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Tenerife North – Discovering Garachico, La Oratava, Masca and more

Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, has a cultural, traditional side which is often overlooked but is well worth discovering. My recent visit to north Tenerife had me falling in love with an authentic and wildly beautiful side of the island that needs to be explored.

Masca, Tenerife
Masca, Tenerife

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I’ve long been a lover of Tenerife with its winter sunshine and wealth of things to do, but I’d never paid much attention to the north of the island. How I wish I’d not dallied so long in the south.

Head to the north of Tenerife and you’ll find verdant valleys and dramatic gorges peppered with prickly pears, pine forests and terraces of lush vegetation. North Tenerife towns are home to brightly painted homes with beautiful wooden balconies overlooking narrow streets. Historical plazas with heritage buildings, palm trees and bougainvillea spilling over the walls are easy on the eye.

Nature lovers and walkers will love Tenerife’s north coast, natural sea pools, hiking trails, Mount Teide and the magnificent Teide National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. For foodies there’s authentic Tenerife cuisine and enough wineries to keep the fussiest of oenophiles happy. But first…

I visited Tenerife as a guest of Tenerife Tourism whilst attending British Guild of Travel Writers AGM.

Where is Tenerife?

La Oratava, North Tenerife

Tenerife is part of the Canary islands in Spain. The islands sit in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of north west Africa.

There are seven islands in the archipelago which includes Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera, Fuertaventura and El Hierro. 

Things to do in North Tenerife

Let’s explore some of the best things to do in Tenerife North…

Garachico, Tenerife

Garachico, Tenerife

Garachico is said to be one of the prettiest towns in Tenerife but also the unluckiest. I can vouch for the prettiness but as for being unlucky, the town probably wouldn’t be as picturesque today had it not gone through a series of unfortunate events. As well as an earthquake and volcanic eruption the town was struck by plagues, floods and fires.

A week long volcanic eruption from Montana Negra in 1706 saw rivers of lava flow down the hills and through the town blocking off the port and ending commercial trade. The port at Santa Cruz took over the role and Garachico was left to quietly rebuild itself.

Garachico, Tenerife

Garachico sits on north coast Tenerife sheltered by a dramatic 500 metre (1500 ft) cliff. It’s one of the oldest, and was once the wealthiest, town in Tenerife founded by a Genoan banker in 1496. At that time, it was home to the island’s main commercial port and was an important trading post between Europe, Africa and the Americas.

Garachico makes a fabulous day trip for visitors staying in the south of Tenerife. Read about the town’s highlights…

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Tenerife? Check rates and availability

El Caletón natural sea pools, Garachico

Garachico natural sea pools

What nature took from Garachico with one hand it gave back with the other. The lava flows cooled and formed El Caletón, a series of natural sea pools which are now one of the town’s main attractions. Walkways and steps into the sea have been added and entrance to the pools is free.

The Castle of San Miguel

Sitting next to the natural pools you can’t fail to spot the Castle of San Miguel. Built in 1575, the  solid structure miraculously survived the 1706 eruption with the lava skirting right round it.

Built to protect Garachico from marauding pirates, the castle is now a protected monument and home to a museum and the Heritage Information Centre. Inside you’ll learn about the town’s history and the events that shaped it. Open daily 10:00 hrs to 18:00 hrs.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Tenerife? Check rates and availability

Plaza de la Libertad, Garachico

Garachico, north Tenerife

At the heart of Garachico is Plaza de la Libertad, which has an authentic Spanish feel. The plaza is lined with palm trees and many of the town’s heritage buildings.

You’ll find Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles church which now houses the Natural Science and History Museum and the Iglesia de Santa Ana church, with its white clocktower. The plaza is also home to Casa de Piedra, or Stone House, named for its stone façade, and Garachico Town Hall.

A small garden sits under a canopy of Indian Laurels and I wanted to linger and soak up the authentic Spanish feeling that the plaza invokes.

Pretty cobbled streets lead off from the square and one will lead you to a small but interesting park…

Puerta de Tierra Park

Visit Puerta de Tierra Park where you can still see the arch of the gateway to the old port where the sea once lapped the shore. There’s also a bust of the Cádiz-born poet Rafael Alberti in the park and an old wine press from the Hacienda de San Juan Degollado. 

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Tenerife? Check rates and availability

Where to stay in Garachico, Tenerife north

There are a couple of lovely hotels in Garachico located in heritage buildings as well as many other accommodation options.

Hotel La Quinta Roja sits right in Plaza de la Libertad with traditional restaurants and café bars nearby so it’s in a great location. The 16th century mansion was owned by the Marquis of Quinta Roja, who founded the town and port 500 years ago.

Another excellent option nearby is the Gara Hotel which is just a few steps away from the oceanfront and natural pools. Gara Hotel is an 18th-century mansion with original features and heaps of rustic charm. Some of the 14 rooms come with sea views.

With just 20 rooms this gorgeous two-storey boutique hotel combines historic features with a modern twist. Rooms lead off from an inner courtyard and patio area and you’ll find wooden ceilings, a watchtower, good food and exceptional service.

>>>Check availability and rates for more accommodation options in Garachico

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Teno Rural Park and the hamlet of Masca

The hilltop hamlet of Masca sits in a steep ravine in the North West of the island and is part of Teno Rural Park. It’s not strictly Tenerife north but north west, and it’s a must-do day trip from the south so I’m adding it here. Thank me later.

The village of Masca, Tenerife

Masca, Tenerife
Masca, one of the best things to do in north Tenerife

Masca is probably the most beautiful village in Tenerife, if not the Canary Islands, with incredible viewpoints. It’s also the most rural. Set amid tall mountains you’ll wonder how people ever settled here but look at the dramatic scenery and lush vegetation and you’ll get an idea why they made it work.

In the village you’ll find some craft shops, a bar and a tiny church and there’s a walk along the back of the village with fabulous views through the valley and out to sea. You may even spot La Gomera in the distance.

The Masca Gorge

Hikers can take on the Masca gorge hike to the Barranco which is 5 km each way or around 6-hours depending on fitness levels. Before the days of transport, the women of Masca used to carry baskets of produce down the gorge. At the Barranco they’d trade produce with the fishermen before carrying it all the way back again. If the full hike is a bit much, when you reach the Barranco you can take a boat to Los Gigantes.

>>> Looking for somewhere to stay in Tenerife? Check rates and availability

Masca isn’t the easiest place to get to and there wasn’t even a road until 1991. It’s a tricky drive with a number of tight switchbacks on the serpentine road. You’ll need a hire care and you’ll need to take it slowly but it’s worth the effort. Of course, you can book a tour to Masca which makes things a whole lot easier. I’ve visited Masca both ways and either is just as good.

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in the village, a number of homes have been converted into guest houses and B&Bs in Masca.

Traditional Tenerife Cuisine

If you’ve got car hire and are visiting Masca from the north and taking the TF436 there are two stops you should make en-route.

The first stop is for lunch at Meson del Norte. The restaurant serves traditional Tenerife and Canarian food served with a contemporary twist and there’s an outdoor terrace with fabulous views.

I can highly recommend ordering a selection of small plates. The Montaditos sweet potato and cod is excellent as is the Canarian grilled cheese and when in Tenerife Papas Arrugada with mojo sauce should definitely be on the menu.

Finish off with a Barraquito coffee served with a dash of Spain’s number one liqueur ‘Liqor 43’, made with oranges and lemons. If you’re the driver, ask and they’ll serve you a Virgin Barraquito.

Mirador Altos de Baracán

Mirador Altos de Baracán

A few minutes’ drive away on the road to Masca is the spectacular Mirador Altos de Baracán which looks over the lush rugged landscape towards the sea and the island of La Gomera in the distance. There are hiking trails here too but it’s worth stopping just to check out the views which are some of the most dramatic in Tenerife north.

Read more >>> Tenerife in January – what to see and do

La Oratava, Tenerife

La Oratava is famous for traditional wooden balconies and Canarian architecture and is the main reason I visited. But when I got there I found so much more and spent the whole afternoon exploring. The old town has narrow cobbled streets, pastel painted houses with wooden framed windows. It’s well worth a wander.

House of Balconies, La Oratava

Casa de los Balcones

La Casa de los Balcones or the House of Balconies is a traditional grand mansion house with intricately carved balconies that the Canary Islands are known for. It’s also an important Canary Island lacemaking and craft centre.

Visit the 17th century mansion’s tranquil courtyard and the long balcony but first take a tour of the house. Peek inside the drawing room, dining room and kitchen which remain much as they were when the house was occupied.

The courtyard was my favourite spot and I’d have happily sat there, amid the tropical plants and birdsong all afternoon. You’ll get the best views of the façade of the ‘asobrada’ or tall house looking up from the courtyard.

The three-story hand-crafted balcony is supported by tall columns carved from pine heartwood and features flower motifs and intricate patterns. The upper gallery is one continues balcony and you’ll see the coat of arms of the Fonesca family above one of the windows.

On leaving you’ll pass through the home of Canary Islands lacemaking. Traditional lacemaking is undertaken in strict accordance with centuries-old techniques which are learned during lacemaking workshops at the house. Lace is also available to buy if you’d like to take home a hand-crafted Tenerife souvenir.

  • Address: Casa San Francisco, 3, 38300 La Orotava, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
  • Hours: Open daily from 08:30 – 18:00 hrs
  • Entry: €5

Jardines Victoria, La Oratava

Views to the coast and Puerto de la Cruz from Jardines Victoria, La Oratava, Tenerife

If you’re looking for gorgeous views to the coast and over Puerto de la Cruz then head to Victoria Gardens aka Quinta Roja. The terraced gardens have great views down the hillside to the sea and you’ll spot the colourful dome of the Church of Nuestra Señora de La Concepcion to your left.

The flower-filled gardens, fountains and tiered lawns are topped by a marble mausoleum built for a local nobleman.

Next to the Victoria gardens is the Liceo de Taoro, an impressive looking former palace. Occasional art exhibitions are held here, it’s free to enter, and there’s a lovely café if you’re ready for refreshment.

If you’d prefer a drink outside then head down the hill from the gardens and you’ll come to Constitution Square, home to an ornate neo-Mudejar style bandstand. A kiosk serves drinks and tapas and its popular with locals. A few steps away is the 17th century Church of San Augustin.

Hijuela del Botánico – La Oratava Botanical Gardens

La Oratava’s tiny botanical garden was once the garden to a convent. It sits behind the Town Hall and is packed with colourful flowers, plants and a huge Dragon Tree. It’s not as huge as the ancient one at Icod de los Vinos but it’s a beauty nonetheless. The gardens are a peaceful, shady spot to escape the sun and entry is free.

  • Hours: 09:00 – 18:00 hrs Monday to Friday
  • 10:00 – 15:00 hrs on weekends and festivals.

La Orotava is also famous for its colourful flower and volcanic sand floor murals that are displayed on the streets and squares for Corpus Christi festival. One of the biggest can be found outside the Town Hall.

La Oratava is about 12-15 minutes by taxi from Puerto de la Cruz or the local bus (number 363) will get you there in around 20 minutes. La Oratava is quite a big town but the old town is where you’ll find all the main attractions so head there.

Where to stay in La Oratava

You’ll have a lot more choice if you stay in nearby Puerto de la Cruz, the main tourist town in north Tenerife. It’s only a short bus ride from La Oratava. Read on for things to do in Puerto de la Cruz.

Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

Colourful buildings, street art trails, botanical gardens, palm-filled plazas and a buzzing port area make Puerto de la Cruz a great base in north Tenerife. The town, with its black sand beaches, sits at the foot of the lush La Oratava Valley. Puerto de la Cruz is Tenerife’s first tourist resort and its good location means tours to Teide National Park and various other places are many.

Puerto de la Cruz is also host to the famous Tenerife carnivals, one takes place February -March on the usual Mardi Gras dates just before lent and the other is the summer Carnaval de Verano.

Street Art in Puerto de la Cruz

Raúl Ruiz pays tribute to the culture and origin of the Canary Islands in this street mural

One of the best free things to do in Puerto de la Cruz is the street art walking trail – like a huge open air art gallery. Head to Barrio de la Ranilla the charming fishing neighbourhood and you’ll find around twelve impressive murals and street art by local and international artists.

The Urban Development Consortium for the Rehabilitation of Puerto de la Cruz collaborated with the Department of Culture and the Department of Urbanism in 2014 to carry out a project to improve the appearance of the area and the murals are the colourful and thought provoking result.

Look up, look behind you and down every alleyway to see the murals. You might also spot houses with fish painted on them to signify the owner’s occupation. The top storey of one building is entirely clad in crocheted squares. There are some interesting little craft shops and loads of cafes and restaurants in the area.

Sabotage of Assembly – “Ritual”

I love how the colours in the work above reflect the surroundings.

This tour is a must on your list of things to do in Puerto de la Cruz for street art fans. Pick up a map from the Tourist Information Centre or download this PDF map of Puerto de la Cruz street art. Many of the murals have information signs with QR codes.

Puerto de la Cruz Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens, Puerto de la Cruz

The 17th century Jardín Botánico is a shaded space to enjoy during the heat of the day. Spend an hour strolling along the paths lined with exotic flowers, sit by ponds floating with brightly coloured lilies and marvel at the towering Moreton Bay fig tree.

Jardín Botánico is located on Calle Retama which was a few minutes’ walk from our hotel but if you’re staying near Puerto de la Cruz’s old town it’s a steep half hour walk uphill. Bus 103, 30, 345 or 363 from the bus station will also get you there.

  • Address: .C Retama, 2, 38400 Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
  • Hours: Daily 9:00 – 18:00 hrs
  • Entry costs €3

If you enjoy gardens then you may also want to visit the Orchid Garden. You’ll find orchids galore along with Puerto de la Cruz’s oldest dragon tree (drago tree) at Jardín de Orquideas de Sitio Litre. It’s just a ten-minute downhill walk from the Botanical Gardens so it makes sense to visit both but note that it’s closed from 14:30 hours daily and all day Monday.

  • Address: Cam. Sitio Litre, 16, 38400 Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
  • Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 09:30 – 14:30 hours. Closed Mondays

The historic fishing harbour

The harbour at Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz started life as a fishing village and the old harbour, close to La Ranillo, still exists. You’ll find a tiny beach, fishing boats bobbing in the harbour and the sculpture of the fishwife at the harbourside.

Pay a visit to the Old Customs House overlooking the harbour. It houses The Museum of Contemporary Art (MACEW) upstairs and the Tourist Information Office downstairs.

The 17th century Castillo San Felipe Fort, built to protect the city from pirates, is next door which nowadays hosts exhibitions and art performances. Check out the ornate canons aiming out to sea and the wild Atlantic Ocean waves crashing onto the rocks below.

Lago Martianez

Lago Martianez, Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
Lago Martianez in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife

If you don’t like the idea of a beach day at Playa Jardin, it gets a bit choppy, then head to Lago Martianez which is altogether more relaxed and calmer.

The huge lido complex is made up of four large pools and three children’s pools which are filled with filtered sea water. The largest pool is 15,000 m2 and has five islands within it. The Costa Martianez Tourist Complex, as it’s officially known, was created by Spanish artist César Manrique and there are several of his sculptures located around the area.

Gardens and terraces of sun loungers surround the pools and small islands and there are bars and restaurants serving refreshments.

  • Address: Av. de Cristobal Colón, s/n, 38400 Puerto de la Cruz, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain
  • Hours: Daily 10:00 – 19:00 hrs.
  • Entry is €5.50 for adults and € 2.50 for children up to 10 years.

Note: Sun loungers are included in the price, but additional charges apply for child deckchairs, sunshades and Jacuzzi use.

Where to stay in north Tenerife

We stayed in Puerto de la Cruz at the gorgeous 5-star Hotel Botanico and Oriental Spa Garden. The food is excellent and the three pools, beautiful gardens and excellent spa facilities make it a luxurious base from which to explore north Tenerife.

Check rates and availability of Hotel Botanico and Oriental Spa Garden.

Hotel Botanico is a 30-minute walk from the old town. If you wish to stay closer to the old town, check out various Puerto de la Cruz hotel and accommodation options and availability.

Tips for visiting north Tenerife

How to get to Tenerife

Tenerife is just 4.5 hours away with a huge choice of direct flights departing from all over the UK. Flights are available right through the year and include many low-cost airlines. Easyjet have great deals on flights to Tenerife. British Airways, Ryanair and Jet2.com also fly into Tenerife. It’s worth checking on Aviasales for cheap flights.

There are two airports in Tenerife – Tenerife North (Ciudad de La Laguna airport) and Tenerife South (Reina Sofia airport). International flights fly into south Tenerife where most of the beach resorts like Costa AdejePlaya de las AmericasLos Gigantes and Los Christanos are located.

Tenerife North airport is for domestic and inter-island flights only so you’ll need to book a transfer to the north of the island when you land in Tenerife South.

Getting from Tenerife Airport to Puerto de la Cruz

If you plan to visit more than a few places on the island then it’s worth renting a car at the airport on arrival. It also means you won’t need to book airport transfers. A hire will give you the freedom to visit all the north Tenerife highlights in your own time.

If you’re not going to hire a car then you have a few other options. TITSA, the Tenerife bus service. To get from Tenerife South Airport to Puerto de la Cruz take the bus number 343 which will get you there in around 90-minutes for around €14-€17. The bus runs four times a day but less frequently at weekends.

A taxi from Tenerife South Airport to Puerto de la Cruz will cost around €100.

Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
Puerto de la Cruz

The weather in North Tenerife

What’s the weather like in the north of Tenerife? It’s the question everyone one asks so here we go. The north of the island isn’t as warm as the south but it’s till good. North Tenerife sees a mild climate year round with plenty of sun. It can be cloudy and has more rain than the south, the lush green hillsides are testament to that, but it’s still warm with plenty of sun.

I visited for a week in April and didn’t see any rain at all. The weather was warm and sunny with some cloudy days which I welcomed as it was slightly cooler those days and better for walking and exploring. All the photos in this post were taken that week to give you an idea.

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As you can see there’s a lot to see and do in Tenerife north. I hope you’ve enjoyed this taste of the north and the island’s more cultural side. I’ve just mentioned a few of the places I’ve personally visited but there’s a lot more to see including Anaga Rural Park, Santa Cruz, Tenerife’s capital, and UNESCO World Heritage Site San Cristóbal de La Laguna the island’s former historical capital. I’ll be checking those out on my next visit to north Tenerife.

I visited Tenerife as a guest of Tenerife Tourism whilst attending the British Guild of Travel Writers AGM.

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Christina

Sunday 24th of July 2022

I've always wanted to visit Tenerife since my cousins had a holiday home there for years, but sadly, I never made it. Your post re-ignites my yearning to go! Looks like my cup of tea, for sure! Thanks so much for this wonderful post!

Suzanne Jones

Monday 25th of July 2022

There's an excellent food and wine scene in Tenerife that I think you'd love. If you get the chance to visit definitely explore the north as well as the south.