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Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, is also one of the most scenically stunning islands in the world. Dominated by the gigantic outline of 12,402 ft.-high Mount Teide, this amazing volcanic island offers a wide variety of landscapes and tourist experiences.
On a visit here, you might find yourself strolling through a sleepy hillside village, breathing in the pine-laden air of a mountain forest or making your way through the dense foliage of a banana plantation. You can crash on a sunny beach or scale a snow-capped mountain, enjoy a gentle round of golf or a fiercely fought game of tennis, shop for local handicrafts or international designer wear, dine on burgers and pizza or tapas and paella -- on this most varied of islands, the choice is yours.
Upon reaching Tenerife's main port of Santa Cruz, if your ship parks at the bottom of its U-shaped harbor, you'll face a hot 15-minute walk to reach it all -- unless your cruise company provides a shuttle bus to the port gates (as, fortunately, mine -- P&O Cruises' Arcadia -- did, for free). It's worth persisting, though; don't be tempted to stay onboard here however fine your ship ... as Santa Cruz, a historic city founded in the 15th century, is well worth the effort.
Once outside the port gates you'll find a broad and beautiful promenade -- the elaborately named Avenida Jose Antonio Primo de Riviera -- running right along the seafront; there's broad tree-lined pavement on one side and, across the busy road, a long parade of shops, cafes, restaurants and nightclubs (including one called rather cleverly Klan D Stino!).
The streets running inland from this promenade hold jewelry shops filled with fine silver goods and vast emporia selling the bargain-priced electrical goods that make Tenerife such a popular call.
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Other Canary Islands Cruise Ports:
Fuerteventura • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Tenerife
The main language is Spanish, and though many locals have at least a smattering of English, it is worth taking a phrase book along if you plan to explore on your own.
Here are some basics to get you started: hola and adios (hello and goodbye); por favor and gracias (please and thank you); cuanto cuesta? (how much?); and, possibly the most useful of all, habla usted Ingles? (do you speak English?).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro (see www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for latest conversion rates). If you've run out of cash and don't want to change money on your ship, don't panic; there are plenty of banks, ATM's and Bureaux de Change along Santa Cruz's waterfront and on its main shopping streets. Hotels will also change cash, but rates vary considerably, so proceed with caution.
Stylish and affordable silver items from the jewelry shops along Bethencourt Alfonso; 55 euros will buy a very substantial silver bracelet, while 35 euros will get you a pretty and solid ring.
Where You're Docked
I've already mentioned the U-shaped harbour problem, though in fairness, it is rare to find your ship right at the bottom of the U (i.e. the farthest distance from the port gates) without a shuttle bus service being provided (usually for free, but check with your cruise line).
Don't bother; get to the port gates and start exploring ASAP.
By Car: If you're feeling adventurous, there's a Hertz on the La Marina (which runs right from the north end of the Plaza de Espana). Cars cost from around $50 for a day's hire.
By Bus: A big bus station lies on Avenida Tres de Mayo (about a mile along the promenade, heading left from the port gates). From here, a No. 910 bus will take you to the nearest beach, Playa de la Teresitas.
This is a five-mile, 20-minute journey (costing around 2 euros one way), so allow plenty of time to return. The beach itself is palm fringed, honey sanded and popular with the locals, but there are no formal changing facilities. There are, however, plenty of cafes and fast food joints you could nip into for a quick change in the loo.
By Taxi: To go further afield, taxis are available from the port gates and at ranks in the town but do negotiate the price in advance as, beyond the city boundaries, cabs are not metered. The going rate for an hour's tour is from around 25 euros per cab, but do haggle for a good deal.
Watch Out For
Heavy traffic as you cross the main promenade.
Further along the waterfront and at the heart of the city lies Plaza de Espana. This is a good place to start exploring: Santa Cruz's Old Quarter and key attractions -- including the Archaeological Museum (on Avenida Brava Murillo), the Fine Arts Museum (on Plaza del Pricipe de Asturias, just off the square and containing works by Breughel) and the 16th-century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (the city's oldest church built in 1502) -- are within walking distance.
The Museo Militar de Almeyda lies opposite the Plaza de Espana. This military museum contains the canon, which shot off Admiral Lord Nelson's arm when his fleet attacked the city in 1793 (and no jokes about his intentions being armless, please).
San Cristobal de la Laguna, Tenerife's original capital, lies only five miles (about a 10 euro cab ride) from Santa Cruz en route to the Playa de la Teresitas and is the loveliest town on the island. Here, you'll find Tenerife's oldest church, cathedral and university within easy walking distance of each other. And in the surrounding area are traditional Canarian restaurants, sleepy coastal villages and quiet beaches.
Been There, Done That
Lovers of plants and nature will enjoy a trip to the lush Orotava Valley to the south of Santa Cruz. A drive along the valley's mountain road reveals spectacular scenery, while the town of La Orotava itself is well worth visiting for its classic Spanish colonial architecture and fine gardens. The valley also contains magnificent Botanical Gardens, which date from 1788.
Equally spectacular is Loro Parque, a 13-hectare wildlife themed park in the foothills of El Teide, which contains one of the world's largest collections of parrots. It also has aquaria, dolphin pools, sea lions, an underwater tunnel, a bat cave, a Gambian market and a Thai village. Entrance costs around 20 euros but you can get a free train ride there from the Avenida de Venezuela (to the east of Plaza del Charco) in Santa Cruz; yellow tourist trains run every 20 minutes.
Golfers can get a round in at the Real Club de Golf, which lies near Tenerife's Los Rodeos Airport about nine miles from Santa Cruz (15 to 20 euros by cab). Kit can be hired on site, but be warned that the club is open to non-members on weekday mornings only.
Both downtown Santa Cruz and its seafront are well endowed with restaurants, tapas bars and a fast food outlet, which are generally open all afternoon from noon. If you want to try local dishes -- like Ranch Canaria (meat and vegetable soup), Cazuela Canaria (fish stew) or papas arrugadas (small potatoes cooked in their jackets with a hot Mojo dipping sauce) -- look out for the word "tipico" on the restaurant sign, as this indicates that it serves typical local cuisine.
Best Local Eats: Recommended local food restaurants include Tasca Don Antonio on Emilio Calzadilla Street (inland from the Plaza de Espana) and the restaurant of the Hotel Mencey, on Calle Dr Jose Naveiras.
Upscale Option: On my trip, Captain Keith Dowds, master of P&O Cruises' Arcadia, returned from some shore leave full of praise for the carpaccio of foie gras dished up at La Aceituna restaurant at 6 Emilio Calzadilla Street. Lunch hours are from noon until 4 p.m.
Best for Families: Aqualand, Tenerife's first water theme park. Attractions include a kamikaze river ride, twin speed slides and a more gently paced "lazy river run." 7 hours.
Best for Kids of All Ages: Loro Parque features has parrots and sealions, a walk-through giant aquarium and the world's largest penguinarium. Lunch is not included in the tour but restaurants, cafes and fast food outlets abound at the park. 7.5 hours.
Best for Waterbabies: Catamaran sailing from Puerto Colona allows for whale and dolphin watching. 6.5 hours.
Best for Scenery: Mount Teide (Tenerife's highest point), Las Canadas National Park (famed for its spectacular volcanic rock formations) and the popular coastal resort of Puerto de la Cruz. 7.5 hours with lunch.
Staying in Touch
From the Plaza de Espana (which has a pretty ceanothus and acacia filled park area on its right), cross the road to the bottom of Bethencourt Alfonso Street, and if you're facing up it, turn right along La Marina and take the third left turn up Paseo Milicias de Garachico. Just up on the right you'll find an Internet cafe that charges 60 cents for 15 minutes, one euro for 30 minutes, 1.40 euros for 45 minutes and 1.80 euros for an hour.
For More Information
Spanish National Tourist Office at 44-207-486-8077.
On the Web: www.tourspain.co.uk or www.spain.info
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--by Maria Harding. The work of England-based Harding, a journalist and broadcaster, has appeared in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express.