As the title says: I went to Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands, with a friend of mine in November. On an all-inclusive trip, too, so there was way less need to organize anything myself. This whole “almost everything is done for you” approach felt rather weird, but I think it was interesting to see how so many people spend their holidays. Even if it feels somehow foreign (tee-hee) to me. I had not, in fact, been on a holiday like this since I was a kid, when my parents took care of the holiday arrangements. I think it is a rather different thing organizing a trip with a kid anyway, as nowadays my mum is less of an all-inclusive kind of a woman herself…
I love planning trips, myself, so the whole comparing prices of flights/trains, hotels, checking out restaurants and planning things to do is one of my favourite things. Thus, as you can imagine, booking a trip via a travel agency that deals with most things for me is not really my preferred way of traveling, generally speaking. But you have to try everything at least once, right? And just so you don’t have to read all of my jabbering: yes, I do get the appeal, yes, it was worth it, and yes, I might do something similar again at some point. But probably not any time soon.
The Canary Islands belong to Spain, but are actually next to Morocco, so they are even more south than Spain. This means that all of the islands are rather popular around winter time, when it gets rainy, dark, cold and miserable in most of Europe. During our trip, the temperatures were around 20 degrees (Celsius, in case someone is wondering) every day, and mostly sunny. So basically my perfect kind of weather: temperatures didn’t exceed 25 and there was a slight breeze. I did live most of my life very much up north, so anything over 25 degrees feels weird and unnatural and makes me wonder how people survive such temperatures. But I still dream of going to all the places where temperatures are consistently higher than that. I’m weird that way.
So, back to the actual Tenerife trip. The flight left from Ostend-Bruges Airport, which was my first visit to this particular airport, despite it being, by far, the closest airport to me. Most flights from there go to the very touristy beach resort towns, so generally speaking I haven’t had all that much interest in flying from there. I am more of a city trip girl than a beach resort girl, and thus have never before flown from any other airport in Belgium than Brussels Airport. But flying from an airport close to home did make the morning a lot easier, as I got to the airport about 20 minutes after leaving the house instead of walking 25 mins to the station and then spending at least 1.5 hours in trains, as there is usually a change in Brussels… Cheaper, too!
And because this was an all-inclusive trip, after landing we got whisked away by bus straight to our hotel. In theory. In practice we had to wait for everyone to get to the bus and then sit in the bus approximately forever because not everyone was going to the same hotel. At least we saw plenty of the island while sitting in the bus, as we drove basically from one side of the island to the other. But it also meant we were at the hotel only after dark, and thus couldn’t do much else than a bit of scouting around the hotel on the first night. And, of course, we had a few drinks, since they are a part of the all-inclusive thing too. Now that’s a bonus I can agree with.
Tenerife, like all of the Canary Islands, is a volcanic island. And it shows: the ground is mostly volcanic rock with plenty of sharp, jagged edges, and if you are expecting lush tropical forests, you will be disappointed. Of course the tourist resorts and areas around them have their palm trees, but once you go out of the more populated areas, there isn’t much life around. Well, except when you go up Mount Teide, the big volcano at the middle of Tenerife. There is this part with amazing, lush, more boreal-style forest before you go too high for trees again. Too bad we didn’t have the time to pause and take pictures there, for reasons that will become clear later. If there is ever a next time, I’ll be smarter and better prepared!
On the first full day we had planned a boat trip in the afternoon. Or, well, booked one via our travel agency, so we just chose the day. Still, that meant that we could go walk around in actual daylight to see a bit of the old town and other areas near our hotel. I think we spent half of that time just looking at the sea: the views were quite different from what we are used to in Belgium (or in Finland, for that matter). No sandy beaches, but plenty of dark volcanic rock that meant interesting contrasts with the blue water.
The boat trip itself was definitely an amazing experience. We had booked it beforehand with just a few clicks, paid for it, and then everything was sorted out for us. We had bus transfer to the marina (which was, again, of course, on the other side of the island), plenty of drinks and some food on the boat, and a tour guide explaining to us what we were doing and seeing. The whole point of the trip was to see dolphins. Even the name of the boat company included dolphins. And boy, did we see dolphins. The dolphins actually came to the boat to show off a bit. I had, of course, seen dolphins already on my Curaçao trip a year before, but this time I saw them so close I could have almost touched them. (Don’t touch them though, you will get fined if anyone sees.) Quite the experience, seeing something like that out in the wild.
We also saw some small whales, but they were rather far off. At that point I was also feeling rather nauseous, so I didn’t really feel like running around the boat trying to get a good picture, either. For a while I was worried I was seasick (which I’ve never suffered from before), but it turned out I was just too hungry. Oops. Thus my only shot of a whale is a distant fin that could be just about any kind of fish or marine mammal. Maybe I’ll see some more whales somewhere else. Some day. Somehow.
On the way back towards the marina, we were mostly standing around at the bow of the boat, just sipping sangria and enjoying the sunset. And then promptly going insane because we saw some flying fish. Yes, we both went mental because of a few little fish. We were like gibbering idiots for the two seconds after spotting the first one. And then again every time we spotted them again, fleeing from the big scary boat. People were looking at us like we were completely demented (we kinda were, really), but it seemed that after the dolphins and whales no one else had the energy to get excited about flying fish anymore. Some people need more childlike wonder in their lives, seriously!
For the next few days, we rented a car. We had plans that did not include bus transfer, so we sort of had to rent a car to actually be able to do everything we wanted to do. This car, getting the tickets to Mount Teide’s cable car and getting to the big zoo of Tenerife were the only things we actually organized ourselves on the whole trip of. The trip itself was 6 days, so that’s not much organizing at all, even if the first and last days were spent mostly in buses and planes and waiting for buses and planes.
Even food was sorted out for us: that’s why there are no food pictures at all in this post. None. Zilch. We only ate a few times outside the hotel, mostly lunches during our outings, since at the hotel the food was “free” and outside the hotel it was not. The food at the hotel was okay, of course, but it was a buffet in a big hotel, and frankly, that’s not exactly my thing. I prefer to get my portion for me, trusting it will be relatively freshly made and not dried out like some of the buffet food was. Still, the food was plentiful, and after the rather active days we had, that was definitely a good thing.
So, we visited actually two zoos on this trip. Both me and my friend like visiting zoos, so we figured might as well make the most out of traveling with someone with similar interests. The first of them was the Jungle Park (which I shall not even link to, will explain the reasons below), which had animals, but also a bobsled ride and some other activities, like an adventure route. Basically a place for families with something for everyone.
But the problematic part for me personally was this: there were quite a few animals in the park, and several of them seemed to have relatively miserable living conditions. The birds of prey, one of the first animals you saw after entering the park, were chained with short chains on the ground. That was a BIG no-no, and it made me very worried about what I had paid money for. Their big cats were also in relatively small enclosures, and the leopard was really obviously overweight. There was no one watching over what people do in the (lemur and bird) enclosures you could go into. They also had seal shows, which we didn’t see, but I felt like the seals had a relatively small area to swim in, too (which seems to be a common problem in a lot of zoos, even the better ones). And they basically forced a few birds on us to hold and took pictures of us with them. And if they do this with everyone that visits the zoo, that’s a lot of new people touching and handling any given bird on a daily basis… Basically this is already plenty of reasons why I’d advise people not to support this particular place.
Still, it wasn’t all bad, luckily: most of the animals looked relatively okay. You could also feed a few of the animals with feed you could buy next to the enclosures, meaning it was meant for these animals only. The only animals you could feed that are not relatively common household pets were the emus, and it turns out, emus are not the gentlest of birds. Who would have known that you should not offer a HUGE bird food from your hand. It might be slightly painful when they peck it out of your hand. And if you go inside bird enclosures, make sure you have some tissues and hand sanitizer with you. I was prepared, luckily, and we could wipe off the worst of the bird poop straight away.
The third full day was the day I had been already dreading: we went to El Teide or Mount Teide. We had decided to take the cable car up, and hike down. We had been relatively smart about it, and checked Google Maps for an approximate route and time. Turns out that wasn’t smart enough and Google Maps knows nothing about hiking down volcanos.
The trip already started in an interesting way: According to Google Maps, the drive there was supposed to take approximately an hour, so we left the hotel with a nice extra 15 minute buffer. And still realized half-way there we will never make it on time. We had a ticket for a certain time slot for the cable car so of course I was freaking out about that. My friend, who was driving, almost got a panic attack driving Tenerife’s roads, then again. Turns out someone who has learned to drive in one of the flattest countries in the world might not do all that well when suddenly the roads are tiny, windy and so steep the car starts sounding like the motor might explode. Again, who would’ve known!
But we did get there in the end, and after some more panicking even managed to find a parking spot for the car. And got to go up with the next cable car: turns out the time on the ticket is more an idea, not an exact thing. I’m assuming we were not the only tourists that trust Google Maps too much. So, up we went. My ears popped so many times during the ascension it wasn’t even funny, but views from up high were worth it. I have never been that high (outside a plane, at least), and it was all kinds of amazing to be above the clouds. You could even clearly see how the Earth curves from that high up.
The problem, however: Why did I ever agree to walk down? WHY?! That may have been the worst decision I have made in my whole life. I am actually this very moment wearing the sweatpants I wore on that hike, and they have a hole in the butt because I fell on the way down. Did I already mention the volcanic rock around the island is very jagged and sharp? I was also terrified most of the descent, because it turns out the path was not really a path as much as a “if you walk here where others have walked before, you might not die” sort of a solution. And no, the descent did not take “only an hour or so” like Google told us. It took several times that. The sun had already set way before I got into the car again. Heck, the sun was setting already before I even reached the road. I was apparently looking so miserable after the first hour that quite a few people we saw going the other way were smiling at me VERY widely, and a few even told me “you’ll be fine” or “it will get better soon”.
Spoiler alert: It wasn’t soon enough. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that I would more likely get down than back up at that point. My legs were moving more on pure mental energy than actual physical energy by the end. And boy did I pay for that for days afterwards, too. Actually more like a week than just days.
So, if you are not a hiker: just take the cable car up AND down. If you are a hiker: apparently it is easier to go up the mountain (slowly and calmly) than down. We were told this by one of the hotel reception people afterwards. She said she has climbed up the volcano, but would never go down. Was good to know all this afterwards, right?! But I have hopefully learned my lesson now.
I’m still happy I did that, because it was one of the most scary but also impressive feats of strength I have ever done. I’m more of a lazy nerd than an active sports person, and even the sportier people seemed to take their time, no matter which way they were going, up or down. But I also never want to experience anything that scary again. I was almost crying a few times because I was just so tired and afraid of falling and breaking my bones. Not dying, mind you, but breaking something important and being stuck there, as the only speedy recovery type would most likely be via helicopter. And think how expensive that would be! But I survived, and the only thing broken was my poor pants.
The last full day we went to Loro Parque, the big zoo in Tenerife. The free tractor train thing to there left from a square about 5 minute walk away from our hotel, which was nice. We just ate some breakfast, headed to the stop and waited for the next train to arrive. Then we used the time it took for the slow ride to get us to the zoo to catch some Canarian Pokémon. Yes, we were mentally maybe 8 almost the whole trip, and yes, we were both well aware of it. Life is more fun when you are mentally 8.
Loro Parque was definitely the better zoo experience of the two. The animals seemed to have better living conditions, nothing was chained to anything, and they were educating people on plastic ending up in seas, explaining how much they had helped endangered birds in the wild in South America, and on other things they do to try and help wildlife thrive in natural environments as well. They also had some saved animals, like the turtle that had been saved as a little baby turtle, and had lived in the park since, and the deaf orca that had been found severely malnourished, as it couldn’t hunt that well.
But. They had dolphin and orca shows, and I’m not sure how you can watch those without feeling sort of bad about it all. Especially when the area for both animals seemed really small, when you think how many animals there were in there and how much they swim on a daily basis in the sea. I fully understand that building huge enclosures for sea animals is way harder and expensive than it is for land animals, but somehow it feels even worse when they are made to just do tricks in front of an audience several times a day.
So what did I learn from this trip?
- I have issues with zoos when animals are chained up, have obvious health issues or very small enclosures, even if I really like zoos in general. Basically I like zoos even if the whole idea itself is rather problematic.
- All-inclusive holidays are super easy, but they also mean there is less of a chance of finding amazing things sort of by accident.
- Apparently I am an okay travel companion, at least as long as I have the option to tell them if I need my peace and quiet without anyone getting offended by the introvert needing introvert stuff, and by stuff I mean peace and quiet. Not that I needed to use said option, but it was something we discussed already before booking anything, as I know myself well enough to know sometimes I just need to recharge a bit.
All in all, it was an interesting experience, and I wouldn’t even mind doing an all-inclusive thing at some point in the future as a “home away from home” sort of thing. That means I’d still work during the day and all, but at least then I could spend the evenings and weekends doing something very much different than what I would do at home. Will have to think about it. I think flying for just that would feel silly, unless I’d stay there for months, though, so who knows, maybe not.