For a bit of a different insight in traveling, here’s a story from the time when I still used to go to travel agencies to book my travels. Back then, I didn’t have much experience with planning a trip, and because of time constraints, this was the best option. The charter flight and the hotel reservation were both arranged by the agency, but we decided that we would think about which tours to take upon arrival.
When I was little, The Canary Islands were to me those fancy islands which I overheard Russian tourists discussing at the airport when accompanying my father on my first trip to London. At the time, The Canaries seemed like somewhere that the average human would never be able to go to – I didn’t even really know where they were located. After this journey, though, my conclusion is that they are very much reachable, and somewhere that I would gladly return to.
We flew out on the 26th of June, right after Jāņi (the Latvian festival celebrating the summer solstice). We had initially planned to be gone by the time of the festival, but there were a lot of people looking to do the same, and all the seats had been booked on the flight we had wanted to take. On the plus side, we had some additional time to pick a hotel, as well as to convince the agency to include it in the summer offer since our hotel of choice (Roca Nivaria, 5 stars, located at the Playa Paraiso resort) is usually only available in winter. It is located a fair distance away from the biggest resort city on Tenerife, the Playa de las Americas. Regardless, it’s not too far away from the airport, and after less than half an hour of driving, we arrived at the hotel just in time to drop off our luggage at our room and hurry to the hotel restaurant for supper. There was a dress code to abide in the restaurant- for men: long pants were mandatory (no shorts) as well as no sleeveless shirts – at least a decent T-shirt. Flip-flops and other informal pieces of clothing were also advised against. In the hotel room we found a welcome drink, as well as some fresh, locally grown bananas. We had already seen several banana plantations on our way from the airport, with the bananas wrapped in blue plastic.
We decided to spend the first day for relaxing by the pool (of which the hotel had four: two kid-sized pools, a big, heated up saltwater pool with hot tubs next to it, and a large freshwater pool with a more or less natural water temperature plus a beautiful faux waterfall). We did not swim in the ocean, since the color of the water seemed very unappealing, and the artificial beach with the dust-like sand didn’t seem very clean. Still, lots of guests were snorkeling just several meters away from the coast, or fishing from the blocks of hardened lava.
The air temperature on the island is quite mild – around 25°C nearly all year long, except a bit colder during the winter; however the tourist season here is indeed the winter. During the summer it is only a bit warmer, yet the hotels had few guests, and lots of stores were closed. Nonetheless, this was not an issue to us since we weren’t here for the shopping, though we did buy some gifts to bring back to relatives. We booked the hotel HB, even though we had the chance to take AI since we knew that for two days of our stay at Tenerife we wouldn’t be at the hotel anyway. We were just fine with eating some sandwiches ( made with supplies from a nearby store) for lunch, along with some fruit from the hotel breakfast. The meals in the hotel were excellent. An impressive variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish, as well as all-you-can eat dessert and ice cream during the evenings. We were often so full after breakfast that we didn’t even want to think about food until late in the afternoon! The hotel employees were very friendly, our rooms were always cleaned very well (room cleaning service twice a day), and every room had a view of the sea. Upon leaving, we saw some of the other hotels, including our second choice if we had not been able to book Roca Nivaria, and were surprised at the drop off in quality that just one less star meant. Even 4 star hotels looked much more unappealing. It was clear that it’s better just to pay the extra 140 euro per week, live in a truly beautiful hotel, not be concerned about whether the hotel food is even edible, and go swimming with towels and parasols provided by the hotel at no extra charge.
Something to pay extra attention to is your choice of sunscreen. As it turned out, my SPF 20 Nivea sunscreen was either too weak, or not waterproof as advertised, and on the very first day I already got quite significant sunburns on my décolleté, hips and toes, where the skin is tenderer. It was Saturday (all the pharmacies were closed on both Saturday and Sunday) and of course I had forgotten the most important medicine – the spray-on burn medicine Panthenol – at home. All of the burns (aside from the décolleté) had more or less healed within three days, but the décolleté was still sore even a week later. We were definitely not the only ones who had sunbathed too much. We saw tons of tourists (mostly Germans, some Frenchmen and some Brits) with very serious sunburns continuing to lay in the sun and tan. The island is near Africa, and getting sunburns here is incredibly quick. We met with a tour guide, who told us about the available tours and their respective prices. After some quick calculations, we came to the conclusion that renting a car for two days would not only allow us to see everything at a much more reasonable pace, but even cheaper! The pacing on hotel tours is usually horrid, which we experienced fully during our trips to Tunisia and Croatia, where you barely have time to take one photo without the tour guide rushing everyone forward, chanting that there’s only 5 minutes for each object. We opted to visit fewer destinations, but have a good look at the ones that we did. We even considered visiting the island of La Gomera, but decided that spending three days out of seven on tours would be too tiring, so we stuck with the idea of renting a car and leaving the rest of the archipelago for next time.
So, the tour to the Teide Park would cost us 50 euro per person, with a tour of Loro Parque also at 50 euro per person, or 62 euro per person with dinner included. Since there were two of us, just these two tours would cost us 224 euro.
The rental-car approach would cost us 76 euro for the car itself (VW Polo, 1.4, 5 doors, with a radio and air conditioning) and 30 euro for the fuel (the fuel on the island was incredibly cheap). When renting a car – don’t just grab the first offer you see – the TezTour booklet price listing for the car we rented was 45 euro/day, with the official hotel renting service offering 40 euro/day. After insisting to be shown some other options, we were shown a pricelist for other rental services, which had much more acceptable prices, which lowered further once we actually called them. Insurance was included. We weren’t asked to deposit a sum for security purposes, but the car was almost out of fuel when we got it. We filled up the gas tank, since we did not know how much would we need (we ended up returning the car having spent over half of the fuel). A tour to the top of the Teide volcano cost us 25 euro/person, after which we had some sandwiches (6.60 in total) and drank some water (<1 euro for two bottles) during lunch. For entry into Loro Parque, we paid 65 euro for two tickets (which can be purchased on location or online, in advance, which saves you the trouble of standing in line by the entrance), where we had some bread and some ice cream, which cost us a total of 8 euro. The parking lot was 2.40 euro.
In total: 239 euro. Paying just a bit more than we would have for the tours at the hotel, we got to explore what we wanted, for as long as we wanted, and stop at every beautiful place on the way. We were able to visit the Teide Volcano during the evening, when all the other tourists were already leaving, and walk trough Loro Parque via our own route, and look at all the animals that we wanted to see.
Maps and Driving
I must admit that the driving was easily the scariest part of the entire trip. Back at home in Riga, I have been driving daily for 3 years now, but the endless serpentine mountain roads and the hills in the middle of cities combined with an unusual gearbox (While I am certainly a fan of the manual gearbox, it does take some time to get used to!) were quite unnerving at times. On two occasions, my husband and I were – in a way – both driving at once, with one of us handling the hand brake, while the other pressed the gas pedal, with the handbrake being released – this brought back memories of driving lessons with the instructor. But, thankfully, nothing bad happened, and the roads were in relatively good condition. There was a road called Autopiste Sur, which means something rude in Latvian, where the allowed speed was 130 km/h on all lanes! Even then, some roads in the mountains (which were marked yellow) were quite narrow, and I didn’t even want to look at what lay beyond the barrier! The locals had a very calm attitude towards slower drivers, with no car honks coming their way. They simply drove around them and went on their way. I had prepared a list of all the places I would like to visit, including every large city, banana plantations, Los Gigantes, and lots more, but in the end we stuck to two of the main interests – The Teide National Park and Loro Parque. We don’t regret a single moment of how we chose to spend our time – sometimes, just swimming around the pool and spending a leisurely afternoon at the hotel is also needed. Something to note is the fact that we could not find a proper map of the island’s roads, so we had to make do with the free maps that were handed out at the airport and by our guide.
The Teide National Park
One of our main goals when visiting The Teide National Park was, of course, to see the Teide volcano. However, along the way, we were also able to observe how our surroundings changed going upwards. At cloud height everything was completely green, but higher up the environment was desert-like and reminiscent of the Moon. There were sights which made me wonder if this is how things looked when dinosaurs were around – strange plants, a cloudless blue sky, and hardened lava all around, as well as complete silence. Going even higher, we saw some of the wildlife of Teide: 20 cm long lizards, sitting on the rocks to warm up. Had we been there with a bunch of other tourists, we may not have even seen them, since they were quite scared of humans, running away even from the sound of taking a photo. Next, we continued our way on a cable car, to the height of 3555m. The first things I noticed were a strong smell of sulfur and a very strong wind. Other tourists readily pulled scarves, jackets, even gloves out of their bags – all things which we had left in the car, thinking that since it was a warm day and everyone was wearing T-shirts and shorts on their way up, we wouldn’t be needing them. As it turned out, even on warm days the temperature this high up is always cold. As previously mentioned, there is also a very strong wind and the air is much thinner than normal. You can easily get dizzy jumping from rock to rock along the path. The light-headedness and the cold started to reach worrying levels, so we decided to not continue our climb.
After taking the cable car back, we had some dinner and I bought some volcanic rock earrings for mom at a souvenir shop (as well as some postcards for foreign relatives), after which we headed back.
As we slowly drove down, we decided that if, after visiting the town of Vilaflor, we see the sign to see the Lunar Landscape, we would visit it as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the sign – instead, we took a wrong turn (the same had happened on our way to the park, which is how we came across the yellow-marked mountain road) and started driving on a road which turned left or right every 100m or so. I guess it’s impossible to truly get lost on this island, seeing how it is quite small and there are signs everywhere, pointing to the biggest cities. Having successfully found the hotel again, we went to sleep.
With an initial speed of 100 km/h, we carefully drove on the very side lane of the Autopista Sur road at a more confident 120, and with it, an observation – locals don’t always drive at 130 km/h after all. After about an hour and a half, we reached Puerto de la Cruz, the city where the Loro Parque is located, and, following directions, drove into the park. The parking lot cost us a mere 2.40 euro per day. At the park entrance, there was a mandatory photo to be taken with some parrots. Upon seeing us, the photographer yelled “ulibku, ulibku” (which means “smile, smile” in Russian)! I come from a mixed heritage and definitely look the part, whereas my husband looks like a true Latvian, who got sun burnt very quickly and was as red as a lobster, so he could pass as an Estonian at best.
The first thing we noticed upon our arrival at the park was the sweltering heat. Back at our hotel, the air was hot but dry, whereas here, at a temperature of 35°C, you could immediately feel the moisture on your skin. It constantly seemed as if rain was about to start pouring down from the sky, but it did not. In fact, there was no rain on any of the days that we spent on the island. Not much of a surprise, since it only rains for about 10 days a year here. There were a lot of clouds, but the tour guide assured us that they were just getting stuck on the volcano and there was no risk of rain.
The second thing that we noticed was the horde of tourists. If even now, when it was not the tourist season, the parking lot was full of tour buses, there were dozens of taxis, and it was difficult to find each other in the crowd after shows, imagine how crowded it must be here during the tourist season (winter)! We decided to have a look at all of the shows aside from a Natural Vision film screening. The first show featured seals clapping, demonstrating tricks with balls and baskets and making amusing sounds. These were the most entertaining 15 minutes that I had experienced in a long while! It appeared that the seals were genuinely enjoying being part of the show, as they performed every trick as instructed and always received a treat afterwards. The next show was all about dolphins – here, there was an outlier who refused to do any of the tricks but gladly collected the treat “toll” along with its more obedient brethren. The show after that took place in the largest freshwater pool in Europe (with a capacity of 22 million liters), and featured killer whales. Initially, there was only one in the tank, on top of which the trainer rode across the pool. Two others were later let into the pool, but one remained outside, in the next tank. We were told that sometimes the trainers do not even go into the water when performing with these animals, since you always have to watch out for what mood they are in that day. Also, whereas the seals got 1 or 2 fish per trick, and the dolphins a handful, the killer whales got nearly half a bucket. Bigger animal, bigger appetite! The last show was the famous Loro Show, which, after all the tricks seen with mammals, paled in comparison. I mean, sure, it was nice to look at the macaws and other parrots flying around, but the seals and dolphins were much more impressive. In between the shows, we saw many other animals, including their enormous collection of parrot species, where we also got to see how they were feeding the little parrots that had been abandoned. There were also meerkats, panthers, tigers, and chimps. The park also houses the largest freezer in the world: their penguin habitat. During the time of our visit, it was the polar night for the penguins, so they were living in permanent darkness as artificial snow fell on them slowly. We walked trough the labyrinths of various plants, and finally, satisfied with out visit, headed back to the hotel. For the remainder of our stay at the wonderful Tenerife Island, we remained near our hotel, relaxing by the pool and taking walks around the nearby areas.
A Drop of Tar in a Barrel of Honey
Still, there were also some negative aspects to the journey, though none had anything to do with the island itself. For starters, our tour guide never did give us the tour agency’s folder with information about the flight times and other important information, but we contacted customer support and successfully got the information anyway. On our day of departure, the standout issue was courtesy of SmartLynx Airlines. We had already been warned that last week the flight had been significantly delayed, with the 19:30 flight leaving Tenerife only at 03:30, which is two hours past the point that they were already supposed to be in Riga. Our tour guide explained that this was due to the airline deciding to make a quick extra buck and organizing an additional flight to Bulgaria. According to the rules, they are allowed to do this, since the tour agency’s policy allows the airline to delay the flight up to 24 hours. When we arrived at the airport, the guide told us that the flight is “experiencing slight delays.” How slight is “slight?” Well, the plane in question had only left Riga 45 minutes ago, and the flight to Tenerife takes 6 hours. This was quite frustrating, since we had already checked out of the hotel at 12:00, waited for the bus – with all our suitcases – until 16:30, and after all that we now had some more time to wait. We had supper at the airport, paged trough the (quite limited) amount of English-language publications available, read the insurance policy terms for compensation in the case of a delayed flight, and explored every corner of the shopping zone, all while hoping that we wouldn’t have a full on night-flight. In the end, we only took off at 23:45, more than 4 hours behind schedule, after basically a whole day of waiting. The air temperature on the overcrowded plane was very hot. I had the misfortune of sitting next to a lady who, despite her excess weight, apparently thought that one seat would be enough for her. However, during the night, when she lifted up the arm rest, she took up a good third of my seat as well, and, like a hot thermos, snored next to me throughout the night. Since then, I have experienced similar situations multiple times, so now I always inquire about passenger rights. While they vary from airline to airline, for the most part it is prohibited to lift up the armrest if doing so makes one passenger partially occupy the seat of another. If a passenger cannot fit into one seat and/or fasten themselves with one seatbelt, they need to purchase an additional ticket or upgrade to business class (business class tends to have wider seats). If these rules are broken, you’re well within your rights to call a flight attendant and ask to be relocated. If the situation is not resolved, you can write a complaint to the airline. But, truth be told, who wants to do all that when they’re on holiday?
The beautiful island of Tenerife and the friendly islanders are definitely not to blame for undisciplined charters and flights rescheduled for maximum profit, but upon arrival back home, the barrel of honey that was the bulk of the experience did have a drop of tar in it. After this trip I have tried to avoid choosing Latvian charter flights since I have had a much better experience with German charter companies (click here to read about my wonderful trip to the Maldives using German charter services).
Tenerife is an island that fills you with warmth, sunlight and a desire to someday return there. I know that there are a ton of wonderful places around the world, and it’s hardly worth to spend the brief time of vacation on somewhere that you have already been to. Still, there were a lot of stones unturned – El Drago, Los Gigantes and the village of Masca, Pasjare Lunar, La Laguna and other wonderful cities, at each of which I could easily spend a week at. Perhaps someday.