Tenerife

December 21, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I travelled to Tenerife in the beginning of December. Canary Islands (Spain) are located in the Atlantic ocean near the Western African shores.  It is unsurprisingly a great place to soak up some sun and warmth, while the northern Europe is chilled with freezing rain and snow. But it is not just a beach destination - the little volcanic island can pack a lot of adventure for a whole week, and there is plenty more left to explore when I go back.

The climate in Tenerife is extremely varied. In the northern side there is more rain, and temperatures are milder. The north west, famous for it's lush vegetation, is also less developed. Most tourist resorts are situated in the sunnier and warmer south. The coast is well-connected by a modern motorway, yet the roads quickly narrow and become very twisty towards Mount Teide and the north. At higher altitudes the temperature quickly drops. Mount Teide base, approximately 2km above sea level, is usually above the almost permanent cloud layer and the thin air feels very chilly in summery clothes. It was very unusual to walk on the snow near the equator, before it even snowed back in Britain.

I stayed in Los Gigantes town on the west coast. Los Gigantes means 'The Giants' - a range of dramatic green cliffs and gorges. Despite the extremely difficult terrain and very narrow, winded mountain road, it is home to one of the best-known tourist locations in the island. Masca is a tiny historic village situated in a deep valley. Just a mere 20km away from the hotel, it feels like a different part of the world: palm and lemon trees, agave plants and opuntia cacti (their fruit called prickly pear is delicious!) grow on the steep slopes. The vegetation benefits from generous rainfall and cooler sea breeze. Dramatic skies, rainbow and vivid sunset makes it an unforgettably visit. There is a short and steep path through the gorge leading to a secluded rocky beach. The hike is a great adventure for an adventurous and brave soul; however it is not necessary to retrace the steps back up the hill - boat tickets are for sale in the village shop.

The mornings are less dramatic. The sun is blocked behind the hills and doesn't illuminate the rocks until it is a late morning and heavy clouds start rolling in and the road is getting busy with tourist busses. 

Masca view, Tenerife, SpainMasca view, Tenerife, Spain

The low evening sun creates a wonderful spectacle casting its rays through the valley. The scene has a very high dynamic range from a rock face hidden in a deep shadow all the way to a luminous sky. The jagged edges of the cliffs and direct sunlight makes it impossible to successfully balance the exposure by using graduated filters. However, manual exposure blending is just the answer in such conditions. It provides a natural looking result, while ensuring the image is seamless and virtually noise-free. Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 head.

Travelling south from Los Gigantes, the rocky volcanic coastline is soon replaced with black sand beaches. Crystal clear warm water, sunbathing deck chairs and palm trees dominate the shores. This is the land of holidaymakers with the whole industry catering for them. Higher up the slopes there are huge plantations of bananas. I strongly recommend tasting the local variety; they are about as good as it gets. 

Playa San Juan, Tenerife, SpainPlaya San Juan, Tenerife, Spain

Playa San Juan is a small beach town on the west coast. Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM, handheld.

Further south there are the famous Costa Adeje, Play de la Americas and Los Christianos resorts, full of expensive boutique shops, restaurants, pubs, clubs, and nightlife. Interestingly, there are obvious remnants of the past volcanic activity all around the towns. Montana de Guaza just south of Los Christianos reveals a breathtaking view of the coast. It is well worth a climb before a sunrise or in the afternoon.

Los Christianos, Tenerife, SpainLos Christianos, Tenerife, Spain Los Christianos in development... The town is rapidly expanding.

Los Christianos, Tenerife, SpainLos Christianos, Tenerife, Spain

Dusk setting over Los Christianos. Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Lee 0.6 hard grad, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 head.

The sunrises can be only seen from the eastern part of the island. The most convenient spot to me was La Tejita bay, close to Tenerife South airport. It is a lovely sandy beach great for swimming, sunbathing - or enjoying the scenery. Initially the sky looked dull grey and it was desperately chilly even with a jacket on. However, just after the sunrise the sky was painted with vivid fiery colours - just the sight I wanted. The only difficulty remained guessing the exact spot for the sunrise around the gigantic cliff. Not unexpectedly, I missed it by a a fair margin, nevertheless it still made a very pleasing image. 

La Tejita sunrise, Tenerife, SpainLa Tejita sunrise, Tenerife, Spain

Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Lee 0.6 hard grad, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 head.

Then I decided to stubbornly chase my sunrise running down the mile-long beach. The clock was ticking very fast. After a struggle on the wet sand I finally set up for another take. The sun was already high in the sky, the exposure was barely at fractions of second to blur the water motion and the dynamic range was getting beyond the capabilities of the camera. It simply wasn't enough time for a lens change and fitting an ND filter. 

La Tejita sunrise, Tenerife, SpainLa Tejita sunrise, Tenerife, Spain Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Lee 0.6 hard grad, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 head.

Perhaps the most famous attraction in Tenerife is the 3718m high decade volcano Teide. It can be seen from most parts of the island and is a constant reminder of it's violent past and undoubtedly the future.

Mount Teide at sunrise, Tenerife, SpainMount Teide at sunrise, Tenerife, Spain

First rays of sun illuminating Teide. La Tejita bay, Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 70-200mm f/4 USM, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod.

Climbing to the summit is a special treat (official national park permit may be required for daytime ascent), but it was not mean to be this time. The upper part of the mountain had lots of snow and ice; and consequently all paths were closed. So I was limited to the exploration of the mountain base. One of the best views can be seen from the western slopes at Samara crater (trail 13). At around 1900m height the pine forest is completely giving way to barren volcanic rock and scarce desert vegetation.

Mount Teide, Tenerife, SpainMount Teide, Tenerife, Spain

Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, handheld.

As the altitude climbs along TF-38 highway, the evidence of recent volcanic activity becomes even more dramatic. The road traverses black lava fields with sheer drops on either side. It is a nerve wrecking moment driving a van-sized and poorly handling MPV. The road shortly joins with much safer TF-21. The mountain base at 2km elevation usually enjoys clear skies, while the clouds are rolling in behind over caldera cliffs. There are spectacular views and several interesting hiking trails all the way to the cable car station. 

Mount Teide, Tenerife, SpainMount Teide, Tenerife, Spain Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, handheld.

Shooting the sunset at Teide proved to be the most challenging part of the trip. One evening I climbed the caldera on the south. It proved to be just a little bit too far in the east to give a dramatic golden hour light. Nevertheless, it provided an interesting illumination of the summit just before the sun-down. I am certain the view would be even more dramatic at the sunrise.

Last light on Mount Teide, Tenerife, SpainLast light on Mount Teide, Tenerife, Spain

Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 70-200mm f/4 USM, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod.

On the other hand, the views of the opposite side of caldera ridge were no less impressive; I only wished I had started climbing just a little earlier. Perhaps Samara volcano was the best evening location after all.

Teide is also one of the best locations in the world for astro-photography. However, the best results are only possible during the new moon phase. I was fully aware that full moon would spoil any attempt, but on the positive side it made the descent easy and safe.

Fog on Mount Teide, Tenerife, SpainFog on Mount Teide, Tenerife, Spain Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 70-200mm f/4 USM, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod.

Finally, I had an afternoon to visit Loro Parque and end the day at the local beach before heading to the airport. The zoo has several interesting animal shows. Personally I most enjoyed sea lions and dolphins. It is a great day out for families and kids.

The black sand beach is surrounded by rocks, cliffs, and concrete walls. The sea was violently stormy, and heavy clouds were brewing overhead. It made it more interesting, and somewhat similar to the British / Cornish coastline. Anyway, it was time to come back home.

Dusk at Puerto de la Cruz beach, Tenerife, SpainDusk at Puerto de la Cruz beach, Tenerife, Spain Canon EOS 5D Mark III  with EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, Lee 0.6 hard grad, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 head.

I feel I had great week in Tenerife, but I barely scratched the surface on this small tropical island. 7 days is barely enough to get familiar, but not nearly enough to work the scenes to perfection. I will be back and I can recommend it to anyone.

On a final, practical note I would like to mention that since Tenerife is part of EU, most hotels and services are of fairly high standards. However English is barely spoken by very few local people and the knowledge of Spanish would certainly help getting around. Some caution is needed with a few smaller car hire companies, where safety seems to be secondary concern. If in doubt, I recommend booking with internationally established providers even if it costs a little extra.


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