If you only visit one thing during your time here in Tenerife, it has to be Las Cañadas del Teide National Park. Of the four Spanish National Parks that are located in the Canaries (the others being Timanyfaya in Lanzarote, Garajonay in La Gomera and Taburiente in La Palma), Teide is the oldest and largest and is the most visited not only in Spain, but, as of 2010, in the whole of Europe. Rising majestically out of the Atlantic and climbing to an awesome 3,718 metres, Teide’s Pico Viejo (Old Peak) is visible from most parts of the island, as well as from Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.
Awarded National Park status in 1954 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in June 2007, Teide National Park boasts some of the most spectacular geological examples in the world, and attracts vulcanologists, botanists, geologists and biologists from all around the globe who use the site for continued investigation and research.
Sleeping, not dead…
Seeing it standing there all beautiful and calm, many people assume Teide is no longer active: it is. In fact, Mount Teide is one of 16 so-called Decade Volcanoes, identified by a United Nations-backed project as being worthy of special studies in light of their history of large, destructive eruptions and proximity to populated areas. Because of its strato-volcanic structure, Teide is widely predicted to have a rather violent eruption at some point, comparable to Vesuvius or Etna. But before you grab your clothes and start running, don’t panic – the last major eruption took place over 100 years ago (1909) and the lava is usually slow running with several warning signs beforehand. You’d even have time for a quick “me- with-an-erupting-volcano-in-the-background” selfie.
Several factors combine to make the landscape in Teide National Park completely unique – not to mention the ideal movie set for lunar-related scenes. Because of its altitude, weather conditions on Teide can be very extreme, producing harsh growing conditions for plants and trees and difficult living conditions for local wildlife. Thermometers can register anything from -15ºC to 40ºC and the sun beats down with extreme intensity. They don’t happen often, but when they do wind and rain can also be very strong. More commonly what tends to happen is that clouds roll in from the north, are unable to pass over the top of Teide and get stuck, forming the beautiful ‘Mar de Nubes’ – Sea of Clouds. This also explains why the north of the island is so much greener, and the south so arid in comparison.
The continually changing atmospheric conditions make the visual impact of the National Park, with its volcanic cones and lava rivers, even greater. Wherever you look you’ll find a postcard image, difficult if not impossible to find anywhere else. So, whatever you do, make sure your camera battery is fully charged before you go.
How to visit
There are several ways to experience Teide, which range from a low-impact stroll around the base to climbing to its peak – no, that’s not a joke, but yes, few people decide to do it.
However you get to there – via bus, car, jeep, mountain bike, etc. the best place to start is at El Portillo Visitors Centre. Informative, entertaining and most importantly under cover, here you’ll enter the wondrous world of volcanoes through a recreation of a volcanic tube, and enjoy an educational, interactive experience that will give you all the information you need to know. Kids love the chance to push the buttons and pull the leads and you can arrange a free and very entertaining guided tour by appointment.
Most people visiting the National Park enjoy a full day out spent at the visitors’ centre and then taking any one of the 35 signposted footpaths in and around Las Cañadas .Depending on your circumstances (if you have small children or wore high heels there, forget it), fitness and generally whether you can be bothered, guided walks up the volcano are also available. The experience is said to be amazing but please bear in mind that it takes around six hours, from base to peak and you do need to have a fairly high level of fitness to endure the climb. Alternatively, and by far the most popular option, is to get the cable car (teleférico) to the top. This can easily be done with children, and means you get all the incredible views without breaking into a sweat.
Want to go all the way?
All the 35 footpaths mentioned are free and open to the public except for the Telesforo Bravo: this goes from the top of the cable car to the crater itself, and to gain access to this path you need to apply for a special permit, which the Baobab Experience Team can easily do on your behalf. There’s also the option to go up the night before, stay overnight in the Altavista Refuge, and climb to the top the next morning to watch the sunrise. As experiences go, it really doesn’t get much better than this.
Bet you didn’t know…
On a clear day, you can see all of the other six islands from the top of Teide.
Some types of local lizard found in the National Park have developed a kind of antifreeze in their blood to help them withstand the freezing temperatures they encounter so high up.
There is a range of mountains on the moon called Montes Teneriffe, and one of the mountains is called Mons Pico, after the Pico Von Teneriffe, which was an old name for Teide. It was named by German astronomer Johann Hieronymus Schröter.