The diverse Canary Islands surprise and startle. Linda Wainwright, writing her expert advice from Tenerife Island, walks us on a volcanic mountain during the four seasons. Inspiring to say the least.
By Linda Wainwright
The volcanic mountain of El Teide towers imperiously from the heart of the island of Tenerife. It is the highest point in Spain at 3,718 meters above sea level, and the enormous crater from which it rises is a World Heritage Site, as well as a Spanish National Park. Mt. Teide is an active volcano and the last eruption was in 1909 at a smaller mountain along side of Mt. Teide.
My first impression of the area is branded on my memory. It was July and hot, and never having seen volcanic scenery of this kind outside of the westerns I devoured as a kid, it took away my breath. The searing heat was appropriate to the landscape. It was barren and parched, shades of brown, and there was weird beauty in the surreal volcanic shapes.
Over the years, I’ve seen it in all seasons. Winter wonderland is an apt way to describe the landscape covered in snow, brilliant against a cobalt sky. Spring and early summer bring a profusion of wildflowers, which I never would have believed on that first visit.
The volcanic rock is porous, and the moisture from the winter snow, and early morning condensation seeps into the soil, providing sustenance for a stunning display of vivid reds and yellows come spring. Mid summer and the moisture is used up and all is stark and skeletal through late summer and autumn, until those winter snows throw a blanket of white over it again.
There are several hikes up, through and around the caldera. These days you need to obtain a permit (which can be done online) to summit Mount Teide. In order to protect this scenery, which is much more fragile that it appears, the numbers allowed up each day are controlled, so that not everyone is on the trail at the same time. It might be necessary to book well in advance Checking it today, I can see that it’s fully booked for the month ahead.
The best way to tackle it is to overnight in the refuge at Altavista, and rise well before dawn to watch the sunrise. It’s a scene I struggle to describe, the colors, the clarity of the air, the shadow of this mighty mountain cast over the Atlantic ocean are sights you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
There is, of course, far less oxygen up there, and the night time temperature, even in summer can drop dramatically. In winter it will fall below freezing. So warm clothes are always advised. On the other hand the thin air offers even less protection against the powerful rays of the sun, so protection against sunburn is also essential.
Of the several hikes around the caldera I have two favorites, although I’ll give an honorable mention to a third, first. It’s an easy walk until the last, few meters, and begins beneath that iconic, twisted shape you see on so many postcards, which is called Roque Chinchado. The path is very well marked, and easy. It takes you around another iconic volcanic shape, known as The Cathedral, a huge mound which stands below the tourist viewpoint next to Roque Chinchado.
I think it’s safe to say I always enjoy walking, but, having years ago recovered from the first shock of seeing this extraordinary scenery, I didn’t think of this, particular walk as special. That was until I went in late spring of this year. I’d gone with a friend in search of tajinastes. These plants are another Tinerfeñan icon. Growing up to ten feet tall, the Tajinaste Rojo in this form grows in the wild nowhere else on earth. Some years it seems as if armies of the plants are marching down the mountainsides. Their spires, which are clusters of tiny, red flowers, are a haven for bees.
This year, however, there were few, but what took me by surprise, and overwhelmed both my senses of sight and smell was the profusion of broom. It’s another plant common to early summer in the high mountains, but I hadn’t realized it was quite so abundant along that particular walk. I would highly recommend doing it in late May which is when we went.
My second favorite trail is also not a difficult walk. Seite Cañadas crosses the caldera, and follows the “highway” used by early settlers carting goods from one side of the island to the other. Despite its small size, Tenerife’s microclimate means that agriculture is quite specific to certain areas. Thus, for instance, along Seite Cañadas potatoes from Vilaflor moved north, and chestnuts came south. Before that it was undoubtedly an aboriginal trail.
It’s a popular hike, rising only around 200 meters from start to finish, and encompassing some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see. It’s also littered with island history, and it’s well worth buying a guidebook in the nearby parador bookshop. It’s roughly 15 kilometres, which means, certainly in Winter, having a car at each end, or making sure that you reach the end of the walk in time to take the bus back to your car. Buses are not frequent, and you should definitely check the times before you set off. There is also no shade along the walk, even in winter you need a hat and sunscreen, and, of course, plenty of water.
And to my favorite walk, which reverts back to the title of this piece, the best way to see the volcano. It begins along Seite Cañadas but branches off about a third of the way along. After that it’s all uphill, so a decent level of fitness is required. The rewards, however, are vast. You are climbing the flank of Alto de Guajara, a place full of legends. When I did it last year we timed our arrival at the point where hard trails lead downhill to Granadilla de Abona for dusk.
We found a cave and bivvyed for the night. Camping is forbidden in the National Park, as are making fires. Sleeping in the shelter of a shallow cave protected us against the temperature, which dropped to a tad below zero before we called it a night and hunkered down. We got upin the predawn dark, and staggered (or at least that’s how I remember my ascent) upwards for an hour, watching the day begin to trickle along the horizon below, purples, then pinks, then oranges.
We reached the summit of Alto de Guajara just as the sun rose, breathtakingly from the ocean casting its glow over land and sea. Transfixed by the view, I stood open mouthed until a shout from my son drew my attention to the opposite side of the peak, where the shadow of the mountain lay across the landscape, and Teide, looming large opposite, was turning rosy with the sunrise.
So, the best way to see Mt Teide? For me, that is from the summit of Altode Guajara.
We have The Scoop on where to stay on Tenerife Island.