The tourist tradition in PCR is so long that some writers have even suggested that it has always been a tourist resort. Diego Guigou, the noted physician who was its official chronicler, was of the opinion that PCR was the cradle of tourism in Spain. To him, Puerto was always a tourist town. In fact, long before what we know today as tourism was invented, and even before the Canary Islands were conquered by the Crown of Castille, the “guanches”, the Island’s aboriginal inhabitants, moved down to the coast of the Orotava Valey in winter, to the caves at Martiánez, in search of a more pleasant climate. The archaeological map of Tenerife shows the presence of a human dwelling with a burial ground in Martiánez and burial caves in Malpaís (Taoro) and María Jiménez (Punta Brava), which is testimony of human settlement in Puerto de la Cruz from pre-hispanic times. From remote times it has been an ideal place to live.
Once the conquest of the Island of Tenerife by the Castilian troops led by Alonso Fernández de Lugo was completed in 1496, the island capital was established in La Laguna and the Island divided into various administrative districts. The district of Taoro came under the jurisdiction of La Orotava, where the building of a harbour on the coast was ordered, and according to tradition is where the Cross of the Conquest was planted. It was the year 1506. In this place and at the dawn of the XVIth Century, a humble village of fishermen was established, called Puerto de La Orotava [Harbour of La Orotava]. According to the historian Alvarez Rixo, in 1505 it had 50 inhabitants and a tavern. Another distinguished local researcher, Antonio Ruiz Alvarez, adds that “in 1588 it was already called PCR, the Old Town and the Martiánez beach existed”, so that it is supposed that the hamlet was formed as early as the end of the XVIth Century.
In the XVIIth Century the original centre, between the Castillo San Felipe [Saint Philip’s Castle] and the Santa Bárbara [Saint Barbara] battery expanded as far as Martiánez. Around this period, Antonio Franchy Lutzardo received a commission from the Town Council of the Capital, La Laguna, to “form a township, signpost it, mark the streets and erect a church with a plaza” on this spot, which he began to fortify in 1604, as the attacks of pirates and corsairs were frequent.
At first , sugarcane as a sole crop was the basis of the district economy and local trade. The township grew and began to acquire its own identity. On the 28th November 1648, King Philip IV gave his Royal Seal to what is considered to be the city’s founding charta. It came into force on the 3rd May 1651 and meant that Puerto de la Cruz was now a borough in its own right and separate from La Orotava.
The destruction of the port of Garachico in 1706 as a result of a volcanic eruption made Puerto de la Cruz the main port on the Island. Such was its importance that King Philip IV himself called it “the key to the Island”, and the town bears the symbol in its coat-of-arms to this day. At this time began the most important epoque in the history of the town, from the economic, social and cultural points of view. This period is marked by the importance of the wine trade which was the driving force behind the development during the XVII and XVIII Centuries. Economic growth brought with it conflicts between the Orotava aristocracy and the middle-class merchants of Puerto who were interested in getting independence as a municipality, which was finally achieved in 1772, coinciding with the “Golden Age” of culture in Puerto de la Cruz.
According to chroniclers, it was at the end of the XIXth Century that the first “excursionists” visited Puerto. They arrived from Great Britain on board the steamers belonging to the fruit companies. Then as now, the benign, Spring-like climate and the beauty of its landscapes were the two main compensations for the long Atlantic crossing. At the same time as the first trippers (hardly tourists), the presence of wealthy scientists and travellers became ever more frequent. The passengers of many luxury cruises, passing through on the way to the Cape, Buenos Aires or Australia, used to make short excursions on the Island. This was no real movement of tourists capable of generating a large hotel infrastructure. But even so, and without really noticing it, the town began to consolidate the basis of what was to become the driving force of the local economy.
Its strategic position and pleasant climate attracted traders of different nationalities who ended up settling here and becoming the dominant middle-classes. From the demographic point of view, there came about a period of unprecedented growth, unrepeated in the history of the town. In 85 years the population grew from 160 to 200 inhabitants. Nevertheless, in 1689 the population was already 2,605, with nearly 600 buildings of religious, military or civil importance. The eminent Cuban writer Dulce María Loynaz, Cervantes Prize winner, in her book entitled "Un verano en Tenerife" [One summer in Tenerife], wrote :” Puerto de la Cruz was a honeycomb which attracted merchants from the Indies and Flanders, ship-owners from Portugal and sea-going traders from Genoa like a swarm of flies”. In addition, in the following century, the Decree on Free Ports of 1852 caused many tourists who used to visit Madeira, a place which enjoyed great prestige on the therapeutic circuit, to change course and take their holidays in the Canaries.
A kind of health publicity spread throughout Europe by means of a multitude of articles in the Press, travel guides and brochures. The important fruit companies operating in the Canaries served as tourist shipping lines. The shipping companies began to take part in the tourist business. These were what was known as the banana boats. The shipping agents, conscious of the importance of the incipient tourist trade, went out of their way to promote Tenerife. This was the moment when the decline of Puerto de la Cruz as a trade centre started, pulled down by the crisis in the wine export trade, and later of cochineal, and by the development of the port of Santa Cruz, with its better natural situation. The emigration to Cuba and Venezuela began. In the Island, too, people noticed that the periodic visits of people from beyond the Islands, from abroad, could become an important source of income. Our privileged climate and the beauty of the countryside were strong lures. This way, what researchers call “the social assimilation of the phenomenon of tourism” took place. It was in the middle of the XIXth century that Puerto society, and above all the foreign residents settled here, realised the opportunities that the town and its climate presented. The British presence , above all, was decisive for the final take-off of the tourist industry in Puerto de la Cruz and the Orotava Valley.
© Centro de Iniciativas y Turismo de Puerto de la Cruz