If you’re holidaying in Puerto de la Cruz on the north coast of Tenerife and feel like a day out, the town of Icod de los Vinos is an option. It’s 20 km to the west but doesn’t have direct access to the sea like Puerto de la Cruz. It’s located at an altitude of 235 metres on a long smooth slope of the volcano Teide (the highest mountain of Spain) and stretches from the fringe of the forests down to the sea. The Playa (beach) de San Marco the locals frequent has the black sand characteristic of northern Tenerife, it’s about 3km away from the town centre.
It’s easy to get there, the bus service TITSA is well organised. The buses are clean, on time and as fast as the traffic and the many curves permit. (Buses are called guaguas pronounced 'wah wahs' by the locals) I took Linea 363 from the Central Bus Station in Puerto de la Cruz, the ride lasted one hour and ten minutes and cost 2,75 Euro. When I wanted to get back, I found Linea 354 at the Bus Station in Icod, also going to Puerto de la Cruz, so I got in. The ride lasted 55 minutes and cost 2,65 Euro. I recommend it not because it’s shorter and 10 cent cheaper, but because the ride is much nicer going nearly all the way along the coast with views of the sea and banana plantations whereas Linea 363 stays inland.
From the bus station in Icod (which has clean bathrooms, a fact I find worth mentioning) a walk of 200m up a steep street takes you to the town centre. Icod is definitely not a place for the handicapped, nearly all streets are steep, very steep. I can’t imagine even a wheelchair with an engine going up and down there. Big letters on the wall on the left side of the street advertise the Mariposario del Drago, the Butterfly Zoo, which one passes when going up to the Church Iglesia de San Marcos. I decided to visit it at the end of my tour through the town. The square surrounding the church is a small park with gigantic rubber trees, a small pavilion with a snack bar and tables and chairs outside, and some stalls with pretty handcrafted souvenirs.
Most tourists go up to the square only to look down at the world-famous Dragon Tree standing in a garden nearby with endemic plants which can’t be entered, though. The Dragon Tree is 20 m high, has a diameter of 4 m and a perimeter of 6 m, it has a dense umbrella-shaped canopy of thick leaves. The specimen in Icod is called Drago Milenario in Spanish because it’s thought to be thousands of years old. I’ve checked several sites and found different data ranging from 300 to 3000 years! Whatever, it’s considered the oldest of its kind. Many tourists get off the bus, take a photo with the Dragon Tree in the background and then get on the bus again.
The streets in the vicinity of the square and the Plaza de la Constitucion are full of shops selling the sweet wine typical for Icod (the full name of the town is Icod *de los Vinos*!). It grows on the terraces made into the slope of the volcano, enough water comes down from it and the soil is very fertile there. Cheese is also sold, young ladies lure the tourists inside to taste the specialities. The quality is superb, but it’s difficult to get out of the shops again if you don’t want to buy anything. If you want to take wine with you, the bottles are carefully packed so that you can take them home with you by plane. A recommendable souvenir!
Icod is also famous for the many beautiful, seigniorial houses, ancient palaces, churches and convents, so it’s advisable to just walk up and down the (steep) streets around the church and look. By chance I looked into a house and saw a wonderful art nouveaux door leading into the patio, worth taking a photo of.
Like so many churches in Europe the Iglesia de San Marcos is a mixture of different styles. It was built in the second half of the 16th century, it has a Renaissance door, a French-Gothic steeple and a largely Baroque interior. When I visited at the beginning of January, a nativity scene was still to be admired inside the church, the largest I’ve ever seen, I guess that it covered more than 50 m². It shows a whole village with craftsmen and women in action, baker, woodcutter and washer-woman are moving figures as is a child sitting on a swing. Not only children were enjoying themselves discovering all the many figures of people and animals.
The great attraction of the church is, however, the biggest filigree silver cross of the world. It was made in Cuba from 1663 to 1668 by a silversmith and then shipped over. It was donated by a priest born in Icod. I wonder where he had got so much money from to pay for such a treasure? A simple priest! This cross has occupied my mind a lot. On the box in which it is exhibited I read the information that it weighs 48’300 kg in Spanish, English, German and French. I checked all the signs, the figure was always the same. In case you’re not fluent in metric measurements, let me tell you that 1000 kg are 1 ton. How much is 1 ton? My point of reference is always a bull a farmer once showed us in Sardinia, he told us that the animal weighed one ton. So this cross weighs as much as 48 bulls? That would be crass indeed. I couldn’t get to the heart of the matter while I was in Icod, when I researched on the net I found that the weight is a not surprising 48 kg and 300 g and I noticed something I had overlooked before, namely, that the Spaniards use an apostrophe instead of a comma or a dot when writing numbers. 48’300 kg. Aha!
I had lunch in a small, simple restaurant in the pedestrian precinct opposite the Post Office which I can recommend. I said to the waitress that I had expected to see more restaurants in such a touristy place. She replied that Icod wasn’t so touristy as I thought, only for about three hours a day. The reason for this must be that the beach is too far off, tourists don’t want to travel several kilometres every day to and fro if they can stay in places directly at the seafront. They pass the town on round-the-island tours and mostly only look at the Dragon Tree.
My last destination was the Mariposario del Drago, the Butterfly Zoo. The entrance is 8 Euro/concession7 Euro. It houses hundreds of different species of butterflies and moths, another superlative here, they’ve also got the Atlas Moth which is said to be the largest moth in the world. Together with tiny birds, the butterflies and moths flit and flutter freely around amongst the bushes and flowers planted in the indoor garden. Koi carps and terrapins swim in a small pool and an enormous primeval animal lies motionless as if it were stuffed on a branch with half-closed eyes. I asked it what it was but it didn’t answer. There’s a section where caterpillars and chrysalises are looked after, visitors can watch how they emerge at the end of the metamorphosis and flutter their wings to dry them. Friendly assistants explain the process in several languages.
When I was walking along a path a little girl suddenly pointed excitedly to my Panama hat, we didn’t have a common language but she made me understand that a butterfly was sitting on it. I took my hat off, indeed, there it was and it liked it there. When I wanted to leave, I had to shake it off.
It’s recommended to visit the basement, too, where a fascinating film on insects is shown, most of it in close-up and slow motion. It lasts more than an hour, I don’t think that many visitors watch the whole film, one can always pop in and out as there is no story.
After some enjoyable hours I went back to Puerto de la Cruz, should I go back to Tenerife, I may visit Icod again.