Tenerife is not exactly known for cultural tourism, but there is one Unesco Cultural World Heritage Site on the island: The historic quarter of San Cristobal de la Laguna – or short La Laguna. Being a World Heritage site, it caught our attention and we decided to visit it on our way to Mount Teide, at 3718 m Spain’s highest mountain and a UNESCO Natural Heritage.
As the whole old town is part of the Unesco Heritage we just walked through the cobbled streets, took pictures of the beautifully carved balconies (Moorish influences!) and peaked into several attractive historic courtyards.
A former capital
La Laguna was founded in 1496 and back then it was the capital town of Tenerife (today’s capital is nearby Santa Cruz). For the Spanish ships on their way over the ocean to South America, Tenerife was the last opportunity to take up provisions. And as the trade with the New World grew, La Laguna became rich too and many of the wealthy merchants built palaces there. Numerous Spanish town in South America are modelled on the layout of La Laguna.
Many of the palaces and churches we visited date back to the 16th century. We especially liked the church of Santo Domingo with its beautiful wooden ceiling in the Mudejar style: the intricate woodwork shows the Moorish influence in the Spain of that time.
A look-out for the nuns
Through the lattice work of the upper floor the nuns of the Convento de Santa Catalina (Monastery of St. Catherine) could watch the hustle and bustle on the streets below, modestly and without being seen themselves. It rather reminded us of historical houses in Egypt where we had been before. Inside, allegedly you can see the body of Servita Sor Maria de Jesus in a glass coffin. The monastery would have been covered by our sightseeing pass (see below) but unfortunately it was closed without further notice.
Is San Cristobal de la Laguna worth visiting?
If you are spending some time on Tenerife anyway, La Laguna is definitely worth a side trip. If you can, it is also worth spending the night and going out for an evening with wine and tapas. As La Laguna is not primarily a tourist town and most visitors just come for a day trip, there are not many hotels. One of the nicest is the historical Nivaria la Laguna. Too expensive for us – we stayed in the cute La Terrera Youth Hostel also in the old town, where a small room with shared bathroom cost 40 Euro. For breakfast we could try Gofio, a Canary speciality, basically roasted grain flour (wheat or maize) that you mix with water or milk – it has quite a strong taste.
A general ticket for 5 Euro gives admittance to several churches and courtyards (several others are free anyway).
How to get to San Cristobal de la Laguna
There are good bus connections from all over the island, because one of the island’s two airports is situated in La Laguna.