Invariably when anyone asks on Tripadviser what to do or see in Puerto de la Cruz, those who prefer the north generally say catch a bus and go visit La Orotava. It seems a strange comment to advise people to escape where they have chosen to stay and always makes me smile, but I do understand as La Orotava is very different to other towns in the area. Located in the north of Tenerife most of La Orotava is high above the sea. Originally it was the last stronghold of the Guanches against the Spanish conquerors. But what has emerged over the centuries is a region of wooded hillsides, fruit plantations and rich agricultural land producing tomatoes, bananas and grapes and a beautiful town steeped in colonial history. In effect a showcase of traditional Canarian architecture.
When visiting the north, I prefer spending time here rather than in Puerto de la Cruz with its proliferation of German bakeries (can you tell I am thinking about dieting!). However, ignoring cakes, La Orotava has plenty to keep you occupied.
Its historic centre is a must-see for any visitor. The steep cobbled streets and picturesque squares are filled with museums, churches and convents. A walk around town will highlight elegant colonial houses built by wealthy aristocrats and merchants in the 17th century with their beautiful balconies and interior courtyards
For the gardener, wander through the Jardines Victoria or visit Hijuela del Botánico, a relatively small garden brimming with thousands of exotic species from around the world. It’s the lesser-known cousin of the Botanical Gardens in Puerto de la Cruz but it is free and in my opinion equally as good. Visit Pueblo Chico a theme park representing all of the Canary Islands in miniature, Artlandya home to more than 600 teddy bears and handmade dolls or just relax on a beach.
Whilst the town is known more for its architecture than its beaches, probably due to the difficulties involved in reaching them, once you do arrive, they are not crowded like those in the nearby tourist resort. The views from Playa El Bollullo are spectacular, however it can be dangerous even for good swimmers, as strong tidal currents are common. Playa de Los Patos is favoured by surfers, again for its strong waves and it has recently been announced that new steps will provide access the beach. The old steps closed in 2013 for safety reasons. The third beach made up of dark sand and edged by cliffs is Playa de El Ancón. Once again the access is a bit difficult so there are never many people here making it more attractive to those seeking seclusion.
La Orotava is also well known as an artisan centre with the top spot to shop for some mementos being the Casa de los Balcones, famous for its characteristic wooden balconies both outside and inside. However as this is a personal opinion, for me it is far too commercialised with its coach parties and organised tours. Nevertheless, I have to admit the exterior is impressive.
I much prefer the Ethnographic Museum in Pinolere, which recreates the culture, customs and history of Tenerife. The museum has straw houses and traditional buildings that have been turned into exhibition spaces, a threshing-floor, chicken runs and rabbit pens and a medicinal/herb garden. You can find all sorts of craft activities going on such as ceramics, lace, wood and leatherwork.
The museum holds an annual fair, I love it! not just to see the displays of basketry and ceramics or the performances of medieval-style plays by locals in traditional dress but I like to sample the local food products like cheese and honey (oh heck back to food) as well as admire the hand-crafted jewellery, shawls and scarves on display by local as well as international exhibitors.
Before you leave, you must stop at the Humboldt Mirador, from here you can enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the valley as it spreads out before you with Mount Teide providing a stunning backdrop. On a clear day it will take your breath away.