10 things you didn’t know about Tenerife

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Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands, is rife with tenners. Okay, maybe not, but there are some other slightly more factual things that may surprise you about the epic island based around the mighty Pico del Teide volcano.

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1. Tenerife is home to the second-largest carnival in the world

Held every February, the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is a multi-day extravaganza full of all sorts of madness. The Carnival Queen competition is a particular highlight – participants wear absurdly huge dresses that double as their own mobile scenery, often weighing far more than the comparatively tiny women wearing them.

2. Tenerife has the same flag as Scotland

It also has the same patron saint, Saint Andrew. That’s just about where the similarities end though. If you’re a flag purist, you may point out that the two flags are actually very slightly different shades of blue, but then you’d bore everyone and would have no friends.

3. The world’s largest dragon tree is in Tenerife

Dragon trees, found throughout the Canary Islands and in only a handful of other places, are so called because they seep a red resin when you cut into their leaves or bark. The legend goes that they took root on Earth after Atlas slayed Ladon, the dragon guarding the Garden of Hesperides.

The biggest dragon tree is in Icod de los Vinos and has the dramatic name The Thousand-Year-Old Dragon, but nobody really knows how old it is. Conservative estimates say 200 years, while most people pluck 800 years from the ether, and a couple of really ambitious thinkers insist it’s about 3,000 years old, based on nothing whatsoever.

So could it really be older than Buddha himself? Dragon trees are technically monocots, so they’re more like massive asparagus than your standard tree. This means you can’t count the number of rings to find their age as you would in a tree with a normal trunk. When it comes to dragon trees, age investigators have to count how many branches they have, count all the times these branches split to form new ones, do some very vague maths on top of this, then eventually shrug their shoulders and give up.

4. Tenerife is a UFO hotspot

It may sound a bit odd, but people often claim to see flying saucers and the like around Tenerife. Popular sighting areas include Granadilla, Montana Roja and Tejita beach. In Punta del Hildago, people have even reported seeing the things land and beings getting out to stretch their legs. One theory is that the stark lava-tinged landscape around Mount Teide somehow affects people’s brains due to the way it looks like a distant planet, making otherwise sensible humans hallucinate. Or maybe aliens exist and they just really like Tenerife – who doesn’t, after all?

https://twitter.com/VIPLeisure/status/587616235455557632 Masca

5. Their version of Spanish sounds different

The type of Spanish spoken in Tenerife, Canarian Spanish, doesn’t have that Z sound that the language does elsewhere. You’d think this would make it much easier to use, but then that just means previously different-sounding words now sound the same, often confusing people.

In addition, their V’s can sometimes sound more like B’s, and their X’s more like H’s. They also don’t bother with “de” a lot of the time, the Spanish word for “of”.

iStock.com/tapungato
iStock.com/tapungato

6. Admiral Nelson lost his right arm in Tenerife

Admiral Nelson tried to invade Tenerife in July of 1797, mainly because that’s the sort of thing the British Empire was into at the time. Unfortunately for him, the failed attempt ended with him losing his right arm, famously preparing his appearance for hundreds of years of easy parody. The Spanish forces let Nelson and his fleet leave safely once the battle was over and even fed them all. As a way of thanks, Nelson offered them one cask of beer and a single cheese. That rather crummy gift is perhaps why the museum in Plaza de Espana in Santa Cruz de Tenerife has proudly displayed “The Tiger”, the canon that was purported to have maimed the famous admiral.

7. Tenerife is home to one of the world’s largest lava tubes

The Cave of the Wind in Icod de Los Vinos was formed by Teide’s volcanic activity around 27,000 years ago and has been making people say “Whoa…” ever since. The 17-kilometre complex of tunnels makes you feel like some sort of a giant worm who has been slithering underneath Tenerife. Elsewhere, the island is covered in all sorts of otherworldly lava formations too, making it awesome for walking around and pretending you’re in Total Recall (original version, obviously).

8. Tenerife loves massive carpets

The celebration of Corpus Christi, held on the sixtieth day after Easter, is a national holiday in Tenerife. Rather than preoccupying themselves too much with the body of Christ, as the name might imply. The inhabitants of Tenerife use the holiday to construct huge eye-popping carpets instead, most notably in the town of La Orotava. Are they actually carpets though? Well, most are in fact made from thousands of flowers, so not only do they look fluffy, but they smell lovely too.

9. Several stone pyramids were built in the 19th century, but nobody knows why

That’s not even that long ago, c’mon! Several theories abound about the Pyramids of Guimar, the most likely being that they were used for some sort of agricultural process, but there’s no actual proof. The situation’s amusing when you realise there are other pyramids in the world that are thousands of years old and we know what they were for – contacting aliens on Sirius, obviously. Perhaps the pyramids in Tenerife were built by those pesky aliens that people keep seeing.
There are also some weird stone houses in Teide National Park, but the reasons for those are well documented: a failed attempt by Germans at building a sanatorium in the early 20th century. The funny thing is, nobody’s entirely sure who owns these buildings now, so Tenerife authorities have decided to leave them be in case an owner suddenly turns up and complains.

10. Tenerife is one of the best stargazing destinations in the world

Tenerife is so ideal when it comes to looking up at the constellations that they’ve passed laws to stop too many flights crossing the island and spoiling the fun. The Starmus Festival is held every year to celebrate all the stargazing, with science-world celebs like Stephen Hawking and Neil Armstrong coming along to give talks. Other than the festival and the naturally beautiful skies, you can visit Teide Observatory from April to December to get an even closer look at the heavens.

(Feature image: Miguel Ángel García.)

10 things you didn’t know about Tenerife was last modified: November 20th, 2015 by Adam Zulawski
Author: Adam Zulawski (252 posts)

I'm a freelance writer and Polish-to-English translator. I blog about travel for Cheapflights and run TranslatingMarek.com. Download my free e-book about Poland's capital after it was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis: 'In the Shadow of the Mechanised Apocalypse: Warsaw 1946'