Far from the well-known peaks and beaches of mainland Spain, the island of Tenerife is actually home to one of the most unlikely plethora of superlatives to be found within the county’s political borders: The Teide National Park. This sprawling area of nearly 200 square kilometres is not only Spain’s largest national park, but is also one of its oldest (inaugurated way back in 1954).
The Volcanoes' Peaks
Rising like a great monster at its centre, the dominating and formidable volcanic peak of Mount Teide is the park’s namesake and undeniably its most defining feature. It’s also the highest summit in all of Spain, and the third largest volcano on the planet, from sea-level to crater tip; a truly magnificent sight that’s long commanded the skyline of Tenerife Island as a whole.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Teide National Park is also home to the colossal crater of Pico Viejo, the second highest volcano in the Canary Island archipelago that’s dwarfed only by Mount Teide itself. Together, these two giants soar more than 7,000 metres above the Atlantic Ocean floor, forming one of the most enduring and awesome postcard images of Tenerife and one of the Island’s truly ‘must see’ natural wonders.
With such dramatic landscapes and superlative mountain terrain to boot, it’s perhaps no wonder that the Teide National Park has long been a hub of heritage and human activity on Tenerife. Today, a myriad of archaeological sites and die hard cultural traditions stand as testimony to its historical richness, and it is one of the few places on earth where visitors can unravel the enthralling and mysterious histories of the Canary Island’s earliest inhabitants, the Berber Guanches (a peoples who lived here around 1000BC).
Top Things To Do in Teide Park
Today the park attracts an estimated 4 million visitors a year, from both Spain and abroad. The highway that runs through the park’s centre offers easy access by car or coach, making driving tours a popular option for those who don’t want to brave the scorching heat and arid conditions. For the more intrepid traveller however, Teide has no less than 51 marked hiking tracks that meander their way through the curious geological formations and surreal volcanic protrusions that first gave this region its reputation for rugged natural beauty, and it’s also possible to spend several days walking the mountains, if planned properly.
If you are planning an extended hiking holiday in the Teide National Park, consider staying overnight in the Teide Altavista refuge, a well-equipped mountain hostel-come-cabin that’s been under government management since 1950. Stays are limited to a maximum of one night, and the refuge gets busy with walkers during the high season, but at an altitude of over 3000 metres on the slopes at the park’s centre, there’s plenty of scope to explore the higher plateaus and peaks from this base.
Some hiking in the park is regulated by government permits which prevent high numbers of walkers from transversing the routes up to some of the summits or through designated conservation sections. One such walk is the trek up to the peak of Montana Blanca, the mid-way point of which can be reached by the La Rambleta cable car when it’s in operation. For the latest information int his regard tourists should head to one of the two visitors’ centres, where guided tours and walking permits can be acquired.
One of the major touristic pulls of the park is its geological richness, which reportedly exhibits up to 80% of all the world’s volcanic rock formations. Consequently the park is a kaleidoscope of curious forms and monoliths, from the twisting pahoehoe that can be spied on the Roques de Garcia route up Mount Teide, to the colossal calderas and shrub-covered surrealism of the Island’s volcanic badlands. Also due to its wealth of geological interest the Teide National Park has become a centre of global research, and one of the most-coveted of world destinations for budding volcanologists looking to explore the curiosities of their field.
After hundreds of thousands of years of volcanic activity, the soils and climactic conditions here have developed to form an environment for plant and animal life that’s another of the park’s truly unique characteristics. A whopping 33 species of plant found here are endemic to Tenerife Island, while an overall array of just less than 200 individual species can be spied clutching to the volcanic ground and springing up from the crevices. It’s also possible to spot the Canary Island Lizard and Gecko here, both of which exhibit the curious adaptations necessary to survive in this rough, dry and rocky corner of the Spanish state.