The largest and the most populated island of the archipelago is also popular for both tourists and photographers. If I had to choose only one of the Canary Islands to visit and photograph, I would seriously consider this one (along with La Palma). The biggest attraction is Pico del Teide a huge volcano and the highest peak of the Canarias as well as of the whole Spain and in the Atlantic. Add beautiful beaches, remarkable architecture, lush laurel forests in high mountains, deep valleys, endlessly winding roads, rugged cliffs and you your schedule will be full for several days.
Auditorio de Tenerife “Adán Martín”
This splendid piece of modern architecture is situated in the capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife, right next to the harbor. If you come by ferry from another island you will inevitably encounter this concert hall. If you fly in to Tenerife and you are a fan of modern architecture, you should plan a trip to see this building. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architecture, and the construction was finished in 2003. This emblematic building is an assemblage of different shapes which makes it super attractive for photographing. You can pick any part of the building and get strong leading lines and shapes. Due to the white colour of the tiles on the surface it evokes the Sydney Opera Building. The main feature is the great arch which symbolizes a tsunami wave which is bringing culture (and not any damage) to Canary Islands.
The building is situated on a seashore, you can photograph the building almost from any angle and any distance. Adjacent to the building is an old castle called Castillo de San Juan Bautista. It is possible to frame both monuments into one composition. When photographing from the seawall south of the castle, be extremely cautious when entering the staircase going down to see level. It is very slippery. I almost fell down to deep water with all my equipment in my hands and in my backpack. I was hardly ever closer to ruining all my equipment in a split of a second.
I wish I could photograph this building around sunset or sunrise. Mine photos were taken during midday, the sun was very high on the horizon, some compositions were not possible due to the position of the sun. But I am sure you can get attractive outcomes in almost any type of weather: cloudy weather can be used for extra-long exposures – blurred skies will contrast with the sharp shapes of the building. Clear blue sky also compliments nicely the shiny white tiles of this concert hall. In golden hour the glossy tiles would reflect the warm sun light. Blue hour photographs would look great too, as the auditorium is nicely lit.
If you come by car, you can park directly in a parking place situation inside the building (for a very minor fee). This is very practical since your car does not get extra hot on direct sun. I have not attempted to visit the interiors of the building.
Pico del Teide (Mount Teide)
The highest mountain of Spain is certainly not the most photogenic volcano in the world, as the shape is not very symmetric, yet its dimensions and the landscape around it make it the symbol of the Tenerife island and well-worth a day trip.
This enormous volcano, 7.500 m tall when measured from the ocean floor (third tallest volcano in the world), is located in the very center of the island (not surprisingly, the whole island was created around this volcano). The upper cone rises from a rather flat plateau in the altitude of some 2100 m above sea level. There is a frequently visited national park around the summit and the upper plateau.
It is possible to go by car to this altitude. To get even higher, you would have use the cable car. The lower station is situated on the southern side of the volcano. The ride to the summit actually does not go to the very top. You have to climb the final few dozens of meters on your own – a permit is needed for this activity. It is also necessary to book the cable car in advance (on the Internet). Since I wanted to be very flexible in my schedule, I did not book the ride up to the upper station. But if you have enough time, consider going to the top, especially if you can schedule it around sunset or sunrise. The cone shape of the volcano cast a long before sunset and shortly after sunrise. This might be fun to observe and to photograph.
When looking for some attractive landscape compositions of the Teide mountain, definitely visit the lava rock formations called Roques de Garcia. These can be found on the southern slopes, not far away from the lower cable car station. There is well signed parking place. I also found the road going south from the Teide Park to Chío (road TF-38) to offer some nice viewpoints toward Teide summit.
A major international astronomical observatory is located on the northeastern slopes of the Mount Teide – and that is a for a reason. Canary islands are one of the best locations in the whole world for observing night sky. High altitude with dry air and very low level of air-pollution create ideal conditions. The observatory cannot be visited over the night (except for organized official tours). If you want some spectacular night shots, consider composing your shots amid the Roques de Garcia. They are situated well for the milky way compositions. Just be aware that the nearby road is very frequented even over night and hence your compositions might get contaminated by car lights and by lights from the nearby visitor center. If you want a more intimate stargazing experience, I would recommend La Palma or Grand Canaria Islands instead.
Anaga Mountains and Forests
Anaga is the northernmost region of Tenerife. The mountains there are characterized by steep slopes dropping sharply from some 1.800 meters above see level down to the ocean. These slopes are covered by lush and verdant forest that is often covered by clouds. This is why Anaga is often dubbed as the enchanted forest.
To take characteristic misty photographs, just follow the road to Chamorga village (road TF-123). The road winds along the crest of the hills, later it goes down and up on the slopes. At times you may be above, below or amid the clouds. You can make some interesting composition directly at the main road, using the road as one of the leading elements. To have more options, I recommend stopping when you are in the middle of the clouds and take short walk on one of the side paths. I saw several of them, some of which were signed by tourist hiking marks.
Warning: even if the quality of the infrastructure is excellent in all Canary islands, driving car in this region of Tenerife is very demanding due to extreme number of sharp bends. I am an experienced driver, still I felt almost dizzy after one hour of driving road curves only. I found this to be more demanding then driving to Pico del Teide.
Further north-east from Anaga Mountains is one of the most remote and wild places in Tenerife -the Benijo beach. This place is known for good surfing waves and for the sharp rock formations towering from the sea near the shore. They make great setting for attractive seascape photography. Benijo beach is a sunset and sunrise location. I took further photos at the upper parking place at the restaurant El Mirador. From here you overlook the cliffs to the west. I waited for the blue hour and took some long exposures where the cars lit the winding road.
Masca Valley and Gorge
Masca is a deep valley in southwest of Tenerife. In the upper part of the valley there is a village called Masca that is perched on rocky ridges. This place is very photogenic. Masca village is accessed by twisty TF346 road from Santiago del Teide with many sharp bends. There are several viewpoints along the road with views both towards Masca valley as well towards Pico del Teide on the other side. Overtaking of slower cars is almost impossible, passing of the oncoming cars is also difficult, especially of larger vans and buses.
I had to stop completely many times, I even had to move backwards several times to find a broader section of the road. You are well advised to avoid big traffic between 10am – 4 am. I was pretty frustrated when driving there around noon. The trip from Santiago del Teide took me almost an hour. Parking in Masca village was also very difficult. I came back again later that day, around 6 pm and the whole trip took me around 25 minutes and I had no trouble finding parking spot.
The valley and the gorge are not easy to photograph as they are oriented towards southwest. The sun hangs above the valley pointing against your camera. You have to wait for the sun to get lower over the horizon, but not too low so that the valley is in shadow. Unfortunately, there are many electricity poles with which makes composition a lot harder.
It is possible to hike down along a small streak to the Masca gorge. After some 7,5km descent, you will reach the Masca bay. From here you have to take a sea taxi. This trek is quite strenuous.
This yellow sand beach located just a few kilometers north of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is famous for the fly-over perspective photos that are taken from the nearby viewpoint (Mirador Las Teresitas). From this viewpoint you can see both the artificial yellow sand beach to the southwest, as well as the natural black beach to the northeast.
I realized that the Teresitas beach looks good on photographs even during the harsh midday sun. You can also be there early during sunrise. At the end of the beach you can photograph the San Andres city, with many colorful houses packed on a steep slopes of Anaga mountains.
Playa de los Gigantes
Near the Masca Valley is a nice sand beach just next to a small harbour (Puerto de los Gigantes). There is a parking place directly at the port. From there it takes only 3 minutes to reach the beach on foot.
The beach is famous for the high cliffs that rise above the beach. These cliffs are nicely lit with evening sun – so this an ideal sunset location. The typical compositions include rounded pebbles in the foregrounds. These can be found only during low tide. I was there during high tide so I waited for the blue hour and used the artificial light coming from light bulbs from the nearby hotels and restaurants.
Other Places I Could Not Visit
Most of the tourists guides recommend visit famous dragon tree – El Drago Milenario (the thousand old year tree). This tree (botanically it is Dracaena Draco) looks like a giant broccoli and its shape is quite photogenic against clear skies. It is to be found Icod de los Vinos in northwest Tenerife. Since I knew I would see these trees in La Palma Island I did not visit this place of interest in Tenerife.
If you are going to spend a lot of time in the south of Tenerife, consider shooting sunrise on the little nice beach with a small hillock on one side.
Punta de Teno Lighthouse
For Lighthouse lovers, there is a clear destination (ideal for sunset). Punte de Teno lighthouse lies in the westernmost tip of the Tenerife Island. The design of the lighthouse is similar to Fuencaliente Lighthouse in La Palma, which I planed to visit (so I gave this one a pass). Punta de Teno is quite secluded, and the access road was famous for being dangerous. But after some road accidents, the road was closed and newly repaired and now the access is open again and completely safe.
I believe Tenerife is the island that has is it all for photographers – both wild and romantic beaches, huge mountains deep valleys, beautiful volcano, remarkable piece of modern architecture and some great stargazing locations. It offers huge diversity of motifs for landscape photographers, but since it is the largest island, the distances between the places of interest are a bit extended so having a car a few days for this island comes handy. This island is also great for combining active photo-tour with nice lazy beach-lying holiday. Next time I definitely come back to Anaga mountains, consider climbing to the top of the Pico del Teide, photographing Auditorio concert hall during blue hour and explore a bit more the southern part of the island.
Have you been to Tenerife? Please share your tips in the comments below.