Ever since I was a child, my happiest dreams have been those in which I fly. Rising above the earth, the world seemed so deliciously complete from the sky – that in-between state where struggle is strangely absent. It’s a feeling since resigned to that of my dream world. That is, until I ran away from the side of a 2,200m high mountain in Tenerife. My only surprising reaction? The effortless connection to these dreams: the absence of fear, the depth of gratitude, the height of awe and wonder.
It turns out that my first time paragliding is one of the many adventures that push the limits in this outdoor activity El Dorado of the Canary Islands. After a staggering half hour (parapentecanarias.com120 €) with a middle-aged man strapped to my back, I land in the northern coastal town of Puerto de la Cruz, watching surfers glide along the industrial-scale breakers spit up from the Atlantic, before heading to a zaperoco (a multi-layered, coffee liqueur from Tenerife) in the 18th-century pedestrian streets of the small town.
Getting around is not the slightest problem: it is a very clean, courteous and competent island, with careful drivers and beautiful roads
The largest and most populous of the Canary archipelago, Tenerife revels year-round in Mediterranean spring temperatures (i.e. hovering around 20 degrees), with sea temperatures ranging between 17 and 24 degrees, making it a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
While the south and south-east of the island can be, in broad strokes, borderline tacky, most of Tenerife’s nearly one million people are found in the north. And that tells you enough.
That said, there is an overabundance of things to do in the south (including the airport for flights from ex-Dublin) so go ahead, process it and come back each afternoon/evening to the “real thing” further north; more authentic bases such as Puerto de la Cruz, La Orotava, La Laguna, Santa Cruz or San Andrés.
Thus, a rental car is a necessity to explore the island, which extends over approximately 80 km. But getting around is no hassle: it’s a very clean, courteous and competent island, with careful drivers and beautiful roads allowing you to cover it in less than an hour.
If it’s been too long since you’ve felt your jaw drop, then a morning in Los Gigantes should settle that. On the southwest coast of the island, these 400m high calcified cliffs are truly awe-inspiring, and a two-hour boat-assisted kayak at their feet may be the most memorable sea kayaking you’ve ever experienced (tenoactivo.com30 €).
Alternatively, travel to Teno Activo at Los Gigantes Marina, ride a bus up the rugged mountains to the hilltop Guanche village of Mesca, then enjoy a three-hour guided hike through the arid, winding canyon to the small jetty, where you embark on a two-hour boat-assisted kayak to Los Gigantes Marina for a very reasonable €45 (or kayak and whale watching for €50). And I challenge you to find better value for a day of such activities in such stunning surroundings anywhere in Europe.
Anaga Experience (anagaexperience.com) is also a local adventure company offering an equally exciting suite of guided activities. But that’s climbing in Teide National Park (from €120) – piercing the skies, it boasts the highest mountain “in Spain”, at 3,718m and the third largest volcano of the world – which is the most memorable. Going up is the easiest part, when the most you can “fall” is a few centimeters, but going down is strangely petrifying.
For road cycling enthusiasts, Tenerife is up there with Mallorca as a well-connected, mountainous and well-tarmacked getaway
While there are endless hiking options, Anaga Experience also offers something a little more distinct in the gentle Tajinastes en Flor hike (€15-€25); a two- to three-hour sunset itinerary, led by trained local guides who connect the park’s rare flora, fauna, and geology with the island’s wider culture and history.
Unknown to me before my arrival, the isolation of these Canary Islands allowed them to evolve not only without predators – like some shrunken New Zealands – but for more than 140 endemic flora to flourish. The forests near the center are dominated by Canarian pine; centuries-old charcoal-barked evergreens that are effectively fire retardant.
Growing from spitting dry lava, these trees have evolved with and through regular volcanic fires, thanks to which about a month after being ostensibly burned to a standstill, they come to life again, like birthday cake candles. .
If off-road e-bike trails tickle your fancy, then a morning of blue skiing with Fun Bike Adventures (funbikeadventures.com) is a soft option. The company offers five separate off-road guided tours, but I opt for the Chinyero Tour (€60 for three hours), weaving through rock-covered pine forests to emerge above the tree line into fields of Martian lava from El Chinyero, the 1,560m high volcano whose last eruption was in 1909. Alternatively, just hire an e-bike from them for around €35 a day and hit the hills.
For ardent road cyclists, Tenerife is up there with Mallorca as a well-connected, mountainous and well-tarmacked getaway; so much so that the main professional teams station their training camps here for weeks.
In the south of the island, Free Motion (free-motion.com) in Los Cristianos offer guided routes ranging from 43km to over 100km, with a daily vertical drop of 500m to 2,000+m, depending on your level. But if you’d rather just hire the bike and go, it starts at around €24 per day.
For the northern half of the island, Teide Cycling (teidecycling.com) are based in Puerto de la Cruz, with great road bikes for around €30 a day, but they also offer training camps and tours, as well as cycling coaching.
With Teide Cycling kindly dropping off the bike at my accommodation, I start from sea level, at the old port of Puerto de la Cruz, on a cloudy morning, and finally climb the 2,300m to the highest road in all of Spain.
Like the rock climbing, this turns out to be the easy part. Descending through the clouds, though enveloped, I am frozen to the bone, shaking uncontrollably as I return through the clouds. I stop at the first barrio, pour three hot chocolates and defrost my paws under the electric hand dryer. All in all, worth every thrill. Ultimately.
But if all that sweaty palaver isn’t your thing, Tenerife still has plenty to offer the more passive fresh-air seekers. The finest sand beaches tend to be along the southern or northernmost shores, and for €10 the beachgoers among you can hardly beat a one-hour guided introduction to stand-up paddleboarding (anagaexperience.com), head to the golden sands (imported Saharan) of Las Teresitas beach in the northeast of the island, where you will stay until sunset.
Or you could do worse than three hours lounging on a fished catamaran (freebirdone.com, 35 €), spotting cetaceans off the south coast. We see a few short-finned pilot whales at whispering distance and coasting dolphins. It’s not the best in the world I know, but taking into account the climate and the catamaran, plus complementary food and soft drinks, it’s still good value for a morning at sea.
If, like Joxer in Juno and the Paycock, you’ve ever wondered “What are the stars?”, then head to Teide National Park at dusk on any Friday and you’ll find out in the next three hours. El Cardon NaturExperience (elcardon.com30 €) will take you on a gentle guided hike around the caldera, whose elevation of over 2,000m allows for minimal light pollution.
As the guide delves into the realm of astronomy, linking myths and legends to the constellations, I wonder if the world of stars seems as delightfully complete from the air as it does to me in my dreams.
How to get there
Aer Lingus and Ryanair both fly to Tenerife South Airport, from around €40 each way.