Experiencing Tenerife’s Traditional African Market in Santa Cruz

There’s nothing quite like waking up to the blissful sound of the countryside.

I walked through the dark villa, slats of brilliant sunlight lighting up horizontal lines on the red stone floor. My feet slapped quietly on the cold tiles. One by one, I approached the wooden shutters, pulled down the heavy grey iron bolts before pushing them open. At once I had to squint as the vibrant morning light hit me.

The sound of hundreds of forest birds began to reverberate round the villa, backed by the calls of goats and barking of dogs. Somewhere in the distance was the therapeutic tinkle of bells on a wind-chime.

I clicked the kettle on and pulled out two sturdy cast-iron mugs which had been carefully hand-painted with small flowers.

It was the perfect first morning in Tenerife.

Our villa’s beautiful gardens with rolling hills behind
Our villa and its balcony looking out onto the beautiful rural landscape
I could have stared at this view all day!

Despite the beautifully clear sky which stretched like a perfect painting across the horizon, there was a nip to the air. I put it down to both being the morning and the fact that we were at such a high altitude.

We were on the outskirts of a small village called La Esperanza situated high in the mountains, on the way to Teide National Park.

It was difficult to know how to dress for the day. I wrapped up in the only warm clothes I bought with me but decided to throw some shorts in the car as well, just in case things warmed up later.

Today we’d be journeying to sea-level where it would likely be a lot warmer.

Our itinerary for the day was to head to Tenerife’s capital city, Santa Cruz. The capital is located on the eastern side of the south coast.

If you remember my description of Tenerife from my last post where I said Tenerife is shaped like a dinosaur with a long neck facing to the east, well Santa Cruz is on the southern coast of the dinosaur’s neck, very near the head.

Santa Cruz is the largest city in Tenerife. It’s so big, in fact, that it has earnt itself the position of being joint-capital of the Canary Islands alongside Las Palmas (in Gran Canaria).

Beautiful gardens! You can see the distant sea in the background too.
The villa standing proudly in its natural gardens. As it is situated on a hill, from the front the building only looks to be one-storey (see below) but from behind (this view) you can see 2 floors.
The front of our villa

We jumped in Victor the Volvo and prepared to start our day’s expedition. I delighted in the fact that we simply had to sit back in the black leather seat and twist a button for the car to roar to life. No key in the ignition needed!

Across the street, a large orange dog took its seat beside the steel gates of a large red villa, a stream of drool hanging from one side of its frown. It threw its head back and barked, as it did as we arrived the previous day and every time we ventured into the front garden.

Our drive lead us into La Esperanza village which was a steep ascent from our villa. Surrounded by beautiful hills and tall trees, I relished how rural we were.

A white cat darted across the road in front of us before making its way down a narrow path beside a field of yellow flowers.

From La Esperanza we began to descend again, the road enveloped by rows of large overhanging trees. Behind them stood carefully tended-to fields. Ahead the road stretched on in a perfect grey line, a single track of traffic on each side moving rhythmically.

In the far distance I laid eyes on the jagged peaks of the far north, ominous and tantalising at the same time.

Tenerife North Airport appeared on our left, its runway only a couple of metres away from us.

Finally we made it onto Tenerife’s key highway which took us to the capital of Santa Cruz.

The highway leading into Santa Cruz

Finding somewhere to park in the city was far easier said than done. Even navigating through the city was a challenge when faced with countless one-way-streets.

By some way of a miracle, I managed to find us a multi-storey which wasn’t full. All the on-street parking was already spoken for.

I was also delighted to learn that out parking spot was only a short walk away from our key destination.

We walked in the morning sun, feeling the warmth on our backs. I had decided I was warm enough to leave a layer of clothing in the car.

We ascended some stone steps which led onto a large bridge. From my vantage point on the bridge I could see the ocean in the distance, behind several rows of gleaming buildings.

At the end of the bridge was a grassy roundabout and just behind the roundabout was our destination.

Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África.

The roundabout with Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África in the background
The entrance to the traditional African market

Mercado de Nuestra Señora de África is a large market found within the courtyard a striking orange building. The market consisted of roughly 300 stalls selling a range of local produce.

I had read that this market was the best place for us to stock-up our cupboards. We were hoping to keep our costs low by doing a lot of cooking and this was just the place to source ingredients.

I stood in front of the building, the three flags on top flapping majestically in the wind. Hundreds of Spanish voices were echoing from the cool indoor walls and a plethora of smells greeted me at once. Most prominent was the gorgeous scent of flowers wafting from the several flower stalls located at the market’s entrance.

Lewis and I took our steps inside. The shadow of the entrance fell upon us before we stepped into the light once more, finding ourselves in a bustling courtyard. There were stalls everywhere!

In the centre of a courtyard was a stage where two men were speaking into microphones. Several people holding massive cameras were filming them and a small audience sat transfixed before them. My guess was that they were performing a cooking demonstration.

There was so much going on that it was almost overwhelming. People were selling flowers, pasta, tea, jewellery, leather accessories, meat, cheese, fruit, veg, fish, herbs… everything!

There was so much choice that I didn’t know what to get.

Lewis and I decided to visit every single stall before choosing our food. And visit every single stall we did!

One of the first stalls that we entered was a tea stall selling all kinds of organic loose leaf teas from around the world. I was so excited that I bought a pack of Rooibos tea – one of my favourite teas. I love it both because it reminds me of Namibia (that’s all we drank there) and because its naturally decaffeinated. I don’t do well with caffeine.

A few stalls later and we had purchased a model bird made of glass. We bought it from a glass artist!

So we had tea and a glass bird. But still no food.

Lewis admiring a stall selling herbs. Have you ever seen so many fresh herbs?!

We wandered round gazing at the various stalls and dodging the endless crowd of people. The midday heat was scorching down on us and my legs started to feel tired. I could feel myself gradually getting more and more overwhelmed and became fearful that I would experience a migraine like I did when wandering around Seychelles’ capital city.

It was all getting too much and we still hadn’t bought what we came for. We needed to make some purchase decisions and fast.

We purchased some vegetables from a small organic stall, some chorizo and serrano ham from a butchery, some goat’s cheese from a goat’s cheese specialist and a couple of other items.

Finally, I could have a rest before I passed out!

Despite my disorientation, I was still able to appreciate how incredible the market was. So much incredible produce was being sold by independent retailers. The atmosphere was fantastic and the setting was very picturesque.

Lewis purchasing some meat from one of the many butcheries in the market

I was certainly feeling a little peckish so had a quick look on my phone for a restaurant to stop at for lunch. I was undoubtedly spoilt for choice! Santa Cruz houses a number of restaurants which have glowing reviews.

Being lazy, I selected one that was a relatively short walk away.

We made our way back over the huge bridge and down the stone steps. On the other side of the bridge was a cobbled area lined with terraced buildings. On the ground floor of each terrace was a small restaurant. The restaurants all looked incredibly cute and sold a range of foods. Some were Spanish whilst some specialised in pizza.

We arrived at a Spanish restaurant and made ourselves comfortable on one of only five small tables outside. A low barrier separated us from the restaurant next door which sold pizzas.

I sat back happily as I sipped on chilled beer and dipped into wonderful tapas. We ordered a plate of Iberico ham (one of my absolute favourite dishes), ham croquets and Canarian wrinkly potatoes or as the Spanish say papas arrugadas.

Papas arrugadas are one of the archipelago’s most renowned dishes. It is often served with a garlic and chili sauce known as mojo rojo. The potatoes are boiled in salt water and served with their skins still on.

I was curious to try these guys as I’m all about trying local specialities. I didn’t expect much from a plate of wrinkly potatoes but was pleasantly surprised. They were so soft and flavourful plus mojo rojo was a lovely compliment to them with a nice kick. I’d definitely be ordering these wrinkly potatoes again!

Our meal ended with a complimentary shot of a Spanish version of Baileys. It was delicious!

I didn’t take any photos of the meal but I did film it all. You can find my film about Santa Cruz on my Youtube channel here.

Santa Cruz centre with the mountains of the Anaga Rural Park in the background

We made our way back to our villa before realising we had made a slight oversight. We hadn’t purchased any bread!

Oh, well. It was the perfect opportunity to do some more exploring of our local village, La Esperanza. The village only houses one bakery, a small store on a narrow one-way street. Like with the village’s restaurant the previous night, the shopkeepers didn’t speak any English, a reminder of just how far off the tourist path we were.

La Esperanza village centre

With bread and pastries purchased, it was time to return to our hillside villa and enjoy a splash of cooking with the log-burning stove crackling gently in the background.

Except there was nothing gentle about that log-burner.

For the longest time, neither myself nor Lewis realised the chimney flap was shut whilst we burnt the wood and the villa turned into a smoke house. We were coughing and spluttering and our eyes were streaming. The sofa, our clothes and just about everything else in the room absorbed the terrible smoky odour and it would take many days before they finally released it.

Once we realised our error and unfortunately managed to stain the beautiful cream walls black around the edges of the burner (yikes!), we started to enjoy the fire and all the warmth it brought to the bungalow.

Darkness enfolded the villa and we pulled shut the wooden shutters surrounding each and every window.

Our home-cooked meal had been fantastic and we couldn’t wait to lay our heads in our pillows for the night.

The beautiful views we were met with from our villa as we ate dinner
Can you spot the horse and rooster duo?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.