Tenerife in Winter

An article from a few years ago, first published in Outdoor Photography magazine.

When I mentioned to a friend of mine that I had just been to Tenerife for a week he said “Tenerife? Good grief!” It’s a reaction that I suppose I could have predicted, given that I’m not known for going on the typical sun, sea and sand package holiday, which I guess is what most people associate with the Canary Islands. However, beyond just wanting to get a break from the English winter for a week in January, I had done my research and planned some landscape photography as well. The main focus of the trip was to be the Parque Nacional Del Teide which is not only Spain’s most popular national park, but its main feature, the peak of El Teide, is at 3718m the highest mountain in Spain. The area has been a national park since 1954 and contains many bizarre and fascinating volcanic formations – the mighty El Teide itself is an active volcano. I therefore passed over the opportunity to stay in the brash resorts of Playa de las Americas or Los Chistianos in favour of basing myself in the quieter Los Gigantes to the north of the western coast of the island and just 45 minutes drive from the national park and a reasonable base for exploration of the rugged north west of the island.

Maritime Statues and Boat Mural on a Building in Puerto Santiago Tenerife Spain
Maritime Statues and Boat Mural on a Building in Puerto Santiago, Tenerife

Los Gigantes itself is pleasant enough, but is still a fairly built up resort and sprawls along the coast to meet its neighbour Puerto Santiago to the south. It doesn’t sprawl very far to the north, however, due to the huge Los Gigantes cliffs which provide a spectacular sunset photography subject right on the doorstep. If boat trips are your thing, the harbour at Los Gigantes offers a variety of whale and dolphin watching trips with a return along the base of the cliffs to marvel at the colours of the rocks. The one I chose guaranteed dolphin sightings, which turned out to be due to a nearby fish farm where we could see frustrated dolphins swimming round the outside of huge sea tanks full of fish, tantalisingly close but just out of reach. The cliffs were indeed spectacular close up, but tricky to photograph in overcast conditions from a boat – I’ve never been that keen on landscape photography from boats which render my investment in a carbon fibre Gitzo somewhat superfluous!

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles and Convento de San Francisco in Garachicho Tenerife Spain
Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles and Convento de San Francisco in Garachicho

The north coast towns of Garachico and Icod de los Vinos are within striking distance of Los Gigantes and are well worth a visit. Icod has a pretty old town and is best known for a huge dragon tree known as the Drago Milenario (or thousand year old dragon tree). Garachico is a gem of a place, with a beautiful old town packed with interesting buildings and some lovely hotels and restaurants which would have made it a more rewarding place to stay, but without the easy access to the national park that Los Gigantes offers. The beautiful mountain village of Masca is quite well visited by tourist coaches, but is a worthwhile detour from the main road back from Garachico to Los Gigantes, and the restaurants serve a very nice café con leche should you get caught in a huge rainstorm as I did. Unfortunately winter sun is not guaranteed even in Tenerife!

Mount Teide in Twilight after a Snowfall in Winter Tenerife Canary Islands Spain
Mount Teide in Twilight after a Snowfall in Winter

I allowed three days out of my week for Parque Nacional Del Teide itself, which allowed enough time to explore the main areas and get some reasonable sunrise and sunset locations worked out. The first visit led to no photography at all, as the weather turned very bad. It’s worth noting that that park is itself very high – the roads can be over 2000m, so in January you may well encounter snow and icy conditions. The bad weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, as a fall of snow overnight gave El Teide a nice dusting which is just what I was looking for. It also brought lots of local families into the park, armed with sledges, to enjoy some wintry outdoor activities, which was a refreshing contrast from the crowds of northern European sun seekers down on the coast. The best views of El Teide are to be had from the area around the southern visitor centre in the park including the Llano de Ucanca and the striking formations of the Roques de Garcia. I shot some twilight and sunrise images from just above the car park at Roques de Garcia, and had the place to myself, save for a couple who turned up a few minutes after sunrise, stood shivering for a while and left just a few minutes later. It’s a different story in the mid-morning when the tourist coaches arrive from the coast! After my sunrise shoot I headed up to the base station of the El Teide cable car for a spot of breakfast, where I discovered a group of German cyclists in sleeping bags on the steps! They were urged to move as the staff opened up the station, and we all went in and waited for the café con leche to be ready. A trip to the summit in the cable car was a must, but bear in mind that even though temperatures were in the high teens to low twenties at the coast, the summit is 3718m high and it was still January. I think what I’m trying to say is that it was bloody freezing at the top, and all my layers of winter clothing were required!

Pink Clouds at Dawn over Mount Teide in Parque Nacional del Teide Tenerife Spain
Pink Clouds at Dawn over Mount Teide in Parque Nacional del Teide, Tenerife

All in all, I think El Teide was the highlight of the trip, but the old coastal towns were a pleasant surprise and there’s plenty more to explore on future trips. It’s only a small island, but I didn’t cover as much ground as expected – driving can be slow and tiring as the mountain roads can be very twisty. On the way back to the airport I dropped in on Los Christianos to see how most of the winter visitors experienced Tenerife – I had intended to stay for lunch, but bought a picnic instead and found a quiet out of town beach to sit on…

See more Images of Tenerife on the website.

About marksunderland

Mark Sunderland is a landscape and travel photographer based in Yorkshire, England. He supplies licensed images through marksunderland.com - The Source for Images of Yorkshire - and also runs photography workshops in the Yorkshire Dales with Natural Light Workshops.

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