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Tenerife is a popular tourist destination, but most visitors come for the holiday resorts on the south side of the island, like Los Cristianos and Playa de las Américas. Only few tourists take the effort to travel to San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Tenerife's former capital. Those people miss out on something, as La Laguna is a gem. Perhaps this is precisely because it lost its status of capital to the nearby Santa Cruz in 1833. The city still remained Tenerife's cultural and religious center.
La Laguna was founded in 1496 and grew fast because of the influx of fortune seekers and trade with Spanish colonies in Central and South America. This turned it into a city with an abundance of beautiful houses and buildings, for the most part in Renaissance style. The historical importance of the old city center was underlined by its inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. Ever since, the center has only further improved; it was the incentive to restore many buildings. Now don't think that this is a 'museum town', on the contrary. The presence of the University of the Canary Islands makes La Laguna a lively city.
The Iglesia-Parroquia Matriz de Nuestra Señora de la Concepción is the oldest building. You can climb the bell tower. The Real Santuario del Santísimo Cristo de La Laguna also dates back to the sixteenth century. This church is named after the Canary Islands' most sacred sanctuary: The Santísimo Cristo. This richly decorated statue of Jesus on the Cross was made in Antwerp at the beginning of the sixteenth century and Tenerife got hold of it through trading with Venice. Afterwards, the statue was on display in Barcelona for a long time and after that in Cádiz, until it finally returned to Tenerife.
The city's cathedral is also located in the historic center, but dates from a much later period and is therefore also built in a different, neo-Gothic, style. The construction of the Santa Iglesia Catedral de San Cristóbal de La Laguna began in 1904, and the church was completed in 1915. The Spanish conqueror of the Canary Islands, Alonso Fernandez de Lugo, is buried here.
In addition to the theater (in beautiful Belle Époque style) there are various other palaces in La Laguna that are worth a visit, like the Palacio Lercaro and the Palacio de Nava.
San Cristóbal de La Laguna is not the only authentic town on Tenerife. When driving southwest from the city you'll reach La Orotava with old monumental buildings in the center and the typical Canarian haciendas with patios and wooden balconies. In the Orotava Valley you'll find banana plantations and vineyards at the foot of the Pico del Teide Volcano. This volcano, in a way, divides Tenerife into two parts: The northern part of the island is green and fertile; the southern part dry and desert-like. The volcano of 3718 meters (making it Spain's highest mountain) is surrounded by a national park. In your rental car you can get to 2200 meters, but the number of parking places here is limited. From this point you can take a cable car up to 3550 meters. Keep in mind that it's cold at the top with often strong winds. Several hiking trails have been mapped out through the national park.
Nearby La Orotava lies the tourist town of Puerto de la Cruz. One of its main attractions is the Loro Parque (parrot park) just outside town. The park's name doesn't really fit the bill anymore. In addition to parrots you can for example see dolphins, orcas, penguins, sea lions, sharks, chimpanzees, gorillas and crocodiles.
The roads on Tenerife are good, but narrow, steep and full of hairpin bends in the mountains. Parking in large tourist areas and the capital can be difficult. We recommend leaving your car in a parking garage.
Los Rodeos Airport is located directly southwest of San Cristóbal de La Laguna. This airport is mainly used for flights to other Canary Islands and the Spanish mainland.
Tenerife's main airport, Reina Sofia Airport is located sixty kilometers southwest of the capital Santa Cruz and can be easily reached by rental car via the TF-1 freeway, which connects Santa Cruz with Playa de las Américas.