The island of Tenerife is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, attracting well over 5 million visitors in 2019. Fortunately, the vast majority of the island’s visitors discover that Tenerife is generally one of the safest places in Europe, with particularly low statistics for serious crimes such as murders, rapes, armed robberies, gang-related crime etc.
However, as with all popular tourist destinations, Tenerife is not crime-free. Tourist areas will always attract a certain element hoping to exploit cash-rich tourists who are unfamiliar with their surroundings or who are in holiday-mode and let their guard down more than they would back at home. Fortunately, many of these people are little more than annoyances that you can easily avoid or get rid of, provided a little common sense is shown.
So what are some of the main things to watch out for when visiting Tenerife?
General Safety Concerns
On the whole, Tenerife is a very safe place. During the daytime or night-time, virtually all areas of the tourist zones are safe to walk around. As such, it is far safer than nearly every major European city such as London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, etc. However, lone travellers may wish to avoid some of the more notorious nightlife areas late at night, as these areas tend to attract more drunks, drug-users, criminals, illegal-immigrants and trouble-makers. Taxis are cheap in Tenerife, so there is no need to risk walking unfamiliar routes at night whilst unaccompanied.
If you do see any trouble, particularly drunken fights near bars or nightclubs, be wary of getting involved. Spanish police often have an ‘arrest now, ask questions later’ approach. It is not uncommon for innocent bystanders to get swept up in the police van for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As with all tourist areas, visitors are advised not to carry excessive cash or valuables or to flash your cash or gadgets on the street. Instances of pickpocketing have been increasing in the tourist areas, so keep your money and valuables in a safe place, preferably in a front pocket or in a bag that cannot easily be opened without you being aware of it. Don’t leave valuables on display in rental vehicles. It is also advisable not to get so drunk that you are unaware of your surroundings. Don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach unless you are able to keep your eye on them. Be particularly vigilant when using ATM Cash Machines or currency exchange booths. Take particular care when crossing the street or driving, as locals often fail to signal or to obey traffic laws, rights-of-way or pedestrian crossings.
Health-wise, Tenerife is a particularly safe place. No special vaccinations are required to visit. There are no poisonous snakes, scorpions, spiders etc, although you may get bitten by the occasional mosquito. There are no virtually no shark attacks (there is on average one attack every 30 years, typically a high-risk fisherman or a surfer straying further from the shore), but keep your eyes peeled for the occasional jellyfish (warning flags are displayed on tourist beaches). Tenerife has an extremely low risk of earthquakes, hurricanes or other extreme weather phenomena. Being so close to the equator, the sun can be fierce in Tenerife, so apply plenty of sunscreen and/or wear a hat when out and about.
The risk of terrorism in Tenerife, whilst not zero, is far lower than in most other areas of Europe, including mainland Spain.
These are unfortunately a common pest throughout the world. However, common sense can usually thwart their efforts 99% of the time. Don’t keep valuables, cash or gadgets on display or easily accessible. Keep your cash, wallet or purse in a front pocket or in a bag or pouch kept around your waist in front of you. Be wary of anybody that approaches you, e.g. to ask for directions, to pick up something that you ‘dropped’ etc etc. Pickpockets often work in groups of 2 or 3, so one will distract you whilst another rifles through your bag or pockets. Don’t leave bags, shopping or mobile phones unattended in bars or restaurants. Don’t leave your belongings unattended on the beach.
Scams and Annoyances
As with most tourist resorts around the world, each location tends to suffer from a certain number of stereotypical scams and attempts to separate you from your hard-earned holiday spending money. Here are some of the more common Tenerife scams:
Looky Looky Men / Chinese sellers / Charity Beggars
Every visitor to tourist Tenerife will be familiar with the ‘Looky Looky’ man. Without wishing to racially stereotype, the majority of these colourful characters come from Senegal (legally or illegally). They prowl the tourist streets, promenades, beaches, bar and restaurant terraces etc peddling their wares, which typically include fake designer watches, sunglasses, handbags, jewellery, beach rugs etc etc. Often their sales pitch includes typical British banter and entertaining phrases such as “hey Delboy”, “hey Rambo”, “ASDA Price!”, “One for the price of 10” etc etc.
On the assumption that you are not interested in fake goods that will fall apart the moment you get on the plane, a simple “No Thank You” usually sends them on their way. The real frustration tends to be the constant flow of Looky Lookies. In the more popular locations, a family sitting to enjoy their dinner on an outdoor terrace by the main tourist promenades, might be pestered by 10 to 15 sellers during the course of a meal, which over the course of a 2 week holiday, can quickly become very tiresome. Sadly, most of the bars and restaurants do little to deter them. If you do decide to buy something from a Looky Looky, bear in mind that their starting price is way above what they will ultimately accept, so it depends how far you are prepared to haggle. However, in most cases, buyers have reported getting the item for at least 50% or more below the starting price.
In addition to the Looky Looky men, there are also a number of Chinese sellers, typically peddling tat such as dancing-coke-bottles, flashing hats and other electronic crap you never realised you needed until after your third rum-and-coke. These sellers can however be more persistent than the Looky Lookies, often spreading their tat out across your table and pushing toys on any younger children in the hope that their parents won’t say no. A firmer and repeated “No” will usually work with most of them, but if not, a complaint to your barman or waiter will see them shooed away. Charity collectors and beggars are another nuisance typical to holiday resorts worldwide. Whilst some charity collectors circulating in bars and restaurants may be genuine, the vast majority are not. Just wave them away and save your coins for genuine local charities. Your hotel or apartment reception will no doubt be happy to recommend one.
Beggars on the street are another problem. Whilst some might genuinely need help, we personally know of a one-legged chap in Playa de las Americas who gets state disability handouts and lives in a nice apartment, but who recently admitted to raking in over €100,000 a year tax free through begging to tourists. Our advice is to save your donations for genuine registered charities.
This problem appears to be limited to the areas adjacent to Veronicas and Starco in Playa de las Americas in the early hours of the morning, or around ‘closing time’. Male revellers (particularly those walking alone) heading home after a night out may be approached by one or more African women. The women will pretend to offer the man sexual services whilst rubbing their bodies up against him, kissing him and stroking his crotch erotically. However, the true aim is to distract the aroused male long enough to liberate his wallet, phone or other valuables. The writer of this article was personally caught out by this scam last week on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and 3 times on Saturday (P.S. a pack of 10 empty wallets is available in the Chinese shop for €9.99). Seriously however, it is advisable to avoid letting these woman approach you or make physical contact, as on occasions they have been known to become violent or to pull out a knife etc when challenged by an angry or drunk tourist.
Electrical / Gadget Shops
These scams have been around for so many years, it is astonishing that people still fall for them. However, their patter can be very convincing, whilst dangling the promise of an amazing holiday bargain. Again, whilst wishing to avoid racial stereotypes, nearly all of these shops are run by Indians (or from the Indian Subcontinent generally). The shops are always located in the middle of the tourist areas. The windows will be filled with gadgets such as cameras, camcorders etc. The two immediate red flags are: (a) none of the items in the window has a price tag, and (b) there is always a man standing in the doorway or just outside the shop, who will start his sales patter the moment you even glance at any products in the window.
The scams are wide and varied, but generally consist of a ‘bait and switch’, where you are offered one product at a ridiculously low price, only to be conned into upgrading to a ‘superior’ product at a considerably higher price. The ‘superior’ product will invariably be overpriced or an obsolete old model and may be accompanied by ridiculously overpriced accessories (cases, lens covers etc). Alternatively, it might be a ‘bootleg’ copy product from China masquerading as the genuine article. Finally, many of these shops add insult to injury by ‘accidentally’ overcharging your credit card by adding an additional ‘0’ to the final price etc. This will leave you with a huge headache trying to get the money refunded via your bank when you get home, and often unsuccessfully. The best advice is to avoid any shops fitting this description like the plague. We can report that there are extremely few electronic items for sale in Tenerife that cannot be purchased for almost the same price back home by shopping around on Amazon or Ebay etc.
Timeshare, Holiday Points and related products
This is another scam/annoyance that has been around since Tenerife tourism first sprang up. At some point during your holiday, you may be approached by somebody offering you a free scratchcard, or asking you questions for a holiday questionnaire. In 99% of cases, they are trying to sell you a timeshare or similar product. The scratchcard will mysteriously be a winner every time, but you need to go to an office and sit through a presentation in order to claim your bottle of cheap bubbly, carton of cheap-brand cigarettes or whatever else you have allegedly won. You will then be subjected to a lengthy high-pressure sales pitch in an attempt to separate you from several thousands of Euros. Historically, whilst some buyers have been happy with timeshare products they have bought, the vast majority regret their decision. Furthermore, most of the packages sold today are not even ‘timeshare’, but are simply worthless ‘holiday points’ schemes, under which you could actually buy the same or better holiday each year for the amount the scheme is charging you in annual maintenance fees. The upfront price you pay is essentially just commission for the salespeople and their bosses. At best, you will sacrifice more than half a day of your precious holiday just to get a carton of fags or bubbly worth no more than €25. At worst, they will talk you into signing a contract and coughing up anywhere from €5,000 to €50,000 for an essentially worthless holiday points product. In the regrettable event that you do sign up, remember that all timeshare and holiday points contracts in Europe have a legal 14 day cooling off/cancellation period, so you can still get out of a bad deal once you have had a chance to sleep on it.
Car Rental Scams
This one is perhaps more of a ‘sharp business practice’ than an outright scam, but the word “scam” is repeatedly used by disgruntled holidaymakers. Certain car rental companies operating in Tenerife overcharge customers with ‘hidden extras’ such as overpriced additional insurance, low fuel return fees, upfront fuel purchase fees, extortionate penalty charges for minor scratches and damage, hidden credit card charges, etc etc. Often when an advertised rental price seems too good to be true, it often is. The best advice is to read up on recent reviews and opinions for your chosen car rental company on Trustpilot, Tripsavvy, Tripadvisor etc before you book and to check out the small print before you sign to collect the car.
Whilst the majority of taxi drivers in Tenerife are honest and genuine, there sadly remains a minority who cannot resist ‘pulling a fast one’ on an unsuspecting visitor (or even on a Spanish resident). Typical scams include pressing buttons to add supplements to the meter (e.g. airport visit fee or a suitcase charge etc when the journey doesn’t go anywhere near the airport or you don’t have a suitcase), or in taking you the ‘scenic route’ knowing it will add €4 or €5 to your final bill. Tricks are even more common on ‘public holidays’, when drivers will sometimes try to demand a ‘minimum fare’ of €15 or €20, even just to go a couple of kilometres (whereas the correct fare for public holidays is to double the displayed meter fare). Given that Tenerife taxis are typically cheaper than in other countries, many tourists don’t even notice or care they have been fleeced and believe that the fare was still reasonable. However, for some of us (particularly residents), it is often a matter of principle. If you have an issue with a taxi driver, the best way to resolve a dispute is to demand a complaint form (Hoja de Reclamaciones). If he or she refuses, take the vehicle registration or driver tag number and file a report at the police station. The driver knows that if he accumulates several complaints, he is likely to lose his taxi licence, so this is usually the best way of resolving a complaint on the spot. Be aware, however, that some taxi drivers, when faced with a complaint mid-journey by a disgruntled passenger, have been known to lock the doors and drive the passenger all the way back to the starting point and then instruct all of his colleagues to refuse to take the passenger anywhere. Again, taking down the driver details and demanding a complaint form is the correct response to this type of intimidation.