At 3,718 m altitude and with a total area of 2,058 km2, Tenerife is both the highest and largest island in all of Macaronesia. The terrain is extremely rugged, particularly in the three old massifs (Anaga, Teno and Adeje), along the north coast, in the central peaks and the southern mid-altitude region. By contrast, certain sectors of the north-northeast (e.g., the basin formed by La Laguna and Los Rodeos), the southern flank and Las Cañadas are much flatter. The southern flank has been carved into a network of ravines, some with extremely sheer walls—Badajoz, Herques, El Río, Tamadaya, El Infierno and Tágara. To a lesser extent this is also true of the north side and is evidenced in the barrancos of Hondo and Ruíz. On the north coast, cliffs reach 300 m but soar to 500-600 m in the far west (Los Gigantes). What’s more, much of the landscape is dotted with recent volcanic cones, while malpaíses or badlands cover large areas in Güímar, Punta de La Rasca (Arona) and Chío (Guía de Isora). Sandy beaches are few and far between but two fine examples are those of El Médano and La Tejita.
The climate is Mediterranean-like, which is true of all the Canary Islands, but there are enormous differences in rainfall and temperature between the north and south. In parts of the north (Aguamansa) and east (Anaga massif), annual rainfall can exceed 1,000 mm, whereas in the south it barely reaches 250 mm. Average temperatures in low-lying areas (e.g., at Reina Sofia Tenerife Sur airport) do not generally exceed 25º C, except in very hot summers, while in high wet sectors (e.g., Aguamansa) they top 20º C and drop to 10º C. At Izaña (over 2,000 m asl), temperatures can plummet to below 5º C, bringing frost and snowfall in winter and early spring. In fact, the Roman name for Tenerife was Nivaria or snow-covered. The north flank is often shrouded in a sea of clouds, as a consequence of the cool wet air blown in by prevailing northeast trade winds. Above this sea of clouds, warm dry winds from the northwest form a layer, causing the phenomenon known as thermal inversion, also witnessed in other mountainous islands such as La Palma. The northeast trade winds are more powerful in early spring and summer, while west winds blow at other times and are often accompanied by storms. Tenerife’s mountainous terrain therefore greatly influences the local climate.
The 2010 census registers 906,854 inhabitants, which indicates high levels of population density. More than 200,000 people are concentrated in the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, while another 152,222 live in La Laguna, the second largest city. Other sizable towns include Tacoronte, La Orotava, Los Realejos and Icod de los Vinos, in the north, and Güímar, Granadilla de Abona and Adeje, in the south, and the most important tourist areas are Los Cristianos, Playa de Las Américas and Los Gigantes, on the south-southwest flank, and Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast. All but three municipal districts (Tegueste, El Tanque and Vilaflor) have a coastline. La Orotava (207.31 km2) is the largest of the island’s 31 municipal districts and includes a major section of Teide National Park, followed by Arico, Granadilla de Abona and Santa Cruz de Tenerife (more than 150 km2 in each case).
The island economy is mostly based on tourism and the services sector in general, while traditional activities (agriculture, livestock farming, fishing and small industry) have gradually slipped into the background. That said, irrigation farming, particularly banana growing, is still prominent. Dry farming—cereals in particular—has dwindled considerably and is now relegated to few areas (e.g., Los Rodeos-La Laguna, Icod el Alto and Teno), where rainfall and flatter land provide more suitable conditions. Vine-growing, however, has received tremendous support thanks to good quality wine production under a designation of origin. Fruit crops (citrus, avocadoes), albeit on a smaller scale, are also important, as is flower growing, particularly in areas like Tejina-Valle de Guerra, where the climate is most suited. Tourism continues to be the driving force behind the economy and an important source of employment. Diversification of the tourist sector (rural, nature, sun-seeking, conference, etc.) is a growing reality but also a challenge for the future.