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Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, is also one of the most scenically stunning islands in the world. Tenerife is about 300 kilometres from the African continent and about 1,300 kilometers from Mainland Spain. It enjoys a steady year-round, spring-like temperature with a yearly average of 23 degrees centigrade. Dominated by the gigantic outline of 12,198 ft.-high Mount Teide, this amazing volcanic island offers a wide variety of landscapes and tourist experiences.
On a visit there, you might find yourself strolling through a sleepy hillside village, breathing in a lush laurisilva forest consisting of laurel trees and ferns or making your way through the dense foliage of a banana plantation. You can crash on a sunny and golden/black sandy 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, go on a whale and dolphin watching trip all year round, dine the traditional tapas and famous "wrinkled potatoes" with mojo sauce or in a Michelin-starred restaurant – 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. 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 Maritima -- 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 jewellery shops filled with fine silver goods, high street shopping brands, good thing to remember is that the Canary Islands are a low tax area so you will always find good bargain-priced goods that make Tenerife such a popular call.
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Other Canary Islands Cruise Ports:
Fuerteventura • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Tenerife
Stylish and affordable silver items from the jewelry shops along Bethencourt Alfonso; €55 will buy a very substantial silver bracelet, while €35 will get you a pretty and solid ring. A bottle of Tenerife wine (Canarian sack was mentioned in Shakespeare!) is also a great choice. The island has five designations of origin, and the rich volcanic soil in which the vines are grown gives them a special character and different nuances.
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 Ingles? (Do you speak English?).
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro. Check www.xe.com or www.oanda.com for the most updated exchange 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, ATMs 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.
Where You're Docked
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 and petrol is not expensive.
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 €1.25 euros one way), so allow plenty of time to return. Las Teresitas beach is popular with the locals because of its golden sand and palm trees and also for being a family-friendly spot, as it features a breakwater that protects swimmers from waves and strong currents. A great option when visiting Las Teresitas beach is to combine the dip with a tasty meal in the nearby quiet fishing village of San Andres, featuring a wide range of fish and seafood restaurants.
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.
By Tram: Take the tram (line 1) from the central bus station, and pay a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage town of La Laguna, an alternative way to experience the sights of Santa Cruz and La Laguna. (40 minutes ride, 21 stops)
Watch Out For
Watch out for heavy traffic as you cross the main promenade.
Plaza de Espana. farther along the waterfront and at the heart of the city, is a good place to start exploring Santa Cruz's Old Quarter and key attractions, including the Museum of Nature and Mankind (on Calle Fuente Morales), the TEA, Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (Tenerife Arts Space) on Avenida de San Sebastian, a museum where exhibitions, photography and works of art are displayed; and the 16th-century Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcion (the city's oldest church built in 1500) -- are within walking distance.
Auditorio de Tenerife Adan Martin on Avenida de la Constitucion. This Opera House was built in 2003 and designed by the world-famous architect, Santiago Calatrava. The shining sculpture, just by the sea, features a colossal overhanging wing and is entirely covered in trencasis, a mosaic of tiny ceramic fragments. Festivals, concerts and shows can be enjoyed at the Opera House all year round -- and it's particularly special when lit up in the evening.
The Palmetum, palm tree park and botanical garden on the sea front, boasts the biggest collection of palm trees in Europe with over 3,600 trees and 1,600 different species. Unbelievably this lush oasis was built on a former rubbish dump.
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).
La Rambla, a tree-lined avenue, features an outdoor exhibition of sculptures with works by Miro and Henry Moore.
San Cristobal de la Laguna, Tenerife's original capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies only five miles (about a 45 minutes away by tram) from Santa and is the loveliest town on the island. Here, you'll find Tenerife's oldest cathedral and university within easy walking distance of each other. By day, La Laguna is a shopper's paradise with a limitless number of small but exclusive shops. At night, it is pure fun with a wide range of bars and nightclubs. And in the surrounding area are traditional Canarian restaurants, Anaga rain forest, sleepy coastal villages and quiet beaches.
Been There, Done That
Orotava Valley, to the south of Santa Cruz, is an ideal spot for lovers of plants and nature. 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.
Loro Parque is equally spectacular. It's 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.
Real Club de Golf -- which lies near Tenerife's Los Rodeos Airport, about nine miles from Santa Cruz -- is where golfers can get a round in. Kit can be hired on site, but be warned that the club is open to non-members on weekday mornings only. If you have time, head further north to Golf La Rosaleda or Buenavista Golf or go south to Golf del Sur, Amarilla Golf, Golf Los Palos, Golf Las Americas or Abama Golf.
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 La Hierbita on Calle El Clavel and La Bodeguita Canaria on Calle Imeldo Serís.
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.
Staying in Touch
More and more hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and businesses offer free Wi-Fi to their customers, so it's easy to get connected on the island. The Council of Santa Cruz also offers a Wi-Fi service to get online for a five-day period.
Best for Families: Aqualand, a family water park located in Costa Adeje (1 hour drive), has a mixture of water slides with different shapes and sizes and an impressive dolphinarium offering spectacular dolphin shows year round.
Siam Park is regarded as the best waterpark in the World with various attractions including a Kamikaze ride, giant wave pool, lazy river run or the new Sawasdee slides.
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: Whale and dolphin watching trip on board a catamaran. The waters between the islands of Tenerife and La Gomera are home for an astounding array of whale and dolphin species: pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins resident here year-round. There is also a good chance to see rays, sharks and turtles. Puerto Colón is a great location for these activities. Tours vary from 2 to 4 hours.
Best for Scenery: Mount Teide (Spain's highest peak), and Teide National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its spectacular volcanic rock formations). The National Park, now a Starlight Destination, is considered one of the best places in the world for stargazing due to the island's clear dark skies, high altitude and its location close to the Equator (far from tropical storms). Take a cable car ride to the top of the volcano or visit the Teide Observatory (2,200m) on a guided tour.
For More Information
On the Web: Tenerife Tourism Corporation and Spanish National Tourist Office
Cruise Critic Message Boards: British Isles/Western Europe
Independent Traveler Message Boards: Spain & Portugal
--By Maria Harding, Cruise Critic contributor