Before construction of the TF1, Güímar was the gateway to the south of the Island from Santa Cruz, located as it is on the old road that linked north with south, skirting the Corona Forestal, high above Tenerife’s east coast. The compact old quarter of the town lies close to the old road making it easy to explore on foot.
Blessed with year round plentiful water supplied by the Barranco de Herques and the Badajoz and El Río Ravines, Güímar became wealthy from its rich agricultural output, attracting workers from neighbouring Islands to tend its fields and doubling its population in just four decades of the early twentieth century.
Set against the dramatic Izaña Mountains and with a population of 15,000, the town of Güímar has a beautiful, well preserved old quarter with historic churches, traditional houses, and pretty plazas as well as a picturesque seaside and marina at El Puertito.
Once the destination of Guanche pilgrims from across the Island, today the famous Pirámides de Güímar attract a new kind of pilgrim to the area; visitors from all over the world.
The proliferation of Guanche archaeological sites around the caves and ravines of Güímar are testament to the importance of the area before the Spanish conquest of the Island. Two Kingdoms were the most important on the Island; Taoro, in the La Orotava Valley, which represented the Menceys of the North, and Güímar which represented those of the South.
Güímar is one of Tenerife’s oldest towns as a result of a pact made between Mencey Añaterve of Güímar on behalf of the southern Menceys and Alonso Fernández de Lugo, the Spanish leader of the conquistadores. As a result, with friendly relations already established, Güímar was one of the first areas to be settled by the Spanish.
Güímar’s rich supply of water was ingeniously tapped by farm workers through aqueducts, galleries and wells, ensuring a constant flow to the plantations of sugar, tomatoes, potatoes and avocados and making Güímar the principle supplier of produce to the south of the Island.
When the sugar cane economy collapsed, it was a local boy, Isidro Quintero Acosta who introduced cochineal production to the Island and ensured its economic survival for the next seventy years.
What to See
Located on the main road in the centre of the town, opposite Plaza de Las Flores, Antigua Fonda Medina is a good place to start an exploration of the old quarter; firstly, it’s right next to the car park and, secondly, it houses the office of the CIT (Centro de Iniciativas y Turísmo) where you can pick up a street map and heritage trail information. The former coach inn’s leafy patio was allegedly a meeting place for travellers en route to the South, circus performers and actors touring the Island and lovers, who could only meet in a public place. According to town records, people gathered to rest and eat, to play dominoes and to listen to a large radio. There may well still be the occasional clown or lover passing through, but the dominoes and radio no longer feature. Instead, the house has a beautiful, tranquil courtyard with enclosed traditional carved balconies and galleries.
Leaving Fonda Medina and turning right, up Calle San Pedro Abajo, is the town’s oldest quarter beginning at Plaza de San Pedro Abajo. The Church of San Pedro Apóstol was originally a small hermitage constructed in 1602. The present day neo-classicist church is a result of refurbishment and expansion of the hermitage carried out in1794. Inside, there’s a cedar wood pulpit, tabernacle and altar pieces and an unusual architectural feature of ‘drapes’ in aquamarine blue pigment behind the altar in the main chapel.
Turning right out of the church along Teobaldo Power to Calle de La Amistad and turning left, you come to La Casona Santo Domingo on the right; a sixteenth century house which is now a hotel and restaurant, and on the left, Calle Santo Domingo and the Church of Santo Domingo.
The church was originally part of a Dominican convent built in 1649 and has an unusual Latin Cross layout with ornate retables in white and silver behind the altar in the main chapel.
The cloisters of the former convent, which adjoin the church, have enclosed carved balconies and a tiled bordered walkway; window boxes trail shocking pink geraniums against the cream walls and, despite it now being home to the Town Hall and local Police, the serenity of the cloisters still pervades.
What to do
If it hadn’t been for the intervention of Thor Heyerdahl and shipping entrepreneur, Fred Olson, the mysterious Pirámides de Güímar would now be just another housing development. Thankfully, the area where these step pyramids proudly stand has been turned into a fascinating ethnological park complete with gardens, museum, exhibition areas, restaurant and shop. The park has been creatively designed to display the stars of the show, the pyramids, to optimum effect, framed by the splendour of the Izaña Mountains.
(+34) 922 514 510; Calle Chacona; entry €10 for adults, €5 for children (9-12); open 09.30-18.00 daily; www.piramidesdeguimar.net
Braving the Badlands
Admittedly the literal translation of the Malpaís (badlands) may be misleading; this stretch of land from the 276m high volcanic cone of Montaña Grande to El Puertito and Socorro on the coast is rich with history, wildlife and geological curiosities. Montaña Grande was used throughout history as a look out point; Spanish settlers would light torches to warn La Laguna and Santa Cruz of approaching pirates. The area has volcanic tubes and caves used for smoking fish, as winter residences for Guanche kings and, in Cueva Hondo’s case (known locally as the cave of the donkeys), as a place to get rid of animals that have outlived their usefulness. Tabaiba and cardonal plants carpet the landscape and wildlife is supplied by birds, rabbits, hedgehogs and, bizarrely, stray ferrets. The CIT office in Güímar has a leaflet recommending the best routes through the badlands.
Water of Life
The town’s relationship with water from its ravines is commemorated in a permanent exhibition at Fonda Medina. A small, but interesting selection of models, diagrams and photographs illustrate how the abundant water supply contributed to the town’s prosperity. Visit the exhibition then look out for the water courses and mills that still exist around the town.
(+34) 922 511 590; Avenida Obispo Pérez Cáceres, 18; entrance free; open 09.00-13.00, Monday to Friday, closed Saturday & Sunday
Take a 2km detour south along the TF28 to the Don Martin viewpoint beside the sight of the Island’s original parador for wonderful views across the Güímar Valley.
There’s an agricultural market in Plaza de la Ayuntamiento every Sunday morning where you can pick up the cream of Güímar’s produce including beautiful cut flowers.
Open every Sunday from 09.00-13.30
Where to Stay
Hotel Rural La Casona
A beautiful sixteenth century restored house in the heart of the old quarter. Furnished in keeping with its age, the floors are uneven and polished to a dazzling shine, the lounge has a carved balcony overlooking the narrow street, the doorways threaten the skull of all but the tiniest of people and the suite has a four poster bed. With just six bedrooms, personal attention from the friendly owners and a great restaurant ensure a memorable stay.
(+34) 922 510 229; Calle Santo Domingo, 32; www.casonasantodomingo.com; double rooms from €58 per night, suite from €83
Hotel Rural Finca Salamanca
Set in 50,000 square metres of estate, a kilometre and a half outside of the town, this restored manor offers 20 bedrooms, landscaped gardens, a heated swimming pool and elegant dining in a stunning setting.
(+34) 922 514 530; Carretera Güímar; www.hotel-fincasalamanca.com; double rooms from €96 per night, suites from €132
Where to Eat
Casona Santo Domingo
Olde Worlde charm in a delightful 16th Century Canarian house; sample mouthwatering offerings like rabbit pâté, fillet of sole in coconut sauce and gofio mousse with black chocolate in an atmospheric setting where the owners promise that “you’ll arrive as a client and leave as a friend”.
(+34) 922 510 229; Calle Santo Domingo, 32; open 13.30-16.00 & 18.00-22.00, closed Sunday; average cost of a main course, €10
Intimately small, friendly tapas bar in a former shoemakers shop. Cobblers’ memorabilia, beamed ceiling and views of the beautiful Plaza del Ayuntamiento make this a great place to enjoy a relaxing lunch. The eight tapas dishes on offer are so good that there’s a regular stream of patrons popping in for a ‘tapas takeaway’.
(+34) 922 512 859; Calle Santo Domingo, 13; open 07.30-15.30, closed Sunday; average cost of tapas €3
Award winning restaurant in the old tobacco drying barn of the Hotel Rural Finca Salamanca; traditional cuisine is given a creative makeover producing combinations like Iberian fillet steaks in a palm honey sauce; great food and professional service in a classic, rustic location.
(+34) 922 514 530; Carretera Güímar; open 14.00-16.30 & 20.00-23.00 daily, closed Tuesday; average cost of a main course €15
Simply prepared, delicious fresh fish and seafood overlooking the strikingly aquamarine harbour of Puertito de Güímar; its pastry shop and ice cream parlor provide some sinful ‘afters’.
(+34) 922 528 954; Calle Almirante Gravina, 11; open 09.30-22.00, closed Monday; average cost of a main course €6
Nightlife in Güímar is decidedly laid back; younger residents travel to La Laguna or Santa Cruz for more lively nocturnal venues whilst for others, night time socialising centres around the town’s restaurants. There are occasional alternatives like the Canarian Film Festival held each June at the Pyramids of Güímar.
From Puerto de la Cruz, catch the hourly 103 service to Santa Cruz and then the 120 or 121 to Güímar. From Las Americas and Los Cristianos the 111 service runs every thirty minutes.
Appropriately, the main taxi rank is opposite the old Inn at Fonda Medina beside Plaza de Las Flores. The local numbers are 922 510 811/ 922 510 463.
Leaflets, street maps and tourist information are provided at the CIT and Cultural, Tourism & Environment offices in the beautiful Antigua Fonda Medina building.
(+34) 922 511 590; Avenida Obispo Pérez Cáceres, 18; open 09.00-13.00, Monday to Friday, closed Saturday & Sunday
There’s a free car park, through a shocking pink arch, opposite the taxi rank.
Local literature will quickly point out that although Candelaría is famous for its Virgen of Candelaría fiesta, she was actually spotted by Guanche shepherds at Playa de Chimisay in Güímar. The Bajada de El Socorro, around the 6th and 7th June, celebrates this with a procession from the
Church of San Pedro to the Church of El Socorro, where a re-enactment of the discovery of ‘our lady of hope’ is played out. When the shepherds first sighted the Virgin, their initial reaction was to throw stones and then try to cut off a finger to see whether she was alive; thankfully not a greeting used to welcome visitors these days.
The other big fiesta in town is dedicated to San Pedro and takes place between 20th and 29th of June when the bells of the church of San Pedro peal three times daily and townspeople burn fire wheels in the street.