If you live in Europe, are you planning a trip to the Canary Islands? The Canary Islands are located south of Spain and are similar to the Bahamas, which are south of the US. Both boast warm weather and have wonderful beaches and scenery. However, there are many islands just like the Bahamas. So how do you choose? You have to do a bit of research because each island can offer different experiences. For my family of five, we decided to visit the island of Tenerife. Let me share some of the unique places we found and some lessons learned so you too can plan your next trip to the Canary Islands.
Things To Do in Tenerife
Tenerife was our destination for a few reasons. We found some cheap airline tickets online right around Christmas for a trip in January. We normally don’t go to the beach during that time of year, but we figured it would be a nice break from the cold German winter.
Our trip was over a four day weekend in late January and we wanted to make the most of our trip to the Canary Islands. We wanted some beach time but also to explore and do things that are unique to the island. Since our beach vacations are normally in the Outer Banks in North Carolina, we wanted something similar. It had to have something for everyone. That is when I discovered that Tenerife had a volcano in the middle of the island called El Teide.
El Teide is smack in the middle of the island of Tenerife. It is a dormant volcano (the last eruption was in 1908) but you can visit it and take a cable car up near the top. It is the highest peak in Spain and is the third tallest volcano in the world. We found that it was an hour away from where we were staying and decided to take a trip. It was something unique and we wanted to experience being on a once active volcano. Little did we know that the road up to the base would change drastically. To get to the base of El Teide, you had to drive along switchbacks from the city sea level, to pine forest, to desert scrub and then finally just volcanic rock.
These are some of the photos I took along the way. There is no public bus service to get you to El Teide, so you either have to rent a car or take bus tour to the base of the volcano. Once you get to the base, you can take a cable car near the top of the volcano. It is recommended you buy tickets before you go so you can reserve your time. Be aware you have to buy separate tickets to go up on the cable car and separate tickets to get down via the cable car. You can also get a free permit to hike the rest of the way up the volcano to the top but you are at over 11,000 feet in elevation at that point.
Black Sandy Beaches
Black sand? Yes, BLACK SAND.
According to the blog Just Go Places, the “black sand is a result of the volcanic balsatic coastline meeting the erosion of the sea.” Black sand is definitely unique to the area. Interestingly enough, the southern side of Tenerife didn’t have black sandy beaches. The sand there was mostly golden. However, we stayed in a lovely apartment in Punta Brava on the northwestern side of the island which boasted the black sandy beaches. We are used to the golden sands of The Outer Banks so this was a treat to play in black sand.
The beach was well maintained and had a volleyball court, showers and bathrooms nearby as well as local restaurants to sit and eat by the water. There were lifeguards and warning flags were posted when we there in January. You also had to watch out for the volcanic rocks that sat by the edge of the water. Those were dangerously sharp and the currents could sweep you towards them.
While the weather was only 68 degrees Fahrenheit when we there, there were many locals in the water. We didn’t get in too far but enjoyed playing in the sand and getting our feet wet. This time of year allowed us to enjoy the warmer weather without the tourist season. With this weather, we also enjoyed sitting outside and eating the wonderful Spanish cuisine it offered.
Canary Island Cuisine
While the island boasts fresh fish as part of their traditional cuisine, this really didn’t sit well with the kids. The kids did have to come out of their comfort zone of cereal for breakfast, but once they tasted some fresh bread with melted ham and cheese or omelettes, they were hooked.
The local cafes served breakfast and while some had menus, one of our favorite places didn’t really have a breakfast menu. Since the locals could be seen at these places, we decided to try it too. They served omelettes on baguettes and something called a Spanish omelette. The Spanish omelette was made with Canarian potatoes that are grown on the island, boiled and salted. One morning their egg delivery didn’t make it but they could make a Spanish omelette. We found out that is was simply their salted potatoes sliced thinly with melted cheese and placed on a french-style baguette. They also served fresh squeezed orange juice which is pure oranges without any added sugar and it was DELICIOUS.
Ham and cheese omelette
One of our kids doesn’t like eggs but she loves a good ham and cheese melt. However, ham and cheese was normally served at lunch not breakfast, so at first it was odd to them. But she was hungry and declared it to be yummy! There are variations to any kind of breakfast sandwich and most places are willing to adjust the menu if they can.
As previously mentioned, we weren’t in favor of the fresh fish so we opted to find something that everyone could enjoy. There are many restaurants to pick from, especially in southern Tenerife, but there were a few up north where we stayed that were within walking distance. Being how this is part of Europe, make sure you check open hours before you set out for dinner. Some places don’t open until 6pm or later but we found one place that was open at 5pm and that was an Italian restaurant.
The kids were happy because they could order pizza or a pasta dish. We were fortunate enough to find a place that had outdoor seating and a wood fired oven to cook all your meals. Of course, being in Spain, I had to try their Sangria and I was not disappointed. The red wine was sweet and the fruit was delicious. It was perhaps the best Sangria I had in a long time.
We ordered the bruschetta sampler platter that had 4 different toppings: traditional, ham & pineapple, tuna and tomato with artichokes. The traditional one was my favorite followed closely with ham & pineapple. The special that night was lasagna which we ordered as well as penne with cream sauce which was similar to alfredo sauce but just as good. The kids declared they had the best pizza there in the world and I would agree. The crust was fantastic and the sauce was really good too.
Places to go with Kids
The kids loved hanging out at the beach (of course) even thought the water wasn’t too warm in January. They got in anyway and enjoyed being away from 32 degree weather in Germany. The black sand was different enough and the sun warmed it up so that it felt real good under your toes.
This aquarium/zoo was a 5 minute walk from our apartment so it was easy to get to. The kids really enjoyed the dolphin and orca shows because they had never been to Sea World. Loro Parque also has “Kinder World” where kids can explore tree houses and bridges to blow off some steam. There was a nice small roller coaster and a cafe for the parents to sit nearby. All in all, I think this place held their interest for about 2 hours and they were ready to go. The penguins were also great to see and the park did a fantastic job of putting other exotic fish like jelly fish in huge glass tubes to see them glow in the dark.
We never did make it to Siam Park but that is on the southern part of the island. It is a huge water park and the water is heated. If you buy tickets to Siam Park, you can also get discounted tickets to Loro Parque (or vice versa). However, be aware these 2 places are about an hour apart by car. So plan accordingly on what your kids want to do.
It’s a volcano and you can’t say you have been on one before unless you’ve been to Hawaii. This is as unique as it gets and it gets the kids out. You do have to bring warmer clothing because you are at a higher elevation. When we went up in January, it was around 40 degrees F near the top of the volcano and the coast was at 68 F.
It also takes about an hour to drive from the coast up to the base of the volcano to reach the cable car. We spent at least half a day doing this, then went to visit the southern part of the island for dinner and then drove another hour to get back up north to our apartment. There weren’t many restaurants along the way and while there was a cafe at the base of the volcano, I would suggest packing snacks or buying snacks there. In all, this was an all day excursion so plan accordingly.
Lessons Learned During Our Stay in the Canary Islands
You can’t have a trip without learning something from it and we learned A LOT. Even though we traveled a few places since we’ve moved to Germany, we continue to learn something from each trip. So here are our lessons learned from our trip to the Canary Islands, specifically Tenerife.
1 – Get a rental car if you are staying in Northern Tenerife
We tried to reserve a car before we got there but it didn’t work out. After doing some research before our trip, there are free hotel shuttles from the airport to hotels in the southern part of Tenerife but not necessarily for the northern part. There are actually 2 airports on Tenerife, so know where you are landing and where you are staying. It took us about 30 minutes from Tenerife Norte Airport to our apartment but it was an easy drive. Most of it was on the freeway along the coastline.
2 – You don’t normally have to pay for street parking
In Germany, you almost always have to pay for street parking. We found that while our apartment didn’t have reserved parking on Tenerife, street parking was available. However, the streets are narrow and of course, parking can be a bear. Just be patient and aware how big your car really is to fit in spots.
3 – Not all restaurants are listed on Google maps
We found this out the hard way. We knew there were restaurants around as we walked the neighborhood but they weren’t always listed on Google maps. Sometimes you have to be adventurous and walk around until you find a place. Most restaurants list their menu outside their entrance but that is not always the full menu.
We found Casa Canaria on Google maps for breakfast and then saw another, La Estrella Cafe and Bar down a block. Don’t let the “bar” part fool you. It was a great place that the locals stopped by for breakfast and that is where we discovered spanish omelettes. The Italian resturant, Restaurant Pizzeria JMM, was on the map but it didn’t really show up on searches.
4 – Pick the right airport
Remember when we said we found some cheap airline tickets from Stuttgart to the Canary Islands? We booked them to Gran Canaria, which is another island before we realized we should have booked tickets to Tenerife. No worries, there are ferries and short airline hops to Tenerife. However, the airline hop was another 30 minutes and 250 euros on top of the cheap tickets that we initially got for 100 euro per person. The ferry is a 2 hour ride and also costs about the same if not more. So we swallowed the additional hop over via airplane to Tenerife to save time.
On the way back, I booked a 1pm flight from Tenerife to Gran Canaria so that we could make our 4pm flight back to Stuttgart. However, the 1pm flight got cancelled at the last minute (no idea why) and we had to scramble to get the next flight out to catch our Stuttgart flight. Luckily there was a 2pm flight so we made it but sometimes, these small hops get cancelled. So be aware and choose which island you want to stay on and get a direct flight there if you can.
5 – Brush up on your Spanish
It’s amazing how easily you can converse with the locals just by knowing a few words in Spanish. Even though we stayed on the northern part of Tenerife, some people spoke a little English. Words like “Gracias and por favor” got you a long way because at least you were trying. However, since we are now living in Germany and we are trying to learn German, we sometimes forgot where we were and said “Danke or bitte” instead. Oops. But we quickly realized our error and fixed it. It’s amazing how many different languages you have to go through before you land on the one you need.
6 – Carry-ons are limited to 1-liter clear plastic bag of liquids (under 100 ml) per person
If you are traveling with carry-on bags only like we did, there are some limitations. Not only are you limited to your liquids being in a bottle of 100ml or less, one person can only carry 1 liter of liquid total. We didn’t check any baggage because it was a short trip and the airlines charge you for every bag except carry-on. When packing toiletries, make sure you place all your liquid items such as sunscreen, foundation, creams, toothpaste in a clear 1 liter plastic bag and place it near to the top of your bag so you can easily snag it when going through security. We knew about the 100ml limit (as opposed to the 4oz limit in the US) but were surprised about the 1 liter per person. Luckily, we passed since there were five of us, but it could have been worse.
7 – Load Whatsapp and VPN on your smartphone
Our apartment host used Whatsapp to contact us after using booking.com to make the reservation. He was able to meet us at the apartment, show us around and then give us the keys. We then agreed to contact him via Whatsapp to schedule our departure and give him back the keys.
Also, while the apartment had free Wifi, make sure you have a VPN loaded on your phone in case you need to do any transactions. I had to order the tickets for the El Teide cable car from the apartment and my bank blocked it because it was in a different country. So I had to access my online banking to get approval on the transaction. Believe me, you don’t want your banking login out in the open even with a private Wifi. You never know where that information goes. We bought NordVPN a few months ago and loaded it on our phones so that came in handy.
Armed with this knowledge, you can see that a trip to the Canary Islands is one you will soon not forget. It is unique and there are plenty of things to keep you busy to enjoy the island. Adios!