Explore a Spanish gem with these best things to do in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife
It was towards the end of my main course that the performance started.
Julian, the eponymous proprietor of the bodega, began a plaintive solo, strumming a small guitar suspended at chest height. One minute into his serenade, his wife, still wearing her scarlet chef’s hat, joined him in a soulful duet.
Spellbinding stuff and as far away from Tenerife’s fish-and-chip shops and all-day breakfast joints as you can get.
And here’s the thing.
Tenerife has become synonymous with the soulless sun-and-sangria resorts lining its barren southern shores. However, travel to the lush north of the island to discover a different Tenerife, one that is sprinkled with colonial towns that are vibrant with local life.
The northern town of Puerto de la Cruz is not only is an excellent base for exploring Tenerife by bus or car but is also a great destination in its own right. To help you make the most of your time there, here is my pick of what to see.
But before we discover the town’s highlights, we’ll look at how to get to Puerto de la Cruz and where to stay. And at the end of this article, I have included a few great places to eat.
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Planning Your Trip to Tenerife
Getting your hands on a good guidebook to help you to plan your trip to Tenerife and to explore the country whilst you are there, is a smart move. I highly recommend this excellent Marco Polo guide, which was my constant companion I visited Tenerife.
Where is Puerto de la Cruz?
Puerto de la Cruz is on Tenerife’s north coast on a promontory at the foot of the lush La Orotava Valley.
Although it is the main resort in the north of the island, it is resolutely Canarian in character, with locals and tourists sharing the town. Therefore, far from being a Little Britain in the sun, it has a more traditional Spanish feel.
Banana plantations border family-run hotels and the pedestrianised roads of the charming old town are home to characterful bars and restaurants.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Puerto de la Cruz?
Although Tenerife is a year-round destination, broadly speaking, the south of the island is warm and arid; the north cooler and wetter.
However, in Puerto de la Cruz, you get the best of both worlds. Whilst it receives enough rainfall to nurture its gardens and to maintain its sub-tropical appearance, compared with the rest of the north it receives less rain and more sunshine.
The best months to visit are September and October with long hot days, warm nights and clear skies, or the cooler months of December and January.
I visited Puerto de la Cruz in January and enjoyed long hours of clear skies and sunshine, although the temperature did drop after sundown.
November and February are normally the rainiest months when you can get anything from sporadic nighttime showers to full-on monsoon-type deluges.
Although you will enjoy hot days in June, July and August, thanks to the summer trade winds these can sometimes be overcast.
How Do You Get to Tenerife?
Tenerife has two airports: the older Tenerife North Airport (or Los Rodeos) and the larger Tenerife South Airport (also known as Tenerife South-Reina Sofia Airport). As Tenerife North Airport mostly operates inter-island domestic flights, it is likely that you will be landing at Tenerife South Airport.
How to Get from Tenerife South Airport to Puerto de la Cruz
If you are not hiring a car, or do not have a transfer included as part of a package tour, you have three options for getting from Tenerife South Airport to Puerto de la Cruz: taxi, shuttle bus or regular bus.
Tenerife South Airport (TFS) to Puerto de la Cruz by taxi
As Puerto de la Cruz is nearly an hour’s drive from Tenerife South Airport, you will pay handsomely for a taxi ride. When I investigated this option, I was quoted a one-way fare of €100.
Tenerife South Airport (TFS) to Puerto de la Cruz by shuttle bus
For a cheaper but longer transfer, book a seat on a shared shuttle bus from Tenerife South Airport (TFS). You can either do this online, for example via Shuttle Direct, Sun Transfers or Hoppa, or at one of the desks in Arrivals.
Reckon on paying around £15 for a one-way transfer; discounts may be available.
Although I took a shuttle bus from Tenerife South Airport (TFS) to Puerto de la Cruz, I wouldn’t choose to do this again.
The bus sat at the airport for nearly an hour, as it filled with more passengers, before departing. On arrival in Puerto de la Cruz, it made multiple stops and, as I was staying in the old town, I was one of the last to be dropped off.
The entire transfer took close to three hours.
Tenerife South Airport (TFS) to Puerto de la Cruz by regular bus
I travelled back to the airport on the regular TITSA bus and would choose this option again.
The large, modern and comfortable bus 343 plies the route between Tenerife South Airport (TFS) to Puerto de la Cruz in 90 minutes for just under €10. It even features USB charging points above the seats.
On the return journey from Puerto de la Cruz, after its starting point at the bus station, it makes a few stops on either side of the Botanic Gardens before joining the motorway.
The 343 bus service is less frequent on weekend days.
Where To Stay in Puerto de la Cruz
When it comes to choosing accommodation in Puerto de la Cruz you are faced with one main choice: stay near the old town by the harbour, or at one of the larger hotels or apartments built along the hillside rising up from the sea.
The majority of accommodation falls into the second category. Although these places have lots of facilities, including swimming pools, the surrounding area is a little soulless and the walk back from town involves a steep uphill climb or a bus journey.
Therefore, my recommendation is that you choose a place in or near the old town which is close to the majority of the main sights and also to the bus station.
Note that luxury hotels tend to be located out of town.
The good news is that accommodation in Puerto de la Cruz is relatively inexpensive.
Central PENTHOUSE with TERRACE and SEA views
I stayed at this wonderful apartment in the heart of the old town with sweeping views across the ocean. Highly recommended.
Here are a few other places to stay that I have found that look like good alternatives:
4Dreams Hotel Chimisay – A centrally-located hotel in the heart of Puerto de la Cruz’s old town, providing breakfast for a small additional charge.
Hotel Botanico y Oriental Spa Garden – if you want to stretch the holiday budget, you can’t go far wrong with this 5-star luxury hotel. Whilst it is not located in the old town, it makes up for this with its three 3 outdoor pools, attractive gardens and extensive spa facilities.
Best Things to Do in Puerto de la Cruz
As Puerto de la Cruz is relatively compact, you should be able to cover its main sights in a leisurely two days, or a busier one day. With the exception of the Botanical Garden, everything is walkable and you shouldn’t need to take public transport.
Here’s my pick of the best things to do in Puerto de la Cruz and a map to help guide you.
1. Visit the Botanical Garden (Jardín Botánico)
Maybe it’s because I have reached middle age, but I do like a good garden. And the Botanical Garden in Puerto de la Cruz did not disappoint.
Thanks to northern Tenerife’s sub-tropical climate, the town’s Jardín Botánico is a small but perfectly formed lush wonderland.
Founded by King Carlos II in 1788 as a halfway house between the Americas and the Far East, the origin of the exotic plant species, and their final destination in Madrid, the gardens have had a rocky history.
Whilst the plants thrived in Tenerife, they didn’t do so well during Madrid’s winters and the plan to eventually transport them all to the Spanish mainland was abandoned. Occasional storms and neglect subsequently took their toll until the Canary Island’s Government took over their management in the 1980s.
You can easily spend an hour or so crisscrossing the Botanical Garden’s shaded paths, past leafy groves and ponds strewn with lily pads, taking care not to trip up on roots sprawling across the ground like giant tentacles.
There are coffee and cocoa bushes, pepper and tulip trees, and flowers that strangely resemble bananas. The star of the show is the majestic Moreton Bay fig tree, a magnificent beast of a tree that is as tall as a small church.
An enchanted sub-tropical forest and essential addition to your list of things to do in Puerto de la Cruz.
2. Visit the Orchid Garden (Jardín de Orquideas de Sitio Litre)
I know. Another garden.
But if you have the time, this little gem near the Botanical Gardens is worth a visit. It is home to Puerto de la Cruz’s oldest dragon tree (drago) as well as the titular orchids.
3. Check out the street art in Puerto de la Cruz
In recent years, street art has thrived in Puerto de la Cruz thanks to a programme initiated in 2014 to improve the urban environment. This has effectively transformed the old town into an open-air art gallery, showcasing work by some of the greatest contemporary muralists.
Pick up a Puerto de la Cruz walking tour map from the Tourist Information Office.
4. Or check out contemporary art in a historic building
The 17th century Old Customs House, or Casa de la Real Aduana, is one of Puerto de la Cruz’s oldest buildings, featuring wooden windows and typical Canarian balconies.
It hosted its last customs formalities more than 150 years ago and is now home to the super-friendly Tourist Information office on its ground floor.
Upstairs you will find The Museum of Contemporary Art (MACEW) which hosts exhibitions by Spanish painters
5. Visit Puerto de la Cruz’s spiritual heart – Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia
One of the most popular things to do in Puerto de la Cruz is to visit the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia, the town’s main church.
This 17th Century Baroque spectacle was a little too sombre for my taste, but it does feature some remarkable side altars, including an Irish Altar.
6. Visit the Chapel of San Telmo
This small but beautiful chapel was much more to my liking and is in a spectacular setting, on the rock of the Caleta looking out across the Atlantic Ocean.
Inside it is utter simplicity: black and cream chequerboard flooring, whitewashed walls, a painted altar and a wooden roof.
Built by the families of fishermen in 1626, the church is dedicated to Pedro Gonzalez Telmo, the patron saint of the Spanish province of San Telmo.
Today, it serves as the German Catholic church in Puerto de la Cruz.
7. Cool off at Lago Martiánez
Now for something completely different.
Adjacent to San Telmo is Lago Martiánez. Also known as Costa Martiánez Tourist Complex, this has your entertainment and leisure needs covered with its artificial seawater swimming pools, a large lake, gardens, terraces, islands, viewpoints, cultural spaces, bars and restaurants.
It’s a useful, and reasonably priced, option for relaxation and cooling off if your accommodation does not have a pool and you don’t fancy the beach.
8. Experience local life in Plaza del Charco
Plaza del Charco is the beating heart of the old town.
One of the best things to do in Puerto de la Cruz is to watch life go by as locals chat on wooden benches in the shade of the Canary palms and Indian laurel trees as children have fun in the playground.
9. Visit Castillo San Felipe
One kilometre to the west of Plaza del Charco is Castillo San Felipe. Located next to Playa Jardín, one of Puerto de la Cruz’s main black-sand beaches, this small but imposing fort was built in the 17th Century to protect the city against pirates.
Today, Castillo San Felipe plays host to temporary art exhibitions and theatre and dance performances.
10. Watch the waves crash over the sea wall (Explanada del Muelle)
Sometimes there is no greater pleasure than watching nature do its thing. And nature does its thing spectacularly in Puerto de la Cruz, where the mighty force of the Atlantic Ocean crashes into its sea wall.
Take a walk along its sea wall and marvel (and try not to get soaked).
Where to Eat in Puerto de la Cruz
You won’t be stuck for choice for places to eat in Puerto de la Cruz. Most restaurants are concentrated in the old town.
Here are a few that I highly recommend:
Calle Mequinez, 20
Proof that short menus are a good thing. Good service and even better food with the best lamb dish that I have ever tasted, a steal at €10. Worth the price of a plane ticket to Tenerife alone.
Calle de la Marina, 2
For super-fresh seafood and fish, head to this unpretentious café by the old harbour at the northern end of the sea wall. Red plastic chairs, wipe clean tables and service with a smile.
Fill your boots with langoustines and Canarian potatoes as you watch the waves crashing onto the wall. Get there early for lunch for a prime seat.
Not open for dinner.