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Home » A cruise guide to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the carnival-loving capital of the Canary Islands
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A cruise guide to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the carnival-loving capital of the Canary Islands

Although Foreign Office guidelines currently advise against sea-going cruises, sailing is returning to the Canary Islands from the start of November and there is no quarantine required on return to the UK

Why go? 

This underrated city set betwixt rugged mountains and the Atlantic Ocean impresses with a world-class arts venue, the world’s second biggest carnival and a swathe of eating and drinking options. Today, cruise ship passengers are warmly welcomed, unlike Lord Nelson, who had his right arm shattered here in 1797.

Cruise port location

Santa Cruz Port, the second busiest cruise ship destination in Spain after Barcelona, is located only half a mile from the city centre, though shuttle buses are available to spirit you into town. The large modern terminal building opened in 2016 with a sweep of 500 check-in desks, making it the largest terminal in the Canaries.

Can I walk to any places of interest?

It’s a 20-minute walk into the central Plaza de Espana from most berths so you are better off taking the free shuttle buses that are usually laid on by the port authority. If you don’t mind the walk around the busy port you needn’t use any transport bar two feet all day.

Getting around

There is an efficient, good-value local bus network and a limited tram system, with taxis also plentiful outside the terminal building – taxi drivers can make for handy tour guides on this holiday island. Car hire is available for those looking to explore beyond the capital.

santa cruz de tenerife, cruise port guide

Santa Cruz hosts the world’s second largest carnival

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What to see and do 

If you are here from February into March you are in serious luck as the world’s second largest carnival – after Rio de Janeiro – will be in full swing. The rest of the year, this lively city tempts with an easy-to-explore historic centre and plenty of green space. The Playa de Las Teresitas awaits sunbathers too.

What can I do in four hours or less?

For sunseekers, Playa de Las Teresitas lies just a short taxi-ride away. The main sights of this small city are easy to explore on foot so you don’t need an excursion. From the grand Plaza de Espana (where shuttle buses stop), head south down Avenida de la Constitution in search of the city’s most striking building: Santiago Calatrava’s Auditorio, a 1,600-seat opera house and concert hall, strikes out across the city’s skyline with a vaulting 200ft canopy that resembles a crashing wave. Think the Guggenheim in Bilbao crossed with the Sydney Opera House.

Old meets new next door at the San Juan Castle, which delves into the history of the city before it became capital of the Canaries in 1723. Also nearby is the Parque Maritimo, a beautifully crafted oasis of swimming pools, shops and a restaurant, the work of seminal Canarian architect Cesar Manrique.

It’s worth striking inland to check out the historic La Noria district on and around Calle Antonio Dominguez Alfonso, home to the cultural societies that play a large part in organising the carnival. Royal Caribbean’s Tenerife City Sights is a four-hour tour that sweeps you across to the other side of the island and the resort town of Puerto de la Cruz, where you get to check out the volcanic black sand beaches and indulge in some souvenir shopping.

Black sand beach at Puerto de la Cruz

Puerto de la Cruz is characterised by its black sand beaches

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What can I do in eight hours or less?

With more time, museum enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Military Museum, which houses the cannon reputed to have blown off Lord Nelson’s arm. There’s also the Museum of Man and Nature, which sheds light on the island’s natural and human history, and the shiny new TEA modern art gallery. Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a green city with many palm-fringed streets and parks – the best is Parque Municipal Garcia Sanabria with its shady lanes, fountains and modern sculptures.

To break further afield you could hire a car to explore the island’s spectacular volcanic core around epic Mount Teide (Spain’s highest peak at 12,200ft). You can take a cable car up to 11,660ft, but you’ll need to book a ride with permit in advance if you want to hike to the top. Alternatively, take a tram ride up to the charming former capital of La Laguna, which more than deserves its place on Unesco’s coveted World Heritage list.

Seabourn offers a Teide excursion that takes away the hassle of hiring your own car. You enjoy a scenic drive up through the dense pine forests and then on into the otherworldly Canadas del Teide National Park, a vast volcanic landscape that feels more lunar than earthly. Lunch at the Teide Parador is included.

Canadas del Teide National Park, Tenerife

The vast volcanic landscape of Canadas del Teide National Park is well worth seeing

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Eat and drink

Fresh Atlantic seafood is the obvious star. Make sure to try the papas arrugadas (salty wrinkly potatoes) too, with a spicy red mojo or the gentler green mojo sauce. The island’s wines are also growing in stature, though the small production means you seldom see them abroad – snare a bottle from the Orotava Valley if you can. The local Dorada beer is a crisp and refreshing hot weather friend.

Don’t leave Santa Cruz without…

Remember that sales tax is lower here than in mainland Spain, so make the most of that by indulging in a spot of retail therapy. To get your finger on the retail pulse of the island capital take your credit cards for a stroll along Calle del Castillo.

Need to know

Flight time

Ryanair and easyJet fly direct to Tenerife South from London with a flight time of around four hours.

Safety 

Most visits are trouble-free. Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a port city, though, with the seedy element that can entail, so be aware around the port area at night, and in crowded places for pickpockets during the day too.

Best time to go

This is the land of eternal spring, so there is no bad time to visit. Saying that, the biggest crowds descend in European summer and around Christmas, so if you want a more relaxed experience visit outside these peak periods.

Closures 

Shops tend to open at around 9am and then close at either 5pm or 6pm, though many more traditional businesses still observe the afternoon siesta (between around 2pm and 5pm), then stay open later. Malls tend to keep longer hours, while many businesses tend to operate reduced hours or close on Sundays.

Please check the latest travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before travelling, and be aware that government advice can change suddenly. Always check your operator’s cancellation policy before booking.

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