In terms of its colourful nature it can be compared to the one in Rio de janeiro. There you will see the most outragerous costumes and experience the Hispanic culture and wild atmosphere that is almost dangerous for many more staid Europeans. Some experts even rate the Santa Cruz carnival higher than its as the carnival procession passes by, whereas in Santa Cruz everyone is there to actually take part in the carnival revelry. Despite being deeply religious the inhabitants of Tenerife let their hair down during the carnival, which is certainly reminiscent of the debauchery of a real Roman orgy. During the last ten days of February, throughout the day and night, you will meet people dancing in the streets of Santa Cruz wearing different costumes. The shop windows are full of costumes, masks and make-up. The streets are bedecked with festoons and whole city seethes with people having fun. Carnival week begins with the election of the queen. It continues with several processions lasting several hours and ends on Ash Wednesday with the sardine funeral, when all the participants paly the role of the bereaved mourning the loss of their beloved fish. The fish is then ceremonially cremated by the harbour. This is followed by a grand firework display. Here again the celebration seems to lack any revence for the fast that is meant to last till Easter. For the funeral men dress up as nuns and women as priests. Everything is topsy turvy and fun is made out of even the most serious matters, which is the pious would condemn as a sin.
Something for children
If you have small children, it is betterto head for the south of the island, where you will find the popular tourist resorts like Playa de las Américas and Playa los Cristianos. The Siam Park makes for a wonderful day-long family outing. It has quite unique water attractions in Thai style. The gigantic water chute, which has many surprises in store for you, is guaranteed to get the adrenaline going. hen there is the paceful River Mai Thai, which meanders through the whole park and is the longest water attraction of its kind in the world. In the north of the island, in the fishing village of Puerto de la Cruz, there is a popular zoo called Loro Parque. Here the children can enjoy various displays involving seals, dolphins and killer whales. Especially popular are the penguins and the marine aquarium, which has a glass tunnel you can walk thorugh. The park gets its name because of all its parrots. With about 300 species represented here, it is probably the biggest collection of parrots in the world.