A wrong turn on the motorway led Colin Nicholson to Las Teresitas, one of the best beaches in the Canary Islands.

Sometimes the best hiding places are in the most obvious spots. When we, like most visitors to Tenerife, headed to the island's south-west corner, we nearly missed out on one of the Canary Islands' best beaches, eight kilometres from the provincial capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on the northeast coast.

Fortunately we were missing the culture and buzz of a working town, so we hired a car and headed for Santa Cruz, just an hour away - or it would have been, had we not taken a wrong turn on the motorway. By the time we realised our mistake, we decided to carry on along the coastal road until, much to our surprise, we were greeted by the sweeping curve of the mile-long golden beach of Las Teresitas, an idyllic cove below the Anaga mountains.

Up to that point, I had been somewhat disappointed by Tenerife's black, volcanic beaches. So when we stretched out on Teresitas's fine yellow sand - imported from the nearby Sahara - I finally felt I was on a proper beach - one where we could bask in the warm, shallow water and watch the darting shoals of tiny fish who had come to seek the protection of the artificial reef.

After our swim, we walked through the shady streets of the former fishing village of San Andres, at one end of the beach, for lunch in one of the many seafood restaurants.


Later, back in the water and looking at the shore, we were reminded that these tiny Atlantic islands are like mini-continents, spanning a vast range of climates over a few kilometres.

Rows of palms line the desert-like beach, while cacti climb the steep base of the mountains - there are no hotels or apartments here - until more dense vegetation expands into cool laurel forests covering the spectacular volcanic peaks.

"Does the beach ever get busy?" I asked one of the vendors as the tropical spirit persuaded me to order a caipirinha cocktail.

Oh yes, he replied. Over summer weekends and on public holidays, the number 910 bus disgorges hordes of locals and the car park is full. But on a weekday you never need to look far to find a sunny spot.

Lord Nelson lost his right arm when the British fleet failed to capture Santa Cruz in 1797. But then, struggling against the tide, he made a poorer choice of beach than we did, picking a rocky spot closer to the port, where we were headed for dinner.

Santa Cruz is not the only place to go on non-beach days. At Loro Parque, Europe's answer to SeaWorld, the brilliant dolphin and killer whale displays are entertaining without being too contrived.

A few kilometres along the coast, Icod de Los Vinos is famous for its centuries-old dragon tree and the wines that give this charming town its name. Farther inland, a cable car runs up to Mt Teide, Spain's highest peak at just under 3718m, which is often snow-capped.

But the most spectacular sunset over the island was to be seen right back where we came from, just a short drive up into the hills above Las Teresitas.

Getting there: Low-price airlines Thomson Airways, Monarch, jet2, easyJet, Ryanair and Thomas Cook fly there from London.

Top tips:
Don't leave hotel windows open. In the Canaries thieves can (and do) climb along even the highest balconies of hotels in search of wallets and phones. Just leave the air-conditioning on at night.

Avoid the mountain roads when it's wet and dark, particularly on the narrow, winding roads leading up to Mt Teide.

Further information: See turismodecanarias.com.