Take a group of 9 adventure travel bloggers specialised in surfing, cycling and scuba diving to the mecca of British package holidays, shake it well, and see if you can show that Tenerife, the biggest of the Canary Islands, has more to offer than lazy sunbathing. This is the mission my adventure blogging mates and I were given by Thomas Cook Airlines. With a bit of research, I read how the Canary Islands was boasting with marine life, but from a travel experience point of view, I wasn’t sure it was for me. It didn’t last long, Tenerife is one of my best surprises of the scuba diving destinations I visited. Here is why.
Best dive sites of Tenerife
The Canary Islands are an archipelago which belongs to Spain, 100 km from the shores of Morroco. If culturally it belongs to Europe, geographically speaking the islands of the Atlantic Ocean are closer to Africa. There 7 main islands in the Canaries: Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. Tenerife is the largest and the most populated island.
If as a scuba diver, you are only into colourful coral reefs, Tenerife might disappoint you. However, don’t give up too fast. The reefs may only be rocks, dive sites feature impressive formations and abundant pelagic marine life. At the time of my visit, the beginning of October, visibility was up to 25 m, and the water temperature was between 23°C and 24°C. I couldn’t find better diving conditions to extend my scuba diving summer in Europe! Nevertheless, due to the depth of most dive sites and because of steady currents, I recommend being an advanced open water diver to enjoy diving in Tenerife.
It just took me one dive, the first one of my 4 dives in Tenerife, to blow my mind. Even with the research I did, I didn’t expect what I was about to see. Only 10 minutes after descending to the sandy bottom of the dive site, at a depth of 25 m, we were immediately surrounded by many different species of rays I had never seen before: round stingrays, bull rays and common eagle rays. The cutest of all, the eagle ray, is quite small and has an adorable face, that seems to smile at you. My favourite underwater picture of my entire trip to Tenerife is an eagle ray (cover of this article). The most surprising one, the bull ray, has highly recognisable stripes on its back and is of medium size. The biggest, the black round stingray, was so impressive we nicknamed it in Spanish “la mama de todas las rayas” (the mommy of all the rays).
As I was quietly taking pictures of the garden eels hiding in the sand a bit further, a giant round stingray came to check me out. I hopefully had the reflex to hit the video button on my camera housing, lowered my breathing to make as little bubbles as possible to not frighten it and stayed still. The stingray came so close to me that I saw it winking at me! Rays on only a threat when they are frightened; always remind yourself wild animals can have defensive behaviour if you are too agitated. It was challenging to stand still as my excitement was high (in the video below, you can hear me screaming of joy through my regulator).
Now, we need to talk about something. While doing my first research about scuba diving in Tenerife, I, unfortunately, saw many dive centres were advertising on their website about a ray feeding dive at a site called “Los Chuchos”. Please, please, please, do not get involved in these activities. I would need a full article to explain why but, basically, by feeding the rays, you interfere with their natural behaviour with impacts ranging from the rays potentially becoming aggressive if they cannot get food when they see divers to the rays losing the habit of hunting to feed themselves.
When selecting the scuba diving centre you dive with, please opt out of those advertising this kind of activity. The only way to stop the practice is by stopping the demand for it. I was so happy we talked about it with Blue Bottom Diving, in Costa Adeje, and they said they were against it and that is why they were taking us to “the Wall” and not “Los Chuchos” (Chuchos means rays in Spanish).
The dive site called “El Condesito” is a 40 m cement-carrier shipwreck inhabited by trumpetfish and boxfish. The ship sank in 1971 because of a mistake of navigation, but it seems several versions of the story exist, try asking the local divers! Today the shipwreck is split into 2 pieces and lies at only 20 m deep for the greatest pleasure of the recreational divers.
The highlight for me was the hexagonal basalt columns reef surrounded it. The basalt columns are similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland, or Svartifoss Waterfall in Iceland. In Tenerife, you can “fly” over them, how cool is that!
La Cueva de Palmar
Inside a dark lava rocks reef, you would be surprised how much colourful marine life can be found. I had never seen so many octopus and moray eels in one dive! The moray eels I saw included dotted moray eels, dark moray eels, golden tail moray eels and a beautiful tiger moray eel with sharp glass-like teeth. No wonder why this dive site got the nickname of “Moray City”. Macro photographers will enjoy the thin arrow crabs and gorgeous sea anemones. However, regarding nudibranchs, it was a bit disappointing; I only found one.
The maximum depth of this dive site is 40 m, but the entrance of the cave is at 30 m deep. A cross at the entrance reminds divers that many died there before, so entry is frown upon. We just had a quick look at the entrance, and we continued our dive. A bit further down, following the sand corridor, at 33m, there is a beautiful statue of Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a symbol of protection for the fishermen.
Incredible marine life of the Canary Islands
Beyond diving Tenerife with rays and octopus, the Canary Islands, thanks to their position in the Atlantic Ocean, offer the fantastic opportunity of frequent cetacean sightings. Every day, on each way, to and from the dive sites, we saw dolphins coming to play in the waves created by the boat.
From December to March, the superstar among scuba divers in Tenerife is the Angel Shark. Tenerife is one of the rarest spots on the planet where you can easily see them thanks to its significant population. Angel sharks are benthic sharks, which means you will find them lying on the sand, but due to their pattern and colour, you will need an expert eye to spot them. They are very chilled animals but don’t provoke them. The females can measure up to 2,4 m and weight up to 80 kg.
In July, you can go whale watching with a sea kayak to get to see closely pilot whales. Freediving with them is allowed but only if you request the special permit. Turtles and even sometimes whale sharks make regular appearances, especially in the marine reserves of the neighbour islands of La Palma and El Hierro.
Diving Tenerife: when is the best season?
After an incredible summer of scuba diving in Europe from the south of France to Malta via Italy, at the end of September, it was hard to accept that wetsuit diving season was over. I did not realise it right away, but Tenerife is at the same latitude than Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, on the shores of the Red Sea! However, the Atlantic currents and winds swirling around the Canary Islands cool the temperatures down to a perfect level: never cold (min. 15,5°C in the winter) but never too hot (max. 26,6°C in the summer). That is why the nickname of Tenerife is “the island of eternal spring”. So diving Tenerife was the perfect opportunity to extend my scuba diving summer in Europe’s southernmost islands.
The best dive sites in the Canary Islands are mostly in the south of the archipelago due to the difference of climate with the northern part: in Tenerife, Gran Canaria, El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera. You can dive all year-long in Tenerife as the water temperature is never colder than 19°C. Although the water temperature is at its warmest in September/October, at 23/24°C, December might be the best option, when the water is still at a comfortable 21°C and the season of the angel sharks starts! In any case, I recommend a full 7mm wetsuit with hood and gloves for the winter months.
Tenerife is only 4 hours away from London-Gatwick and 4h30 from Brussels, with return trip prices starting from £60 from London-Gatwick and 100€ from Brussels with Thomas Cook Airlines, why not allowing yourself some winter sun without going too far away and without breaking the bank?
Where to stay in the south of Tenerife?
After our late arrival at the South Tenerife Airport, we directly headed to our hotel in a well-known vacation spot for British holiday goers. Playas de las Americas is a town on the south coast of Tenerife, entirely designed for tourism. Streets are continuously filled with large resorts with a swimming pool in the middle where people go at 8 am to book their deckchair, 1€ pint happy hour pubs, and cafés serving British breakfast with sausages and beans instead of the traditional Spanish tostadas.
Don’t take me wrong, even if it is not the kind of places I would go by myself, I am not ashamed to say I liked Playas de la Americas and my stay at the H10 Conquistador Hotel. I enjoyed walking at sunrise and sunset the palm tree promenade along the sea while looking at the volcano slopes and the surfers waiting for the perfect wave. Besides, this white resort town is perfectly organised and spotless, so I thought “why not?” as long as I can escape exploring what’s beyond. Playas de la Americas is only 5/10 minutes driving from Costa Adeje where the scuba diving boats leave.
What to do in Tenerife Island?
As I spent a lot of time underwater, I could not visit the northern part of the Island, greener and home of the former capital of Tenerife, San Cristobal de la Laguna. The charming colonial town is a good choice if you are eager to learn more about the link between the Canary Islands and the discovery of America. The bloggers of my group who were into cycling in the north and showed terrific pictures of the view they got of Playa de las Teresitas, east of Santa Cruz, the current capital city of Tenerife. I guess I have to put these places on my to-do list for the next time I will visit the Canary Islands because now I know there is way more to do than lazy sunbathing!
However, on my last non-diving day before our flight back to London, I went hiking in the natural highlight of Tenerife Island: Teide National Park. The weather was sunny with deep blue sky, but above 2,000 m of altitude, the air temperature cooled down to a chilly 13/14°C (hoodie and scarf highly recommended). Mount Teide is Spain’s highest peak at 3,715 m and the most visited National Park in Europe! However, as our guide of Teno Activo pointed it out, most people just come for the picture of the “Roque Cinchado” with the peak of the Teide behind and leave. It means you get an incredible playground for hiking away from the crowds by only walking a few more metres! We followed the trail C, and on the way, we enjoyed a few traces of Teide volcanic activity, like the lava waterfall, the cathedral and the blue-tinted “Azulejos” rocks.
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Many thanks to Thomas Cook Airlines for inviting me to discover Tenerife underwater and beyond. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly there. Photo credits: Dolphins in Tenerife by Arianwen of BeyondBlighty.com
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