You will quickly discover that Tenerife is one big cone-shaped island, with Mount Teide at its centre. It is therefore unsurprising that the only way to get from one part of the island to the other is via roads cut into the side of the mountain range.
The roads are, for the most part, surprisingly good, and much work was being done on either repairing, improving or building new roads during the time we were there.
But if you suffer from vertigo in any shape or form (like my wife) then just be aware that many of the roads have the mountain face on one side and a sheer drop the other. Added to which the switch-back, windy nature of the roads means that you will be in second or even first gear a lot of the time!
But for goodness sake don't let this put you off! I found driving there quite straightforward if somewhat tiring, especially as my little SEAT hire car had to struggle to get us up the hills in anything other than second gear. But then again so were all the other cars, except for the BMWs, although why anyone on Tenerife would buy such a luxury car in such a mountainous terrain is beyond me!
The road from Puerto towards Los Gigantes is very scenic, with the sea one side and rugged mountain sides the other. Very picturesque, and it enables you to justify to your other half exactly why you thought a £400 4-megapixel digital camera was required for your holiday snaps, when a £40 traditional film camera would actually give you identical results. Given that if want your photos to actually last a few years before fading, curling or smearing you need to have them developed by a traditional film developer (e.g. SupaSnaps) then the digital camera revolution leaves me even more bemused!
Of Dragons and Butterflies...
Anyhow, the road leaves Puerto westwards towards Icod de los Vinos, which is home to the allegedly thousand year old dragon tree. Full details are in any of the guidebooks previously mentioned.
Much more enjoyable than a funny-shaped tree was the butterfly garden next door. They even let me pay with my VISA card without the usual 3rd-degree regarding passport IDs and the like. You can easily spend a couple of hours in this fairly small tropical garden, especially, if like us, you are fortunate enough to see a couple of the butterflies being "born" out of their chrysalis (pupae).
The staff all speak reasonable English, and are obviously very enthusiastic about their subject, as well as being friendly to us out-of-towners. Go visit!
After Icod, continue on the TF820 southwards. You will pass the caravan park at El Tanque which we did not visit as we had had the real thing in Tunisia (complete with solar eclipse), but it looked OK from the road and you can get authentic mint tea in an Arab tent according to the AA Spiral Guide to Tenerife and La Gomera.
You'll eventually come to a turning to Masca, a tiny (really diminutive) village only recently connected to the outside world with a road. Unfortunately it's on every tour operator's itinerary and the huge coaches are definitely not suitable for the size of the road (sheer drop down one side). If I could suggest one thing to the Tenerifian government it would be to ban outright anything bigger than a mini-bus anywhere on the island.
If you decide to go to Masca, which we drove through but did not stop due to the sheer numbers of cars and buses already parked in any and every available parking spot, continue on the road for about 2 miles (very steep but good quality mountain road) to the Cafeteria Mirador "La Cruz de Hilda" at the top. You can see the café from Masca and Masca looks even more picture postcard beautiful when you're there. You can enjoy a snack or drink there and I was introduced to a strange but exquisite way to drink coffee: ask for Cafe Cortado Leche y Leche which means something like "Coffee divided milk and milk". They put condensed (not evaporated) milk into the glass first, then fill it up with espresso and regular hot milk. Your glass of hot coffee has a small white base and brown topping. Your supposed to stir the coffee into the condensed milk a bit and enjoy. You won't need any extra sugar because condensed milk already has loads in it. Try it the once and you'll be drinking it regularly I promise you. And with the delightful view from the patio balcony of this cafeteria it will be truly heavenly! We really liked it here, and it seem much more attractive than Masca itself (but then as we did not actually visit I can't really comment).
After Masca, you have to drive back to the TF820 and continue southwards to Los Gigantes, now signposted. Arriving in Los Gigantes was a bit like arriving in Southend-on-sea: a very sea-side town, complete with glass bottomed boats on Dolphin spotting excursions, with every other eating place a "Eastenders Pub". All run by expatriate British people of course. We had a "full English" at one of the cafes but had to move two tables to our right to have a desert at another cafe! Beware that you are seated at the right table for the cafe you want to eat in. Watch out for sudden changes in table cloth colour or seating cushions: they are demarcation lines between the various establishments.
We did not have time for a 3 hour Dolphin excursion (if it had been just an hour or so we would have joined one) so I can't comment on how good they are. Although I found it a bit of fun ordered everything in English my wife hated it and could not wait to leave this mini-Britain. I guess it has its place, but frankly I usually detest places that pride themselves on not being Spanish on what is still Spanish territory, with signs like "No Spanish food here" as though that is supposed to encourage me to visit! I can't say Los Gigantes (or more accurately Puerto Santiago) was exactly like this, but give it a few years and I expect it will be.
The cliffs (the "Gigantes") are truly awesome, even more so from a boat I suspect, and it made a pretty sight whilst eating our Bacon & Eggs. If you are a walker you can arrange for one of the boats to pick you up from the walk down from Masca (only someone of Olympic standard could walk up to Masca from here). The AA book has details of this and more.
Still, after a quick coffee whilst we wrote a couple of postcards, we were on our way to Playa las Americas and Los Christianos, just to see what all the fuss was about. Were they really the new Ibiza for British lager-louts and loutesses?
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