The beaches of Tenerife deliver more drama than you might imagine: from midnight black shores whipped by the bad tempered Atlantic to cliff-clasped coves reachable only on foot and flour-soft sands imported from the Sahara. In the north, where wild, forest-cloaked mountains dive abruptly to the ocean, the coast is thrillingly remote and serene, a far cry from the “party island” clichés of the south.
Whether you want to hike, kayak, dive, whale watch, surf or sip mojitos at sunset, Tenerife has a beach with your name on it. Here’s our rundown of the island’s very best.
Playa Las Teresitas is the best beach for soft sands and salsa
Mile-long Playa Las Teresitas in Tenerife’s north is among the island’s loveliest beaches, with the rippling Anaga Mountains in the background and some impressive rock formations and grottoes just a bouncy rigid inflatable boat (RIB) ride away. When you first clap eyes on this great arc of golden sand and palm trees, you might think you’ve been teleported elsewhere – and it’s kind of true. Easing into the Atlantic, these powder-soft sands were imported from the Sahara and had to be rigorously cleaned because of the red ants and scorpions that came along for the ride.
Just don’t expect to have this playa to yourself. Right on the doorstep of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, it’s always popular for its calm waters, relaxed vibe, seafood restaurants and chiringuitos (beach bars). El Caracol is a mellow weekend hangout for mojitos, langostinos a la plancha (grilled langoustines) and salsa beats.
Head to Los Gigantes for dramatic views and the best diving
West coast Playa Los Guíos has a relaxed feel, calm water, plenty of shade in the morning, gorgeous sunsets and views out to La Gomera, but it’s the Acantilados de los Gigantes (Cliffs of the Giants) that will really grab you. These vertical walls of basalt rock on the west coast shoot up to 600m (1969ft) above the wave-ruffled ocean.
Below the water, it’s diving heaven, with caverns, grottoes and arches swirling with fish, anemones, moray eels, octopus, lobsters and stingrays. Los Gigantes Diving Centre is a terrific port of call for PADI courses. If you’d rather stay above water, you can get a closer look at these tremendous cliffs with Teno Activo, whose trips combine kayaking with dolphin and whale watching.
There are amazing coastal hikes from Playa de Masca
You have to earn Tenerife’s best beaches, and Playa de Masca is proof. Precariously pinned to a knife-edge hilltop and reached by a rollercoaster of a road, the tiny village of Masca is the starting point for a rugged, demanding and insanely beautiful trek down through the Barranco de Masca to the ocean. One for good weather only because of the risk of rockfalls and landslides, the round-trip hike takes around six hours, or you can walk one way and catch the ferry back to Los Gigantes. If in doubt, enlist a guide like El Cardón.
At the end of the first leg of the hike, the gorge spits you out by the sea on this dark sand bay, clasped between high cliffs, with glassy turquoise water you’ll be itching to jump into.
El Médano has great conditions for watersports
On the south coast, El Médano, a 2km (1.2-mile) ribbon of smooth gold-gray sand that is Tenerife’s longest beach, always has plenty of space to spread out. This playa is a cracking all-rounder, with shallow water ramping up its family appeal, a wooden boardwalk humming with cafes and restaurants, and arresting views of the volcanic cone of Montaña Roja.
If you’re into watersports in a big way, this beach is an easy sell. Stiff winds and gentle waves make for perfect kite-surfing, windsurfing and stand-up paddleboarding conditions. Drop yourself straight into the scene by hooking onto a course with 30 Nudos Kite School and staying at Casa Grande Surf Hostel.
Playa de Roque Bermejo is the perfect secluded beach escape
Tucked into a groove on Tenerife’s northeastern tip, Playa de Roque Bermejo can be reached only on foot or by boat, but it’s worth the effort. Black sand that glitters like the night sky slides into the wavy ocean, and the coastline is rimmed by craggy rock formations and backdropped by the shaggy mountains of Anaga Rural Park, a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
Hiking is half the fun. The tiny mountain village of Chamorga is the starting point for an 8.3km (5-mile) loop trail along a peninsula that slings its hook into the wild Atlantic. The trail – much of it elevated – weaves through gnarled laurisilva (laurel) forest and past cactuses and agaves that goats love to nibble, climbing higher to open up the views of ravines and mountains as jagged as dragon backbones.
Cool off over drinks in the tiny bar next to the chapel at the bottom of the trail and a swim on this deliciously secluded beach.
Playa del Duque is Tenerife's most stylish beach
If you like your beaches with a buzz and a shot of style, Playa del Duque on the Costa Adeje ticks all the boxes. Cabana beds, palms and parasols, yoga on the beach, bars for cocktail sipping and sunset gazing, and golden sands that slide gently into a sea of crystal blue make this beach a winner with pretty much everyone. At the back of the beach is a promenade and a row of five-star hotels, each one seemingly more palatial than the next.
La Tejita beach has the best volcano views
A hop to the west from El Médano reveals another beauty: La Tejita, never lovelier than when its red volcanic Montaña Roja blushes at sunrise or in the deepening shadows of late afternoon. This cinder cone is often visible as you fly into the island. Its soft, kilometer-long golden sands are nice and private for sunbathing, snorkeling and surfing. If you want to strip off, the area closest to Montaña Roja is nudist. Otherwise, kick back with a copa, tapas and front-row ocean views at sweet and simple Chiringuito Pirata at the western end of the beach.
Find coastal wilderness at Playa de Benijo
Lush, spectacularly rugged and primevally pretty, the Anaga Mountains in Tenerife’s northeast secret away the wild Playa de Benijo, where volcanic rocks and cliffs soar above the ocean. A mountain road twists giddily past peaks and through laurel forest to get here (well, almost, the last part is on foot). But you’ll be glad you went the extra mile for such seclusion. Join the nudists to sunbathe in peace or go for a swim (be careful because these powerful waves can bowl you right over).
Go for a no-frills lunch at one of the restaurants by the shore, digging into boat-fresh fish served with spicy mojo sauce and papas arrugadas (wrinkly, salted potatoes), and linger for a fiery sunset.
Playa Martiánez has the north coast's best surf
The pick of the beaches in north coast Puerto de la Cruz, Playa Martiánez is a generous sweep of volcanic sand, with gentle rollers that are ideal for learning to surf. Head to La Marea to rent wetsuits and boards or join classes.
If you find the sea too rough for your liking, you can always make for nearby Lago Martiánez pools, which bears the whitewashed, back-to-nature hallmark of Canarian architect César Manrique. Swim in saltwater pools and under falls while listening to the crash of the ocean.
Playa Amarilla is the best beach for wild swimming
A tiny notch on Costa del Silencio on the south coast, Playa Amarilla is little more than a few handfuls of volcanic pebbles. But if wild swimming or nude sunbathing is your thing, these grooved ochre cliffs and their natural platforms are pretty special, framed by Montaña Amarilla, a yellowish volcanic cone formed by an underwater eruption.
Come to swim and snorkel in some of the island’s clearest waters. Bring your own snacks and water shoes (the rocks can be sharp underfoot). Mana Nui Chiringuito is a chilled spot for post-dip drinks.