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 beginning of October.
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 to explore what’s beyond. Somehow I still had doubts, but it did not last long.
Enjoying the best climate in the world only 4 hours away from London
After an incredible summer in Europe exploring dive sites in South of France, North of Italy and Malta, after the 21st of September, it was a hard fact to accept that wetsuit diving season was over. So, having the opportunity to extend my summer in Europe’s southernmost point in the Canary Islands was quite exciting to ease the transition to autumn.
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”.
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. Nevertheless, Lanzarote offers also a marine protected area worth diving. Good to know: you can dive all year-long in Tenerife as the water temperature is never below 19°C.
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?
An underwater ballet of eagle rays, bull rays and round stingrays
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 was not expecting this at all. Only 10 minutes after descending to the sandy bottom of the dive sites called “The Wall” near Los Cristianos, at a depth of 25m, here we were, surrounded by different species of rays I had never seen before. Ok, I know that the spotted eagle rays I saw in Belize or the manta rays in Indonesia (in Komodo and Nusa Penida) are cool stuff to see underwater. However, you know what? There are many places where you can see them. Have you ever heard about round stingrays, bull rays and common eagle rays? The chances are that like me, no, and you would be totally surprised to encounter them.
The cutest of all, the eagle ray, is quite small and as an adorable face that seems to smile at you. My best underwater picture of all my trip (cover of this article) is an eagle ray. The most surprising one, the Bull ray, has highly recognisable stripes on its back and is of a medium size. The biggest, the black round stingray, was so impressive we called it “la mama de todas las rayas” (the mummy of all the rays). I saw 2 of them that day, but on my first dive, I was quietly taking pictures of the garden eels hiding in the sand when one 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 ray came so close to me that I saw it winking at me! Rays are potentially a threat when they are frightened; always remind yourself wild animals can have defensive behaviour if you are too agitated. To be honest, it was challenging to stand still as my excitement was high (in the video below you can actually hear me screaming of joy through my regulator).
Moreover, like if there wasn’t enough excitement during that day, we had the incredible luck to have a pod of dolphins coming swimming just next to our boat on our way back to Costa Adeje. On each way to and from the dive sites, we saw dolphins (which is already awesome) but having wild dolphins coming to play with us after our dives is something I only saw in Belize before!
Now, let’s talk about the ray feeding experience some scuba diving centres in Tenerife are selling. 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 (note to myself: write a full article about why feeding practices are bad for the ecosystems). 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.
So 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 and that is why they were taking us to “the Wall” and not “Los Chuchos” (Chuchos means rays in Spanish).
Volcanic adventures above and below the surface
This was the cherry on top of my experience in Tenerife: witnessing the volcanic activity of Tenerife both underwater and by hiking in Teide National Park.
If you only like colourful coral reefs, Tenerife might disappoint you. However, don’t give up too fast. The reefs may only be made of rocks, but certain dive sites have some more interesting rocks than others: The dive site called “El Condesito” is a 40m cement-carrier shipwreck inhabited by trumpetfish and surrounded by hexagonal basalt columns reefs. The basalt columns are the same type than 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!
In the lava rocks reefs, you would be surprised how much colourful marine life is hiding. I found the dive site called “La Cueva de Palmar” was the most interesting from this point of view. I have never seen so many octopus and moray eels (dotted and dark moray eels but also some golden tail moray eels and even a beautiful tiger moray eel with sharp glass-like teeth) at the same dive site! Macro photographers will enjoy the arrow crabs and colourful sea anemones. Regarding nudibranchs, I do not want to disappoint you but don’t spend too much time looking for them like I did. In 4 dives, whereas actively looking and being usually good at spotting them, I only found one!
Regarding diving parameters: maximum depths were between 20 and 30m, with a good visibility between 20 and 25m, water temperature was on average at 25°C at the surface and 23°C at 30m. These were excellent diving conditions to extend my scuba diving summer in Europe! Nevertheless, because of the depth of interesting sites and a small but continuous current, I would like to recommend these sites only to advanced open water divers.
On my last day, typically my non-diving day before the flight, I went hiking in Teide National Park with the other members of our blogger crew. The weather was sunny with deep blue sky, but above 2000m of altitude, the air temperature cooled down to a chilly 12/14°C (hoodie and scarf highly recommended!). Mount Teide is Spain’s highest peak at 3715m 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; leaving an incredible playground for hiking and geology enthusiasts away from the crowds! We mostly 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 “Azulejos” rocks.
My to-do list for my next trip to the Canary Islands
While I spent a lot of time underwater, I could not visit the North part of the Island, greener and home of the ancient capital of Tenerife. While talking with our guides and bloggers counterparts who were cycling and surfing in the North, here is the to do list I came up with for the next time I will visit Tenerife, because yes, there is so much more to do than lazy sunbathing!
- Enjoying the views of Playa de las Teresitas, the most iconic postcard picture of Tenerife. It is located east of Santa Cruz, the current capital of Tenerife.
- Visiting San Cristobal de la Laguna, the ancient capital city of Tenerife, to learn more about the link between the Canary Islands and the discovery of America
- Whale watching (ideally with sea kayaks) to see pilot whales when they visit the Canary Islands in July (a special permit must be requested to free dive with them)
- Diving the marine reserve of the islands of La Palma and El Hierro where you can see turtles and even whale sharks sometimes!
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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 honestly my experience there. Photo credits: Dolphins in Tenerife by Arianwen of BeyondBlighty.com – Playa de las Teresitas by Lucy of PaddlePedalPace.co.uk
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