The Canary Islands – Tenerife

Since selling our home in Mexico we’ve been looking for a place to replace it, an escape from the cold in the winters but somewhere a little closer to Lisbon. Our searching first took us to Madeira, but that wasn’t quite warm enough. The next place to check out was the Canary Islands, which we visited in January of this year (2023). 

The Canary Islands are situated 100 km off the coast of Morocco  and 450 km south of Madeira, at a latitude similar to that of the North American city of Orlando in Florida. The islands belong to Spain, making them the southern most part of the European Union. 

It consists of seven islands (listed from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro, which together have a population of just over 2 million (with 80% of that situated on Gran Canaria and Tenerife). We began our search in the most populous and popular island of Tenerife. 

The island of Tenerife is shaped somewhat like an upside down triangle. The point below points due south and here the land is somewhat flatter with numerous beaches – compared to the rest of the island which is more mountainous and lacks beaches. For this reason it is also the most visited with numerous large resort hotels stretching from the towns of Los Cristianos to La Caleta. I suspect many people arrive at the main airport here, go to their hotel and may never go anywhere else, especially if they don’t have a car. This would also be the driest part of the island with a rather barren landscape. 

The upper portion of the triangle faces north, with both points natural parks (Teno and Anaga) with high rugged mountain ranges and steep shorelines. Access is difficult, especially along the coastlines. And the roads that do break through are very narrow, windy with many switchbacks to deal with. The north side receives much more rain than the south side, obvious by how green and lush the forests within the two parks.

In the middle of the island is the main volcano of Teide rising up over 12,000 feet and is sometimes covered in snow. It is the highest peak in Spain and the third tallest volcano in the world, measured from its base on the ocean floor. The terrain here is mostly barren, however. The largest city on the island is Santa Cruz, the main port where everything the island needs to sustain itself arrives at.

The Weather in Tenerife

Tenerife is known as the “Island of Eternal Spring” because of its moderate, pleasant climate. In winter it rarely gets too cold while in summer it’s rarely too hot as the warm currents on the coast keep the air cool and the regular tropical trade winds provide cool, fresh air.

From August to October the weather is mild and sunny along coastline and it rarely rains between March and October, except in the north where the odds are you’re more likely to get a little rain.

Tenerife is the only European resort where you can bask on the beach all year round because even in January the air warms up to +22 ° C. The average temperature in Tenerife during the warm season is around 26°C while during the winter season it is +17.5°C.

The southern region is hot all year round. The warm air from Western Sahara influences this area so that temperatures rarely drop below 20°C. The weather here always pleasant and warm as the mountains simply block cold air from the north-east, and rainfall is recorded only a few times a year.

The weather in the north of the island is less stable. During the winter, the northern section of Tenerife is more humid and colder, whereas the rest of the year has comfortable average temperatures. The northern shore is hot in the summer, yet it is frequently cloudy.

During our one-week trip we experienced some of that north shore weather with periodic rains and cooler weather. The clouds seem to gather around the peaks of the two parks, clouding up the skies at times and dumping occasional rains.

Garachico

Garachico

We spent our first three days in Garachico, which at one time was the main port for the island. It’s said to be one of the prettiest towns on the islands and we very much enjoyed our stay there. We stayed at the La Quinta Roja Hotel, which we highly recommend, and which also has one of the best restaurants in Garachico. Another good option is the El Roque Hotel, which has the added benefit of a swimming pool. La Quinta Roja is set next to the picturesque town plaza and shares space on the San Francisco square along with a convent with the same name.

The coastline here closely hugs the mountains that loom nearly overhead and behind, leaving little room for development or even roads. The road to Garachico winds steeply back and forth before finally reaching the coastline. What other land is available is mostly taken up for the planting of bananas, with small plantations found all along the coast on either side of Garachico.

Hotel La Quinta Roja, Libertad Plaza and San Francisco Square

A couple interesting notes about Garachico:

In 1706, Garachico was bustling with shipping traffic. It was the islands largest commercial harbor and a strategic place in the daily comings and goings of seafarers traveling between the New World and Europe. But then on May 5th everything changed when the Arenas Negras volcano erupted. Two rivers of lava ran down the volcano with the first pouring into the harbor, making it no longer navigable, while the second destroyed most of the town’s major buildings. Only the San Miguel Castle, the fort that protected the Garachico road, and La Puerta de Tierra, the entrance to the old harbor precinct, survived.

Garachico was founded by a Cristobal de Ponte in the early 16th century when he participated, and helped finance, the conquest of the Canary Islands . His son became the Marquis of this area – Marquis de la Quinta Roja – and his home in Garachico is now the hotel where we happened to be staying. Some of his descendants left for the Americas, primarily Venezuela, and one would become quite famous. He wasn’t known as a de Ponte, as that was on his mother’s side, but as Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator. Today a statue can be found of Bolivar in the Plaza la Libertad.

Simon Bolivar in the Plaza la Libertad

Icod de los Vinos

While in Garachico we drove over to the neighboring town of Icod do los Vinos, A small town, built into the hillside, it is most famous for its “Dragon” Tree, a tree that is supposedly over 1,000 years old, and perhaps as old as 2,000. That means it was well into middle age when Christopher Columbus sailed by. It’s situated in a park holding the same name, with meandering walking paths and other rich and various plants and trees from around the world. But the Dragon Tree stands out, rising high above all the other trees. I’d seen pictures of it before but had no idea it was so large – 15 meters high and 5 meters in circumference around its trunk.

The Dragon Tree. To get an idea of its size, there’s a man standing below it to the left.

It’s resin is red in color and its flowers look like miniature cactuses that grow at the very top of the tree. Also in the park are naturally formed caves, created when the lava flowed from a past eruption. Next to the park is Plaza Caceres and the San Marcos church, both worth visiting. From there you can walk into town along the pedestrian shopping street of Calle San Sebastián.

South Shore – Las Caletillas

After our stay in Garachico we drove up the north coast and cut across to the southern coastline passing through the colonial town of Laguna. Our stay this time was in the coastal town of Caletillas, next to the larger and more well-known town of Calendaria, within an apartment building situated on a hillside overlooking the sea. And our apartment had the best view of the building, with a large terrace and unobstructed views of the ocean. As well, the building’s common area pool was right next to us and rarely used. We began each day with a swim in the cool, refreshing water. The one bedroom apartment was newly renovated with a lot of attention given to details. It reminded us of our former days with Mexico Boutique Hotels – we could tell that the owners of this property “get it.” And because of that it is fully booked a year in advance. Before we left we booked for another week next year when a cancellation came up.

One day we drove just south of Calendaria to the national park of Guimar, which is a small volcano by the coast that had erupted not too long ago and the lava had flowed into the ocean. It makes for a picturesque walk along the coast, on trails of loose lava rock.

Over the next two days we explored Calendaria but mostly made trips out to the Anaga National Park on the far northeast point of the island. Anaga is famous for its ruggedness, especially when compared to the rest of the island. It is covered in lush tropical forest and paths have been carved into the steep hillsides, making for adventurous hiking.

Taganana Coastline

Anaga Nature Park

Our first day took us out to the viewpoint called Aguaide just past the mountainside village of Chinamada. A windy road takes you out to the coast where the coastline drops off precipitously. There’s room to park and then a short 600m hike out to a viewpoint.

Florence at the viewpoint of Aguaide.

On the way out to Chinamada we passed the rock pinnacle of Taborno in the distance.

Taborno rock pinnacle

From there we made our way up once again to the main road and followed it to the next road that branches off to the coast, this time to Taganana. Here the road could makes its way right to the shoreline, and it’s where we had a wonderful lunch at Casa Picar in Taganana. I had the best fish’n chips I’ve ever had while Flo had fresh, fresh octopus.

Benijo Beach and the offshore rocks of Fuera and Dentro in the distance.

After lunch we continued down along the coast to the black-sand beach of Benijo where you can see the majestic rocks of Fuera and Dentro protruding out of the water in the distance. The weather was behaving beautifully, opening up to blue skies when we needed it for a photo. From there we made our way back to the main road in the park, and crossed across to the south shore, to the beach of Teresitas. This has to be the largest beaches in this area, and certainly the blondest – no black sand here.

Village of Taganana

The next day we were planning to do a couple of hikes, one near Cruz del Carmen called “Llano Frio” and another at the end of the road that crosses the whole park, to Chamorga, but the weather was not cooperating. When we left our apartment the skies were blue but as soon as we hit Anaga’s entrance it started drizzling and by the time we were high in the mountains it was raining and blowing hard and it was cold. We started a couple of times but the rain drove us back to our car. So we headed back. And as we did the weather cleared up in front of us, so that by the time we arrived at the apartment the weather was perfect. The day wasn’t a complete loss though, as we did get to see a spectacular rainbow from our terrace.

That ended our reconnaissance visit to the Canary Islands, and we liked what we saw. We are already looking forward to our next trip next year, as there’s so much more we want to do and see.

Cruising the Cyclades – Santorini

I had no expectations going into Santorini, and perhaps that’s the best way to first get to know it. I had done very little reading about it prior or during our trip, just knew it was our last stop before flying back to Portugal. My education on Santorini began when Hariz, who we rented our car from, picked us up at the ferry port and brought us to his office, a few blocks from our beachfront hotel. On the way he told us about Thera, the volcano, and what we should see and do in Santorini.

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Cruising the Cyclades Islands on Prosecco III

In the Spring of 2015 we cruised the eastern seaboard of the United States, from Florida to Washington, on board the yacht Sockeye Blue with our good friends John & Tina Philippson. Their 80-foot Nordhavn was a beautiful ship, and we enjoyed three fun-filled weeks exploring this coastline. They would eventually sell Sockeye Blue, but in 2021, eager to get another Nordhavn and this time to explore the Mediterranean and the rivers and canals of Europe, they bought Prosecco III, a 41-footer fresh off the production line in Turkey. Prosecco was purchased purposely smaller, so it could fit inside the locks and canals.

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The Dao Region of Portugal – Biking & Boarding

In the north of Portugal, just above Coimbra but below Porto and a little east towards the Spanish border, lies a region known as the Dao. Through it the river Dao and alongside it were once tracks for a train that ran between the towns of Santa Comba Dao and Viseu from the 1890s to the 1980s. It is about 50 kilometers in length and back then it provided transportation for locals and delivered them supplies. When it was discontinued a “Rails-to-Trails” was put in its place. This is the process of converting abandoned rail lines (“Rails”) into bike paths (“Trails”), and it has become very common in both Europe and North America. In Portugal these bike paths are known as “Ecopistas.”

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Madeira, Portugal

We’d been wanting to visit Madeira ever since our first visit Portugal some five years ago and learned that the island group was also part of Portugal (along with the Azores). Covid caused us to cancel our planned trip last year, but in March we decided to try again as Madeira was open to Portuguese residents only as long as you’d recently had a Covid test done. Our flight from Lisbon was just a little over two hours and we arrived to wonderful weather, about 20º (the average temperature throughout the year) with bright, clear blue skies. Madeira’s weather is similar to parts of thew Med with a mild and moderate subtropical climate. It varies dramatically, however from north to south and east to west creating small microclimates. The northwest is much wetter whereas the southwest is arid and dry. 

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Exploring Northern Portugal

Our trip into northern Portugal took us to the very top of the country, to a region that has the Spanish border both to the north (which follows the Minho River) and to the east (marked by the Peneda-Geres National Park). To the west is the Atlantic ocean while the Lima River forms this region’s southern border. Through the middle flows the Vez River from the north until it empties into the Lima River. 

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A visit to the Arabida Peninsula

Well, after a few delays caused by a couple of dreaded the “C” diseases (Cancer and Covid), we have finally been able to venture out of our apartment and do a little exploring once again. It seems that our travels for awhile will be limited to Portugal as the borders in Europe are not all open yet and flying anywhere right now is not only a little risky but downright complicated. So we’re happy to just take this time to get to know Portugal a little better.

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Biking Portugal

Anyone considering biking in Portugal, there’s an essential tool you must have and that’s the National Cycling Network guidebook, which maps out nearly 5,000 km of routes and includes GPS tracks in KML and GPX file formats, so you can follow the routes on your smartphone. As well, the guide has great photography and descriptions, so you have a really good idea of what your trip will entail before you begin.

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