Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the co-capital of the Canary Islands (Las Palmas, Gran Canaria is the other), and as such, is home to the Parliament, the Ministry of the Presidency, one half of the government Ministries and the Provincial and Superior Courts. It also boasts some high-profile architecture and an annual Carnival that is second only to Rio’s.
Cruise ships dock in the Port of Santa Cruz, approximately ½ mile from the Plaza de Espana, which is the hub of the city center. The Port Authority provides free shuttle buses to the Plaza; taxis are also available at the pier.
The architectural symbol of Santa Cruz is the Calatrava-designed Auditorio de Tenerife, located at the southern end of the Port. The Auditorio, which is reminiscent of a ship under sail, is home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra.
A few blocks further south on the seafront is another Calatrava-designed building, the Centro Internacional de Ferias y Congresos de Tenerife. This complex hosts trade fairs, exhibits and conferences, and is also the headquarters of the World Trade Center Tenerife and home to Tenerife’s Carnival.
A third notable building is the Tenerife Espacio de las Artes (TEA), designed by the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron. TEA houses the Oscar Dominguez Institute, a museum devoted to the works of the Tenerife-born Surrealist; the Alejandro Cioranescu Island Library; and the Center for Photography, which hosts photography exhibits. (TEA is located between the Market and the Barranco de Santos; enter from Puente Serrador – Exhibit Hall Open Tues-Sun, 10am-8pm, Closed Mondays – Admission: €7, Seniors €5)
The preeminent museum in Santa Cruz is the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre (Calle Fuente Morales, just behind TEA), which houses a fantastic collection of Guanche mummies. (Open Tues-Sat, 9am-8pm; Sun, Mon & Holidays, 10am-5pm – Admission: €5, Seniors €3.50)
Beneath the Plaza de Espana is the Castillo de San Cristobal Interpretation Center (Open Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm), the underground remains of the long-buried fortress built in 1577. The museum’s showpiece is the “Tiger Cannon,” which fired the shot that took the right arm of British Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson’s during the 1797 Battle of Santa Cruz.
There is also a Municipal Museum of Fine Arts (Calle Jose Murphy, 12), which exhibits paintings from the 16th-20th centuries. (Open Tues-Fri, 10am-8pm; Sat, Sun & Holidays, 10am-3pm – Admission: Free)
Parque Garcia Sanabria is an urban oasis in the heart of old Santa Cruz. The park, the largest urban park in the Canaries, has gardens, fountains and a Floral Clock, a 1958 gift to the city from the Danish Consul. To get there, walk north from Plaza Weyler to the intersection of Venticinco de Julio with the Rambla de Santa Cruz (about 6 blocks). You can also get to the park by walking up the Calle del Pilar to its end.
The Palmetum, as Santa Cruz’s botanical garden is known, is located within the Parque Maritimo Cesar Manrique, south of the Port, near the Centro Internacional de Ferias. The park, which was built on an abandoned landfill, is now the largest park in Santa Cruz, though development is stop-and-go due to funding troubles. It is divided into bio-geographical sections, and has waterfalls, streams and ponds as well as a semi-sunken octagonal shade house. And, in keeping with its name, it holds more than 400 species of palms collected from around the world.
Several important streets converge at Plaza de Espana near the seafront; one of them – Calle de Castillo – leads to the heart of Santa Cruz’s shopping district. Here, in the city center, on Castillo, San Jose, del Pilar, Viera and Clavijo and the Rambla and Rambla Pulido, you will find countless stores selling goods at prices lower than those in continental Europe.
For those who glory in commercial markets filled with flowers, fruit and vegetables, visit the Mercado Municipal Nuestra Senora de Africa (Av de San Sebastian, 51), which is located near TEA and the Museo de la Naturaleza. (Market open Mon-Sat, 7:00am-2:30pm, Sundays 8am-2:30pm)
One easy trip out of Santa Cruz is the light rail to San Cristobal de la Laguna, Tenerife’s first capital. The L1 tram (Fundacion-Trinidad route) stops near the Plaza de Espana (Fundacion stop), and at two spots on Calle de Castillo (mid-way near the Teatro Guimerá and at the end of Castillo near the Plaza de Weyler); the journey takes from 30-40 minutes and costs a few Euros each way.
Founded in 1497, La Laguna was Tenerife’s first capital, and was the first non-fortified Spanish colonial city – a fact that helped it earn its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Although supplanted by Santa Cruz as the island’s capital in the 19th century, La Laguna remains the seat of the University and the Episcopal See.
Religious Buildings – One of the most important churches in La Laguna is the Cathedral. The present building is built of concrete on the site of an earlier Mudejar structure, and dates from 1904-15. Unfortunately, the Cathedral developed structural problems and was closed for more than a decade while parts of it were demolished and rebuilt; it reopened in early 2014. The Cathedral is the final resting place of Alfonso Fernandez de Lugo, La Laguna’s founder. The Church of the Conception (founded in 1511), holds a miraculous icon of St. John the Evangelist, which supposedly ended an outbreak of the Black Death in 1648. A climb to the top of the church’s tower affords a view of all of La Laguna. Also of note is the early 17th century Convent of Santa Catalina, the severe exterior of which belies the lavish decoration of its ornate interior.
Museums – Tenerife’s Museum of History and Anthropology is located in La Laguna, in Casa Lercaro (Calle San Augustin, 22). The purpose of this museum is to give insight into the history and culture of Tenerife and its inhabitants. (Open Tues-Sat, 9am-8pm; Sun, Mon & Holidays, 10am-5pm – Admission: €3, Seniors €1.50)
One of the most popular trips out of Santa Cruz is to the slopes of Mt. Teide, the massive dormant volcano in the west central part of the island. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, visitors can opt to ride a cable car to the top of the 3,718-meter high volcano to take in the view of the island. The best way to get there is by an organized shore excursion or by renting a car; it’s 64 km from Santa Cruz/La Laguna, about an hour’s drive. Directions, rates and hours are all posted at http://www.telefericoteide.com/. You should also check the site to make sure the cable car is operating on the day and time you plan to visit.