Introducing Parque Nacional del Teide
Standing sentry over Tenerife, formidable El Teide (Pico del Teide) is not just the highest mountain in the Canary Islands but, at a whopping 3718m, the highest in all of Spain and is, in every sense of the word, the highlight of a trip to Tenerife. The Parque Nacional del Teide, which covers 189.9 sq km and encompasses the volcano and the surrounding hinterland, is both a Unesco World Heritage site and Spain’s most popular national park, attracting some four million visitors a year. Most serious hikers have heard of Teide, but few realise beforehand just how spectacular the mountain and surrounding national park is. It would be easy to pass a week in and around the park tramping the various hiking trails and not get bored. Most casual visitors arrive by bus or car and don’t wander far off the highway that snakes through the centre of the park, but that just means that the rest of us have more elbow room to explore. There are numerous walking tracks marking the way through volcanic terrain, beside unique rock formations and up to the peak of El Teide.
This area was declared a national park in 1954, with the goal of protecting the landscape, which includes 14 plants found nowhere else on earth. Geologically the park is fascinating: of the many different types of volcanic formations found in the world, examples of more than 80% can be found here. These include rough badlands (deeply eroded barren areas), smooth pahoehoe or lajial lava (rock that looks like twisted taffy) and pebble-like lapilli. There are also complex formations such as volcanic pipes and cones. The park protects nearly 1000 Guanche archaeological sites, many of which are still unexplored and all of which are unmarked, preventing curious visitors from removing ‘souvenirs’.
The park is spectacular at any time of the year. Most people attempt to climb to the summit in the summer – and with the weather being at its most stable then this makes perfect sense – but to really see the park at its pinnacle of beauty, early spring, when the lower slopes start to bloom in flowers and, if you’re lucky, the summit area still has a hat of snow, is best. Many visitors, having driven up from the hot coastal plains, are surprised at just how cold it can be in the national park. Deep winter in particular can see heavy snow shutting the main roads through the park and access to the summit can be closed for weeks on end.
El Teide dominates the northern end of the park. If you don’t want to make the very tough five-hour (one-way) climb to the top, take the cable car. Surrounding the peak are the cañadas, flat depressions likely caused by a massive landslide 180,000 years ago.