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Living in Tenerife, Canary Islands

A Piece of Spain off the African Coast

By Joe Cawley

A view from Tenerife from the mountains to the ocean.
A view from Tenerife in the Canary Islands.

After years of monotonous routines, working only to try not to lag behind, my girlfriend Joy and I decided to check ourselves out of the rat race in a grey and damp northern England. We needed some warmth and color in our lives.

Why Tenerife?

The Canary Islands hug the northwest coast of Africa, maintaining a very agreeable subtropical climate all year round. The cost of living is relatively low. A 3-course dinner complete with wine costs around $12-40 depending on whether you off-the-beaten path or in tourist areas. Only the minimum of clothing is needed as casual attire is worn everywhere. Unless you live high in the mountainous regions, the only heating bills are for warming of edibles rather than the defrosting of limbs.

Our business, in which we had no previous experience, is a small family bar and restaurant 20 yards from the black volcanic sand beach near the village of La Caleta. The terraced slopes behind us are speckled with white farm buildings; behind them are green pine forests culminating in the regal crown of Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, a dormant volcano that imperially surveys the island.

Canarian Culture

The original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, the Guanches, are allegedly descendants of the Canarii, a Berber tribe from North Africa, but the culture is distinctly Spanish. Historically, the islands have very strong ties with Venezuela and Cuba.

Most shops and offices close for siesta in the afternoon and the streets become quiet. Work takes second place to enjoying life. “Manana” may literally mean tomorrow; in reality, it means not today. Like all Spaniards, Canarians love to party, and fiestas are held everywhere throughout the year. In February, the capital, Santa Cruz, hosts the third biggest carnival in the world. For nine days, a quarter of a million people dance the nights away to the salsa rhythms of dozens of open-air bands.

When we settled in the south to make a go of a business we were helped by many other expats who had made a similar move. Some newcomers head for the hills or for the lusher north coast, where little has changed for many decades. In hidden villages, families sit for hours in their doorways conversing, sharing earthenware jugs of locally made wine, and smoking Canarian cigars.

All built-up tourist areas tend to attract the less salubrious characters eager to detach holiday cash and consumables from unsuspecting tourists, and Tenerife is no different. However, beyond these regions crime is scarce. Everybody tends to know one another and petty criminals are ostracized from the community.

The air is very clear and the climate extremely healthy. There is a reasonably modern health service with up to date hospitals in the south and north of the island.

So, if you are looking for a life of constant sunshine at an unhurried pace and a healthy environment, combined with a low cost of living and close proximity to the rest of Europe, there is no match for Tenerife. Much of this island and all of the smaller islands are still undeveloped, so business opportunities similar to ours still abound.

Sunset seen from Tenerife.
A sunset seen from Tenerife.

Buying Property in Tenerife

There are quite a lot of old fincas (farmhouses) in need of restoration for sale, and these can be valuable investments:

Tenerife Property Shop

JOE CAWLEY moved to Tenerife, the Canary Islands, in 1991. After successfully running a bar/restaurant for seven years, he became a freelance writer specializing in humorous pieces about life in his paradise.

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Living in Spain: Articles and Resources
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