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Blog Words : Travelling local | 10 May

Local colour in the Canary Islands

Great local guides can transform your perceptions of even the most unlikely destinations – as I discovered in Tenerife

I’ve just returned from a short break in Tenerife, where – in as many days – I met three local guides passionate about promoting their often-maligned homeland as an eco-tourism destination.

Wiry, bespectacled biologist Francisco (pictured) worked for the parks service, and was so enamoured of the largest Canary Island that he was convinced he was descended from its original inhabitants, the Guanches (“I feel it in my blood!”). He bought me a rocket-fuelled barraquito coffee before leading me – via a hidden gate in a quiet glade of palms and pine trees – into the world’s longest lava tube, part of the labyrinth of volcanic tunnels that worm beneath the is land’s rugged crust.

46-year-old Jose was an urbane freelancer who had worked on Mediterranean cruise ships and shuddered theatrically at the memory. Now he had resettled on Tenerife, in the town of his birth, Los Realejos – famed for the flamboyance and frequency of its fiestas. He took me on a driving tour of the north, expertly manoeuvring my tin-can hire car up hairpin bends while discoursing eloquently on everything from Clash of the Titans (filmed here) to Shakespeare’s Falstaff (who eulogised the local Malvasia wine).

Finally, I met Javier, a young trekking guide who had never touched alcohol but could give you the botanical Latin for any plant on the island. He led me down the Masca Gorge, a spellbinding walk flanked by thousand-metre cliffs dripping with tropical foliage. Euphorbias and lavandulas tripped off his tongue as we descended slowly to a pebbly cove tucked into the Los Gigantes cliffs.

Together, these three opened my eyes to an island with primeval landscapes, a romantic history and – despite the concrete mushroom of resorts in the southwest – a potentially great future as a destination for walkers and nature-lovers.

‘Canarias no es espana’ read the weathered separatist graffiti on one roadside boulder we passed. And even from my brief visit, that’s certainly true: the Canaries aren’t Spain. From traditional food to endemic flora, Tenerife is a far cry from the mainland – and Francisco, Jose and Javier were all committed to conserving that difference.

In this blog I’ll be seeking out and celebrating that local perspective: the guides, hosts, homestay owners, meeters and greeters that enable us travellers to see what make a place truly itself, what gives it its roots. Let’s hear it for the endemics.

Francisco Mesa leads tours of the Cuevo del Viento cave complex (Tues – Sat; E15), based in Icod de Los Vinos. Javier Chirivella leads hiking tours for outdoors and eco-tourism operator El Cardon (0034 922 127 938). Jose Ramon works all over the Canaries and can be booked through the Tenerife Tourist Board.

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