Tenerife’s ‘Netherlands’

Black beaches and cool climes.

WORDS AND IMAGES BY ROLAND HANEWALD

The Spanish island of Tenerife, part of the Canaries Archipelago, is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations. Located far off the coast of Morocco, it boasts subtropical climes throughout most of the year, a lot of green nature and, mainly, with the present world in turmoil, safety for anyone visiting it. All these features are well known. But almost no one is aware that the mountainous island also has a “Netherlands” of its own, a region locally called Isla Baja in the northwestern triangle. The name translates as “Low Island,” or Netherlands with a bit of literary license.

Black beaches, if any

The term is, of course, of geographic—not of topographic—nature, because the northwestern tip of Tenerife is anything but low. Steep mountain ridges and sheer cliffs rise everywhere thereabouts, and in most places lava rock juts abruptly into the sea, with rarely a stretch of beach in between. And if so, it is black.

Tenerife’s fabled playas mainly occupy the island’s south, where sand had been blown all the way from the distant Sahara and deposited there. The northwest, by contrast, is volcanic throughout, as is the island’s entire foundation. The landscape is crowned by Mt. Teide, which is 3,718 meters tall and is graced by a snowcap during the winter months. Tenerife’s volcanoes are considered dormant.

Since tourists prefer white beaches, there is much less commotion in the Netherlands than in the south. Yet, the northwestern corner is anything but a dead end. It is composed of four communities: Buenavista del Norte, Los Silos, Garachico and El Tanque. They all offer good reasons to spend one’s vacation there, because their environs are still Canarian and not foreign dominated. The catch is that the visitor has to master a bit of Spanish since no one bothers to speak any other language, including English.

Cool climes

While the ambience is pleasant, it must be mentioned that the island’s northern weather does not conform to the prevalent clichés of permanent blue skies and brightly burning sun. The mountain range along the coast traps the cloud banks wafting in from the Atlantic Ocean, often producing overcast skies and shaded landscapes.

Although the sun keeps breaking through for much of the time, the air is palpably cool in winter and simply cool in summer. Sometimes it rains a bit, but just a bit. This type of weather is considered very agreeable by most visitors, and a foreign tourist won’t find himself alone for that reason. But the madding crowds, thank God, are somewhere else.

Don’t miss Garachico

Those searching for a rustic environment will find it in the Baja. No other region in the island features such a dense network of nature paths as the northwest, but most are quite steep. One of those is the Reparo Trail, which snakes up a sheer cliff above the little town of Garachico and proffers a magnificent view from its top.

Garachico rose from ruins. In 1706, the volcano Las Arenas erupted and buried large portions of the flourishing sea-port town under thick layers of lava. The place, however, was soon rebuilt—and very artfully at that. Even the lava flows, which were incorporated in the urban structures, are a popular tourist attraction today. Visiting Garachico is certainly worth one’s while, but scaling the Reparo will definitely take your breath away.

Natural ‘jacuzzis’

The townships of Buenavista del Norte, El Tanque and Los Silos will also make visitors feel at home, mainly because of the comfy and affordable accommodations. Los Silos, which means “granaries” (camarines in Philippine Spanish), has a cozy atmosphere with a little old-town center, narrow streets and friendly locals. (The author even came across a Filipino twosome operating a kind of sari-sari store).

In Los Silos, the potential for exciting mountain treks is greatest. And the suburb of San José even features a tiny beach (black, of course) with an impressive landmark: a huge whale skeleton.

During much of the year, heavy surf thunders upon this coast. Bathing in the sea must not be relinquished, though. It takes place in charcos, natural “jacuzzis” in the lava coast, protected from the waves but constantly flooded by crystal-clear seawater.

And the Baja offers another pleasant advantage. Due to the constant inshore wind, the exhaust gases of Tenerife’s far too many automobiles do not make themselves felt along this coast.