At Real Tenerife it drives us loopy when anyone refers to Tenerife simply as a resort. It’s an island that has tourist resorts on it. Referring to it purely with the ‘resort’ tag completely undermines the fact that people have lived and worked on this island for centuries before the advent of mass tourism and that many residents of Tenerife still have nothing directly to do with tourism.
Sure there are purpose built tourist resorts built purely for the pleasure of visiting holiday makers and sure parts of Tenerife are over developed…but they aren’t necessarily connected. To understand that it’s important to understand the types of towns and villages that exist on Tenerife. To do that we need to break the island into geographical sections.
The South and South West of Tenerife
Some people believe that mass tourism and the development of purpose-built tourist resorts ruined parts of the south of Tenerife. First of all, pre-tourism hardly anyone lived in the south of Tenerife. As far as many islanders were concerned, civilisation, like the road, more or less stopped at Güímar. As little as 50 years ago there were people still living in caves in Los Cristianos.
The areas where the main southern resorts have been built were arid lands which weren’t much use to man nor beast. The only people who lived at the coast were small fishing communities. The irony is that the lands that no-one wanted a hundred years ago are the lands that are most attractive to visitors seeking the golden treasure in the sky for exactly the same reason; lots of sunshine and lack of rainfall. Most people lived in small towns in the hills where the land was better for farming and attacks from pirates less likely.
Nowadays the south coast is characterised by a mix of purpose built resorts, big and small, that have little in common with traditional Tenerife and resorts that have grown up around fishing communities where traditions and some semblance of Canarian culture still exists. The hill towns are still there and these retain a strong Canarian culture. Life in them is very different than at the coast and most visitors rarely venture into these communities. For travellers they can offer some of the most interesting locations to stay in the south.
The North and West of Tenerife
Historically, this was where the prime farming lands were and subsequently where the richest settlers set up communities following the conquest of Tenerife. Their grand haciendas are still plentiful along the whole of the coast and in historic towns that stretch from Santa Cruz to Buenavista del Norte. There are no purpose built resorts save for Bajamar/Punta de Hidalgo in the far north which was built as a summer retreat for Laguneros (people from La Laguna). There has been over-development on the north coast…but to create housing for Canarios rather than for tourism. Apart from places like Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava, Icod de los Vinos and Garachico towns along the north coast have become ‘off the beaten track’. We say ‘have become’ because in Victorian times all travellers to Tenerife would probably have passed through these settlements on their way to Tenerife’s most noble town, La Orotava. Nowadays the north and west coast offers travellers a choice of coastal resorts, historic centres and bustling working towns that are all very Canarian in personality.
The East and North East of Tenerife
In some ways a mix of the two above…apart from the fact that there are no purpose built resorts. The breezy east coast still has many tiny fishing communities whilst the hills are home to small traditional farming communities. The two main historic centres on the east coast are at Candelaria and Güímar which, as mentioned before, was pretty much the end of the road until the 1940s. The capital of Tenerife, Santa Cruz, lies in the north east and is a modern port with historic quarters. It is also the cultural centre of the island. Inland from the capital and joined seamlessly by the modern housing that links the two is La Laguna, the island’s former capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This metropolitan area is home to the greatest concentration of people living on Tenerife and is ideal for anyone who enjoys bustling city life. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some of the most remote villages are to be found in the Anaga Mountains that rise up behind both cities. Here there are tiny agricultural hamlets hidden in the folds of lush ravines that are about as far removed from most people’s idea of Tenerife as you could imagine.
But that’s the reality of the real Tenerife – small fishing communities, agricultural hamlets, historic towns and ports, bustling working towns, cities and, of course, modern purpose-built resorts.