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Where can you walk through a 520-year-old Spanish city that retains the layout of its original streets? Answer: San Cristóbal de La Laguna. Founded in 1496, the city is in North Tenerife, the Canary Islands.

Canary Islands flag
Canary Islands flag
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In 1999, UNESCO declared La Laguna a World Heritage Site. The non-fortified colonial city encompasses more than 600 well-preserved buildings from the 16th-to-19th centuries.

How to get there

Located a 15-minute drive northwest of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Aguere Valley, La Laguna is near Los Rodeos Airport. A tram travels the nine-kilometer (5.6-mile) distance between Santa Cruz and La Laguna in 45 minutes.

We took a walking tour shore excursion to La Laguna after our Variety Cruises ship docked in the port of Santa Cruz, Tenerife's capital city. San Cristóbal de La Laguna was the original capital of Tenerife for more than three centuries until 1723.

La Laguna weather

"Dress warmly," advised our guide Natalia. "We dress in layers, like onions. La Laguna is 600 meters (1,969 feet) high, so it's always five-to-10 degrees C cooler than Santa Cruz."

When we got off the tour bus by the fountain in Plaza del Adelantado, Natalia showed us a map from 1598. "La Laguna's street plan was created from models that Leonardo Da Vinci made for Italy."

The map is still valid today. "Some people say that the city looks like Havana, but La Laguna was built before Havana," she said.

La Laguna University student walks past colored buildings
La Laguna University student walks past colored buildings
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Canary Islands flag

A tricolor flag fluttered from a canary-yellow building, adorned with red-framed windows. "It's the Canary Islands flag," said Natalia.

"The white strip represents the sea, the blue stands for the sky and the yellow denotes wheat. Below the Spanish crown, the white mountains in the coat of arms represent the seven Canary Islands and the two dogs (Latin: cani) signify the legendary origin of the archipelago's name."

University city

We noticed students walking with books past the blue, green and yellow buildings. "The Canary Islands have two universities, one in Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and one here," said Natalia. Founded in 1742, La Laguna University is the oldest, with nearly 30,000 students.

Casa Alvarado Bracamonte courtyard
Casa Alvarado Bracamonte courtyard
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Walking through a massive wooden door, we entered the Casa Alvarado Bracamonte. Also called Casa de los Capitanes or the Field Marshal's House, it encloses La Laguna's tourist information office.

17th-century courtyard

Inside the 17th-century building, a tiled cloister surrounded a pretty courtyard, adorned with palms and a stone fountain. "The wood is Canary pine," explained Natalia. "The stone columns were signs of wealth."

We stopped at a café for a traditional Tenerife coffee called barraquito. "To make it, you mix coffee with milk, sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon and lemon zest," explained Natalia. "You can have a non-alcoholic barraquito or one with a sweet orange liqueur added to it."

Canarian architecture

Continuing our walk along Calle San Agustin (formerly called Royal Street or Calle Real), we noticed antique hand-shaped door knockers on several doors.

Hand-shaped door knocker, La Laguna
Hand-shaped door knocker, La Laguna
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In the 16th-century Casa Lercaro Museum of History and Anthropology, we were surprised by the depth of the building. "People don't expect to find so many courtyards in these houses," said Natalia. "It has a courtyard for the family, one for the servants and another for the kitchen."

Natalia explained that it's almost a punishment to inherit one of these houses because they are very expensive to maintain. "As a result, the Cabildo (Town Hall) is slowly buying the historic mansions and restoring them."

Historic mansions

La Laguna's buildings have beautiful architectural details, such as wrought iron gates that open into cloisters enclosing gardens and fountains. Many have sash windows. Former residents opened them up to let air circulate in the granaries behind.

We admired the massive red stone-framed wooden doors on the yellow Casa del Corregidor (Mayor's Residence). It is now part of La Laguna's Town Hall.

Instituto de Canarias

An imposing bell and clock tower on Calle San Agustin drew our attention. We walked through the open wrought iron gate and the wooden doors guarded by a massive dragon tree.

Calle San Agustin (Royal Street or Calle Real) courtyard
Calle San Agustin (Royal Street or Calle Real) courtyard
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"This is the Instituto de Canarias Cabrero Pinto," said Natalia. "Founded in the 18th century, it was the first university in the Canary Islands. It became the Convent of San Agustin and is now a high school. My father went to school here."

The beautiful courtyard inside has a fountain, camellias and orange trees. Natalia pointed out the white coat of arms with an image of St. Michael, one of San Cristóbal de La Laguna's three patron saints.

Convent of St. Catherine of Siena nun walks dog
Convent of St. Catherine of Siena nun walks dog
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"La Laguna is the only city in the Canary Islands that doesn't celebrate Carnival," she said. "Instead, it celebrates the festival of Semana Santa like people do in Andalusia."

Dominican nuns

The Convent of St. Catherine of Siena (Iglesia-Convento de Santa Catalina de Siena), next to the Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) is still active. One hundred Dominican nuns used to live here," said Natalia. "Today only four remain, plus their guests."

The sisters used to view activity on the streets below from a Canary pine balcony. We noted that they are now part of the street life, as we watched an elderly nun walking her small dog along La Laguna's historic streets.


Contact GLP Worldwide for brochures, bookings and information about Variety Cruises Canary Islands trips.

More things to see & do in the Canary Islands:

Lanzarote, Canary Islands - Wine, Volcanoes and Cesar Manrique's Home

Valle Gran Rey Walking Tour - La Gomera, Canary Islands

La Gomera - San Sebastian, Garajonay and Mirador del Palmarejo

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands - Beaches, Surf, Dunes and Aloe Vera

Los Cristianos Tenerife - Beaches, Marina and Restaurants