It took us 34 hours to sail the 160 miles from Arrecife in Lanzarote to Santa Cruz on the north-east coast of Tenerife.
Sailing route: Lanzarote to Tenerife
For the first 12 hours we made slow northwest progress in light westerly winds and an Atlantic swell. Thereafter, as forecast, the wind veered through north to northeast and picked up. This enabled us to have a faster and more direct, albeit rather rolly, downwind sail for the rest of our passage to Santa Cruz.
Downwind sailing once wind veered and increased
Set in a natural bay, behind the Anaga mountains to its north, Santa Cruz’s harbour is well protected from the prevailing northerly winds. The city’s harbour accommodates the island’s commercial, container, fishing, ferry and cruise-liner ports in addition to four marinas. The harbour is split into four self-contained ports sited along the coastline – each with its own entrance and breakwater.
Chart showing the four ports in Santa Cruz harbour
We pulled into Marina Santa Cruz in the most southerly port (Darsena de Llanos). It is adjacent to the city centre and is set up for and welcomes visiting yachts. The other three marinas in the harbour either don’t encourage visitors or have no room for them.
Aerial photo of Marina Santa Cruz adjacent to city centre
We’ve been to Darsena de Llanos twice before. In 1999 we made landfall there after five days’ sailing from Portugal on our way to the Caribbean. At that time the port made no provision for yachts and we simply tied up to a dock wall and made the best of it. Three years later we picked up a boat from the port, by now called Marina del Atlantico, and delivered it back to the UK. By then there were a few token pontoons and a couple of Portakabins which acted as the marina office and facilities.
Old Marina del Atlantico sign dumped ashore
A protective mole has since been constructed in the port that separates the marina from the commercial basin and protects it from southerly winds. The old, temporary pontoons have been replaced and a permanent marina office and facilities have been built. They now even have washing machines! The marina, however, appears to be a hybrid in that the property is still owned by the port authorities but it is run for them by a private company. This is not necessarily conducive to customer service or efficiency but nevertheless it's an improvement and the best option we had available.
|View of Santa Cruz marina from outer breakwater with city and Anaga Mountains behind|
of the marina's washing machine!
Santa Cruz is both the capital of Tenerife and of the western islands (La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro). It jointly shares responsibility for the regional government of the Canary Islands with Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria and the eastern islands.
Overview of Canary Islands Archipelago
Roughly triangular in shape, Tenerife is the largest island in the Canaries Archipelago. It is 86 miles long and has a surface area of 2050 square kilometres. A third of the resident population of 900,000 live in either Santa Cruz or La Laguna, the nearby inland “ex capital”, which has now been physically merged with Santa Cruz. An excellent tram service joins the two locations.
Modern tram connecting Santa Cruz
and neighbouring town of La Laguna
and neighbouring town of La Laguna
The cone of Mount Teide, in the centre of the island, can be seen from most parts of Tenerife. Indeed, the adjacent islands of La Gomera, La Palma and Gran Canaria, can also be seen from the top of Teide. The mountain’s peak rises from one edge of the enormous central plateau of a volcanic crater. The area has been a national park since 1954. At 3717 metres Teide is, incidentally, the highest mountain in Spain.
Mount Teide from a distance across volcanic crater
Volcanic plateau with multi-coloured rocks
The upper slopes of the mountain are covered with Canary Pines, whose very long needles have evolved to capture moisture from the air. One aged specimen is over 200 feet tall.
Road along dorsal ridge dividing Tenerife
surrounded by Canary Pines
Piño Gordo – the largest Canary Pine on the island
North access to Teide being cleared of dislodged snow
Mount Teide in the snow
The Anaga Mountains lie to the northeast of the island and the Teno range lies to the southwest. They are joined by a dorsal ridge which runs the length of the island through Teide. This causes a dramatic climatic difference between the north and south faces of the island. Winds carry moisture from the Atlantic up the north face of the mountain range resulting in cloud, rainfall and a temperate climate in the north, compared with the dry, sunny and hot weather in the south.
Relief model of Tenerife in Military Museum, Santa Cruz
Google Earth view of Tenerife, enhanced to distinguish between the lush green north and the dry south
As with the other islands there are excellent (EU-funded) roads both around and across the island.
Principal roads on the island
Our first consideration, as in the other islands, was to determine what was available on Tenerife in terms of sailing and “parking”. In respect of the former it soon became clear that with the particularly strong Wind Acceleration Zones (WAZ) at critical points sailing around the island or indeed sailing north could be hard work! Sailing south was easy.
Wind Acceleration Zones in the Canaries
We therefore hired a car (£17 per day + fuel at £1/litre) and visited each of the “known” marinas, ports and anchorages. In summary, we concluded that none of them compared, for us as cruisers, with Marina Santa Cruz which is set up to accommodate visiting yachts. Six of the other locations were, however, practical propositions in that they were at least theoretically willing to take visitors “if they have any space”, but they were clearly not set up with that objective nor were they prepared to take reservations, except possibly out of season. Hence one could arrive only to be turned away – which would not be funny in strong winds when one’s options would then be limited. There were also three anchorages that could be used in favourable conditions.
Overview of ports, marinas and anchorages, together with places of general interest referred to in the text
For the benefit of those sailors amongst you who are thinking of coming this way, we have listed below those "parking" locations that we thought might be practical propositions. The problem, as ever, is that the term “visiting yachts” is open to interpretation by marina staff. Some live-aboards using visitors’ berths have almost become part of the local community. One can, however, understand that from marina or port staff’s point of view they are less work since Police paperwork has to be filled in and submitted for every visiting yacht.
Marina Radazul is a well-protected and apparently secure, family-owned small marina and boatyard, 5 miles south of Santa Cruz. We liked the look of it. However, Santa Cruz was more central and convenient for us.
Marina Radazul – a family-owned marina
5 miles south of Santa Cruz
Marina San Miguel is also a private marina but it is in the Wind Acceleration Zone at the south of Tenerife. Developed in conjunction with the Amarilla Golf and Country Club, it boasts an interesting marina office intended to resemble a ship’s superstructure when seen from offshore. However, it is some way from any town or shops.
Marina office built to resemble a ship’s superstructure
when viewed from sea
Marina del Sur is on the edge of the small bustling unspoilt Spanish holiday town of Las Galettas. It also lies in the Wind Acceleration Zone, but appeared to be more protected and accessible than San Miguel.
Marina del Sur with Las Galettas town behind
Puerto Colón lies on the more protected south-west coast of the island. It is north of but close to the holiday resorts of both Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos. It appeared very full to us although they claim that they take visitors. When we phoned to specifically ask for a berth, they said they were completely full.
Puerto Colón – small private marina north of
Playa de las Americas catering for local speedboats
Puerto de los Gigantes nestles on the protected south-west coast under a gigantic cliff face. Again, it looked full of small local motorboats – but management claimed that spaces are available for visiting yachts. It’s possible that they feel obliged to keep saying so, since planning permission may have been granted on that condition?
Los Gigantes – marina, town and giant cliffs
Garachico’s brand-new government port is on the west end of the north coast facing the Atlantic. It currently has plenty of room and welcomes visiting yachts. From the south it could be difficult to reach if the winds in the Acceleration Zone were strong. While fairly bare with large expanses of concrete, it does appear to be well protected behind an enormous breakwater – once you're in.
Three anchorages are worthy of mention: Bahía de Abona on the east coast where there is a choice of location to suit wind direction, although local moorings appear to take up a lot of the room; Los Cristianos on the south-west coast where we used to stay 14 years ago (see below) – but where the local authorities no longer allow anchoring except in one very small corner, and Bahía de Masca, at the northern end of the south-west coast.
Los Cristianos’ excellent anchorage as it was
14 years ago before anchoring was banned!
The fact is that with steep slopes on beaches and a rocky bottom, anchoring is not easy in the Canaries. This problem has been accentuated by the fact that the best anchorages are slowly being taken over by marinas, ports or local “fishermen’s” mooring buoys and there is now little space, if any, for visitors. Anchoring on spec close to shore is simply a no-no given the implications of a dragging hook.
While driving around the coast, we explored local areas of interest, of which the seven we found most interesting are described below.
The ancient laurel forest covers the Anaga Mountains to the north of Santa Cruz. Laurels used to cover much of the Mediterranean but now the forests in Tenerife and La Gomera are two of the few remaining areas in Europe. Some small coastal villages along the north coast have been developed as local holiday resorts. This coast is however totally unsuited to parking a yacht!
Laurisilva forest in Anaga Mountains, north of Santa Cruz
Puerto de la Cruz, halfway along the rugged northwest coast, was the first holiday “resort” (for wealthy Europeans) in the nineteenth century. Today it tries to maintain this reputation. While called a Puerto, it is not – at least as far as yachts are concerned. Our principal interest in the area was the Botanical Gardens just outside the town. These were set up in 1788 on the instructions of Charles III of Spain to acclimatize tropical and semi-tropical plants prior to introducing them into gardens in Spain.
Strangler fig tree in the Botanical Gardens,
Puerto de la Cruz
The town is situated in the Orotava Valley, “discovered” in 1799 by the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, who said: “Nowhere have I seen a more varied, a more harmonious or a more attractive scene.” This old description may be a little flowery but it is certainly a fertile and beautiful valley.
Icod de los Vinos, one of Tenerife’s oldest towns, was founded in 1501. It was originally a Guanche settlement. Here there is a famous Dragon Tree, reputed to be the oldest in the world at over 600 years. The dragon tree’s most striking feature, the bleeding of red, rubbery sap (Dragon’s Blood) when cut, gave the tree its name. Traditionally it has been used in a variety of applications, including healing salves and even the mummification process. More recently it has been used as a dye in toothpaste. The popularity of the sap meant that the trees were tapped to death and now only a handful of large specimens survive.
World’s oldest Dragon Tree (said to be over 600 years old)
Garachico, a large part of which was destroyed in 1706 following the eruption of the nearby volcano Montaña Quemada, was soon rebuilt by the inhabitants. (It is said that the lava had barely cooled before the work commenced!) Unfortunately for the town the harbour, which had been the major port for Tenerife, was filled in by lava and has only recently been replaced by the new marina referred to above. Today many of the town’s fine old buildings have been carefully restored and it is a particularly interesting and attractive place to visit.
Garachico historic town viewed from hill above
Banana plantations, some under plastic covers, are everywhere!
Banana plantation – one of the many
throughout the island
The Teno Mountains at the west end of the island contain small hamlets that until 1990 were not linked to the road system. They traditionally existed through agriculture but now flourish as tourist attractions.
Hamlet of Masca in the Teno Mountains
– considered one of the prettiest towns in the island –
viewed from mountain road
Terraced fields in Teno Mountains
Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas at the south of the island make no pretence of being anything other than what they are, namely by far the biggest resorts in Tenerife for tourists seeking a holiday in the sun.
The Basilica de Candelaria, a Canarian Neo-Colonial-style basilica, is home to the Canary Islands’ most revered shrine, that of the Virgin of Candelaria. She is the patron saint of both Tenerife and all the other islands.
Basilica de Candelaria, home of the island’s patron saint, photographed from above, showing Puerto La Galera in the background, where the Club Nautico la Galera now says that it does not accept visiting yachtsmen!
Santa Cruz, where we initially based ourselves, is a bustling commercial city and harbour, quite different from anywhere else on the island or indeed the whole archipelago, other than Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. Even so the pace is relatively leisurely. Large areas are either pedestrianised, traffic calmed or one-way streets. Pavement bars and cafés are firmly in local hands – unlike in the south of the island where many are run by ex-pats.
Typical side street in Santa Cruz
While waiting for the Carnival we took the opportunity to visit many of the historic sites and points of interest in Santa Cruz. Half a dozen or so of those that we found most interesting are illustrated below:
The War Memorial in the Plaza de España on the edge of the port commemorates those who died in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).
War Memorial to those who died in the Spanish Civil War
The futuristic Auditorio, a recently built concert hall in the shape of waves, cost 73 million Euros and is home to the prestigious Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.
The nineteen decoratively tiled benches in the Plaza de 25 Julio in Santa Cruz incorporate “advertising” plaques for the different trades in the islands. (The Canary Islands are well known for excellent tiles and pottery, both for decorative and practical use.)
El Tigre, the cannon said to have fired the shot that led to Nelson’s arm being amputated during his failed attempt to take the city in 1797, is displayed in a museum under the Plaza de Espana, close to the marina.
the amputation of Nelson's arm
The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción on Plaza de la Iglesia was built in 1502. Its slender black and white bell tower is Moorish in influence. Inside are a magnificent altar piece, the Cross of Conquest, carried by Alonso de Lugo’s troops in 1494 when they landed in Tenerife, and flags captured from Nelson’s troops in 1797.
Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, containing the Cross of Conquest carried by Spanish troops in 1494
La Recova is the popular name for the African market in Santa Cruz. An amazing selection of fresh produce is colourfully displayed within a Saharan-style walled and tiled compound.
in Santa Cruz
Fruit and vegetable stall in the African market
La Teresitas beach in San Andrés just to the north of Santa Cruz was constructed in 1975 from four million sacks of imported Saharan sand. Breakwaters stop the sand being washed away and ensures that bathing is calm. The beach is used primarily at weekends by locals from Santa Cruz and La Laguna.
Artificial beach of La Teresita, constructed from 4 million sacks of Saharan sand
La Laguna, in the hills to the north-west of Santa Cruz, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. It was founded by Alonso Fernandez de Lugo in 1496, as a base away from the coast and marauding pirates. Subsequently it became the location of the first university in the Canaries (there is now another in Las Palmas). The old quarter, San Cristobal, is particularly attractive, laid out in a grid of streets comprising beautifully restored buildings.
Colourfully restored buildings in old quarter of La Laguna:
The sixteenth-century Neo-Classical cathedral Santa Iglesia lies in the heart of the quarter and contains a vast Baroque altar piece, silver altar, fine Flemish works of art, an English organ and a 1767 marble pulpit. Unfortunately the cathedral is currently being renovated, is therefore closed to the public and we couldn’t see any of these!
Cathedral in La Laguna, currently being renovated
Not far to the south of the town is the island’s original airport, Tenerife Norte. Regrettably it has always suffered, being at the height it is, from poor visibility as a consequence of fog or cloud cover. In March 1977 the airport suffered the worst aviation disaster in history, when 560 people were killed as two Jumbo jets collided on the runway. Today the airport services only inter-island flights, following the construction of a second, international, airport, at the south of Tenerife.
Tenerife Norte airport, scene of worst aviation
disaster in history
Our principal objective in coming to Santa Cruz de Tenerife at the beginning of March was to see their famous Carnival which is spread over a period of three weeks. In particular, we wanted to see the final parade and “The Burial of the Sardine” (!).
Santa Cruz Carnaval programme
Every night during the run-up to the final parade (the “Coso”), there were street parties that went on until dawn. The Coso itself was everything it was cracked up to be. It took the procession three hours to pass by; the street was lined three-deep with spectators, many in fancy dress, from all over the island, plus cruise ship and ferry passengers. There were colourful floats, bands, dancing groups, choirs and individual performers. The photographs below hopefully give an impression of the atmosphere.
Carnaval Queen – Amanda Perdomo
Carnaval street scenes
The following day, on Ash Wednesday evening, we attended the comically absurd “Burial of the Sardine”. The occasion starts with the effigy of a ridiculously large sardine on a float being paraded (for over three hours!) through the streets of the city surrounded by an 800-metre long entourage of grieving “widows” in black (of either sex) who wailed the night away. Both participants and the mass of spectators entered into the spirit of the event by dressing appropriately (or misappropriately in many cases) in mourning clothes, widow’s weeds or drag! The sardine was finally cremated near the promenade, followed by fireworks and a three-hour Ball. This effectively ended the Carnaval and started Lent – although other towns on the island will now commence their own festivities.
Some of the many “widows” attending the sardine’s funeral
We have not forgotten the “foodies” among you but have merely kept the best until last. This time our "chosen subjects" are avocado pears and honey rum!
The former are locally grown. Unlike the avocados one buys at home, these come straight off the tree and in consequence are neither brown inside nor as hard as rocks. In brief, they are perfect both in looks and flavour. They are now part of our staple diet, either simply halved and dressed with balsamic glaze and olive oil or turned into guacamole (mashed with finely chopped onion, green peppers, tomatoes concasse, lime zest, lime juice and guacamole spices – served with Doritos). An avocado and salad wrap makes a good lunch.
Guacamole made from the delicious local avocados
Honey rum is another local produce that has slowly worked its way on to our table. It’s delicious chilled on its own, or stirred into milk as a bedtime drink! At £5 a litre, the budget can stand it.
Tomorrow we’re off to the island of La Gomera via a weekend stop at the marina at Las Galletas. Hopefully we'll find an Irish sports bar in Playa de las Americas so that we can watch the rugby over the weekend.
Canary Islands Archipelago