The population has grown in the last 20 years in 26 of the 31 municipalities on the island of Tenerife, with percentages of 161% in San Miguel de Abona, 146% in Granadilla de Abona or 123% in Adeje, all of them located in the South. Apart from the capital, which has lost just 2.6% since the beginning of the 21st century, depopulation has focused on Isla Baja, in the North, where the census falls between 7.2 and 16%, and, especially, in isolated rural corners, remote and lacking in employment opportunities, services and economic activity. Corners where families do not find a future and the elderly fight against the decline of a way of life.
The lonely and cornered Tenerife shows its toughest face in lost hamlets of Anaga, Teno or the forgotten midlands of the South. Places like Teno Alto, in Buenavista del Norte, or Icor, in Arico, are different examples of the evolution of these groups in danger of extinction, which have lost inhabitants but are struggling to survive. They have not yet reached the critical situation of so many lost towns on the Peninsula, of emptied Spain.
While the south of Tenerife grows at the pace set by the frenetic economic activity, the metropolitan area and the North share diverse population increases, with Acentejo on the rise, fueled by the opportunities for homes at affordable prices. La Laguna (+18.5%), Tegueste (+17.2%) and El Rosario (+32.6%) seem to grow at the expense of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, which has fallen by 2.6% in 20 years, but remains firm in the island leadership with more than 208,500 chicharreros registered. And in that weakness, Anaga is shown as his Achilles heel.
Isla Baja, the natural region made up of Garachico, Los Silos, Buenavista del Norte and El Tanque, has less population in 2022 than in 1960. The depopulation of this area of northern Tenerife began in the late 1990s and It has worsened in the 21st century. Between 1994 and 2014 alone, the towns of Buenavista, Los Silos, El Tanque and Garachico lost 2,814 inhabitants, a reduction equivalent to the current tanker population.
The data on the historical evolution of the population of the municipalities of the Archipelago, compiled by the Canary Islands Institute of Statistics (Istac) based on figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), show that in 1960 Isla Baja had a total of 18,137 inhabitants, and now there are 17,182. Comparisons with any other Tenerife region are an ode to pessimism.
Depopulation accelerated in this area between 2002 and 2014, with the help of the cleansing of the registers. In that period the four municipalities lost 2,280 inhabitants. 81% of the total reduction was concentrated in those years of housing bubble and crisis. Garachico currently has a total of 4,895 inhabitants, 372 less than in 1960 (5,267), 126 less than in 1950 (5,021) and even 118 less than in 1940 (5,013). The years in which the Villa and Port exceeded 6,000 inhabitants, between the 80s and 90s of the 20th century, seem far away.
Los Silos surpassed the barrier of 5,000 inhabitants in 1960 and since then it had never dropped below that figure, until 2014 when its population remained at 4,727 people. The current figure, 4,692, takes the municipality to 1950, when the town had 4,690 residents. Buenavista has 4,766 residents, 255 less than in 1960. This town had more than five thousand residents between 1986 and 2012. And in the 90s of the 20th century it never fell below 5,469, 703 more than now. El Tanque is the only municipality that currently has (2,829) more inhabitants than in 1960, but one less than in 1970, when it had 2,830. This town reached 3,000 inhabitants in 1991 and maintained it until 2010, when it dropped below three thousand for the first time.
If the Isla Baja looks like an island within another in terms of population, some of its hamlets are the perfect example of the most lonely and cornered Tenerife. Between 1996 and 2022, places like Teno Alto, Masca, Los Carrizales, El Palmar and Las Portelas lost between 19.7 and 53.48% of their population. A brutal decrease in populations between 43 and 536 inhabitants.
El Palmar had 536 inhabitants in 1996 and now there are just 392, 144 less in 25 years, a reduction of almost 27%. In Las Portelas, in the same period, it has gone from 365 to 295 residents, 70 less, almost a 20% population decrease. In Masca, an icon of tourism that leads to receiving huge numbers of visitors every year, currently only 93 people live. Almost 24% less than in 1996.
In Los Carrizales 43 people lived in 1996, now there are 23. In 25 years this village has lost 53.48% of its population. As if Santa Cruz de Tenerife went from 208,500 inhabitants to just 97,000 in a quarter of a century. Despite its decline, Los Carrizales shows a less worrying trend than Teno Alto, according to the mayor of Buenavista, Antonio González Fortes, of Sí se puede. «There is a greater interest in executing works to put rural tourism houses into operation and there are families who have opted to move there. It has never been a very populated place, but it seems that it is going in a better dynamic, “says the president.
In Buenavista del Norte, the future of Teno Alto is concerned. An emblematic place for livestock, with harsh climatic conditions and an increasingly aging population with hardly any generational change. 96 people lived there in 1996 and in 2022 there are only 57 left. A decrease of 40.6% and very worrying sensations. Only in this case, the mayor of Buenavista acknowledges his fear that he could run out of stable population in a not too distant moment. If the current trend continues, with 1.5 fewer inhabitants each year, in 38 years there will be no neighbors left in this corner of the Teno Rural Park. The reasons? The mayor has them clear: the harsh living conditions, the lack of employment opportunities, the difficulties in rehabilitating and conditioning decent housing and the distance from basic services and cultural and leisure alternatives. This pushes the young population to places with a better future and more facilities.
Antonio González hopes that the decisions of the administrations will help to settle the population in these hamlets and gives Masca as an example, “where the activity that generates an attraction such as the Masca ravine must also leave wealth in the North and not is linked so much with the South, from where the connections are much more comfortable». In addition, the strict conservation measures of the Teno Rural Park sometimes represent an insurmountable obstacle for the inhabitants of the area, who choose to move. The president of the Barranco de Masca Neighborhood Association, José Riquelme Díaz Gorrín, already asked the administrations in 2014 not to “turn Masca into Mascalandia, a theme park without inhabitants.”
Preventing places like Masca or Teno Alto from running out of people requires complex and joint solutions. And the model of the peninsular towns, which encourage the arrival of families, collides with a harsh reality: there are neither jobs nor too many available houses here.
The opposite of that on the opposite side of the Island, where with the construction of a highway, the TF-1, in the 70s of the last century, the demographic, urban and economic expansion of Tenerife began. And it seems that the operation is still under way, with the development of the Insular Ring of Roads that will connect North and South more quickly and safely in a couple of years. In the west they hope that this project will contribute to establishing the population in its surroundings. The demand for labor from construction and tourism, growing for more than three consecutive decades, brought prosperity to the Island and the Canary Islands, but also led to internal emigration. While in the South and Southwest, converted into one of the most important tourist destinations in the world, the transfer from rural areas barely traveled a few kilometers to the coastal or mid-range towns of Arona, Adeje and Guía de Isora, in the South and Southeast, the towns of the upper zone languished from the 1980s until the crisis of 2008. The highway directed traffic to the lower part of the region, suppressing freight transport and much of the traditional economic activity that grew around the highway South General. With the loss of agricultural activity, the hoe was replaced by cement or the hotel uniform.
In a period like the current one, where no municipality in the South loses population –Arona is the fifth in the Canary Islands according to its census for a couple of years–, the mediocrity of areas such as Agache (Güímar) and Fasnia bear witness to this demographic decline. At the end of the 20th century, Europe allocated a lot of money to this strip of territory due to its status as a depressed region. Today it has a gradual and sustained growth. It is Arico and the border area of Granadilla de Abona that continues to work to recover “life”. Around agriculture and livestock, nuclei such as Los Blanquitos, Cruz de Las Ánimas, La Higuera, Chimiche and Las Vegas, in the upper middle range of Granada; o El Bueno and Icor, in the ariquera, regain demographic vitality.
“It costs, but it is increasing.” A sentence by Germán Borges, a native of Icor – a town whose existence dates back to the 16th century, with houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and declared BIC – and president of the last neighborhood association, discharged on December 31. «In the seventies, about 300 people lived here», of which today there are almost half again «because people return to the countryside. Things are so complicated in the city that now they turn to these places, where they rehabilitate some little houses, build a little room or fix caves ». The thermometer of this increase is in “the increase in garbage in containers” and “that everyone asks for fiber for internet connection.” This draws a profile of the new neighbor. It is about “modern people, thirty-something upwards, prepared”. They choose Icor because they inherited or bought a house. With “the most expensive life in the cities and stagnant salaries, they opt for the countryside because they are 10 minutes from the highway”, through the Las Eras connection. Here they live with “those of all life”, because “the elderly like to be where they were born, and here they plant their sack of potatoes and continue living from this”. «People now go more to technology and plant something around the house, but very little; They prefer to go to the supermarket. Or at Fabiola’s sale, “the one that belonged to Fabio, passed his daughter and now, to the granddaughter.”
Morras, lomos or streets are six in Icor. “All of them have been paved since the time of Lalo (Eladio Morales, mayor of Arico from 1995 to 2011), so in some it seems that there was a war because of how destroyed it is, in the case of La Chajaña.” But there is water and electricity, although it lacks a sanitation network, but they do have cesspools. Potatoes, tomatoes – “here were the plains of Gonzalo El Guirre, who had three trucks loaded with people to work the orchards” – and even tobacco were the products “that fed many people. Today there is nothing.” Not public transportation. “Tuwawa worked very well here”, a Titsa service designed for sparsely populated and scattered areas. “Here it was used by six people, people were very happy with that transport.”
This success is one of the references of Sebastián Martín, mayor of Arico, for whom the future of isolated towns requires “improving connectivity with public transport, revitalization and access to technologies.” He refers to the existence of four diagnoses of the state of the region “that identified actions and projects that were not carried out by the Cabildo and the Canarian Government.”
The figures reflect that in the south of Tenerife there is no depopulation. Los Blanquitos, La Higuera, Chimiche and El Desierto (Granadilla) are well above their late 20th century census. For example.