The Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the capital and largest city of the island of Tenerife, itself the biggest of the Canary Islands. Very much the economic centre of both the island and the archipelago (together with Las Palmas) Santa Cruz is not really a tourist destination, although it does deserve a day or two of discovery, especially if your stay on the island is of ten days or two weeks. Just like the rest of the Canaries, Santa Cruz enjoys year-round sunshine with temperatures rarely dropping below 15°C and very little precipitation. Although most people who come to Tenerife spend the majority of their time in their hotel in other parts of the island, the capital can easily be reached by car or public transport and is fairly tourist-friendly.
The city is home to several museums. One of these is the Museo de Bellas Artes which houses a collection of Canarian, Spanish and Flemish painting, as well as sculptures by Rodin. Another is the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (Museum of Nature and Man) which covers the archaeology, paleontology, botany and entomology of the Canary Islands. It has an excellent Guanche (Canary aboriginals) collection, including some of their mummies. But why stay inside when the weather is guaranteed to play ball. Head instead to the Parque Maratimo César Manrique, named after the well known architect, which brings together a collection of pools, kids' play areas, restaurants and a small beach. For the real deal make for Playa de Las Teresitas in the area of San Andrés or the (Saharan-imported) black sand beach of Las Gaviotas which is popular with nudists. There are several markets in the city including the Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África, which is crammed with fresh fruit, veg and other foodstuffs, and the Rastro, the large flea market.
By far the biggest event in the city's calendar is the carnival in February. The second largest in the world after Rio de Janeiro (Santa Cruz de Tenerife is twinned with the Brazilian city), it dominates the city and encaptures its population for six days during which several competitions runs, including carnival queen and The Song if Laughter. The capital also has its fair share of interesting architecture to take in. The contemporary Auditorio de Tenerife, conceived by Santiago Calatrava Valls, is somewhat of a symbol of the city and was completed in 2003.The capital is also the home of the tallest twin towers in all of Spain, the Torres de Santa Cruz as well as the not quite so modern Iglesia de Nuestro Señora de la Concepción, the city's oldest church which features the Islamic art of mudéjar. Two of Santa Cruz's main squares are Plaza del Principe (where the Museum of Arts is located) and the famous Plaza de España where you should spend time taking in the atmosphere of the surroundings. For a bit of peace and quiet, head for one of the several parks. The most popular is the Parque Garcia Sanabria, named after the former mayor, and features a Swiss-made floral clock.
Getting to the Canary Islands is pretty straight forward. The closest airport is the Aeropuerto de Tenerife Norde which is just a 15-minute drive along the TF-5 road. Most people coming to the island however, do so on a package holiday and so if you are staying in the south of the island you will almost certainly land at the airport down there. But the roads in Tenerife are excellent and you can reach Santa Cruz in just 45 minutes along the TF-1 coastal road.
For those who are hoping to have a big night out in Santa Cruz, you should probably think again. While there are of course bars and clubs in the capital, this is not the centre of the island's entertainment. For a better choice you'll need to head to La Laguna where partying is the order of the night.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and the Canary Islands in general, is a pretty safe place and there are no real bad areas through which you should not saunter. Beware, however, during carnival time, that you don't put on display your valuables as there are always pickpockets around who will relieve you of cash, jewellry and mobile phones if you are careless. You should also be aware that, as the centre of the Canary Islands, there are lots of conventions etc going on in the city so make sure if you are planning on staying overnight, that there is nothing going on as this may cause trouble when booking a hotel room.
The Canary Islands have several specialities which you should probably try in the capital as many of the popular resorts are geared towards tourists and their home cuisine. The cocido is a typical Spanish dish, although each region has their own variety. The Canary Island version features yam, pear and chickpeas and, like most dishes, will probably be served with mojo, a sauce made with olive oil, vinegar, salt, garlic and other herbs and spices. There is also a spicy version with red chilies.
Papas arrugadas is a baked potato dish usually served with mojo. It uses Canarian potatoes, which are different from those found on the mainland being smaller and rounder. Eaten with their skin on, they are very salty.
The staple bread in the Canary Islands is known as gofia and is made using a flour produced from roasted sweetcorn. For those with a sweet tooth, try the while for a tipple go for the local wine made from malvasías grapes.
The Canary Islands has little in the way of crafts although you might be able to find some lace or precious stones at the market or in specialist shops. The best things to take back are probable food and wine, such as some mojosauce or some local wine, especially those made with the malvasía grape. Otherwise, you can hot the shops on Calle Castillo, the main shopping thoroughfare, as well as those on the following streets: San José, del Pilar, Viera and Clavijo. You'll find a whole mix of shops to choose from with especially good discounts on electrical items.