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 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 everyone else has 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.
For a family-friendly saunter around the Roques de García you won’t need anything other than comfortable shoes and some warm clothes. For more ambitious hikes, though, you’ll need proper walking boots and poles, warm clothes, some food and water and a map and compass.
If you intend to climb Teide or Pico Viejo in the winter, when thick snow is common, you’ll need full winter hiking gear, including thick fleeces, a waterproof jacket, gloves, a hat and sunglasses. Poles are an essential item and on some routes crampons wouldn’t go amiss either.
There are strict rules about where you can and cannot walk in the park, and you must keep to the marked trails at all times (though some of these can be very vague on the less-frequented high-altitude trails). Most importantly don’t underestimate Teide: it might not be the Himalayas but it’s still a serious undertaking (especially in winter) and the ocean setting means that weather conditions can change astonishingly fast, sometimes forcing the sudden closure of the cable car (a serious issue for hikers ascending the mountain and expecting a ride back down).
Practical Tip: Climbing to the Summit – The Paperwork
The key to climbing the summit from the top of the cable car is to plan ahead. For security and conservation reasons, there’s a permit scheme in force that restricts the number of visitors who can climb to the summit to 200 a day. You can reserve your place online via www.reservasparquesnacionales.es (follow the links through to the Parque Nacional del Teide). You can make a reservation up to 2pm the day before you want to climb (as long as spaces are available), but it advisable to do this as early as possible as places are often booked out several months in advance. Consult the calendar on the website to see what days are available and plan accordingly.
You can choose from several two-hour slots per day in which to make your final ascent to the summit. In addition to the permit, take your passport or ID (as well as a copy) with you on the climb, as you’ll probably be asked to produce it, and don’t miss your allotted time or you won’t be allowed beyond the barrier. Permits for the slot between 3pm and 5pm must be used before 4.30pm, otherwise they become invalid. Only 50 people are allowed on the trail at any one time. From the cable car it’s about a one-hour walk to the summit.
Note that bad weather conditions can mean the closure of the summit for weeks at a time. The website gives details of any such closures and when the summit is next expected to be open to hikers.
The general park visitor guide lists 21 walks, ranging in length from 600m to 17.6km, some of which are signposted. Each walk is graded according to its level of difficulty (ranging from ‘low’ – the most common – to ‘extreme’). You’re not allowed to stray from the marked trails, a sensible restriction in an environment where every tuft of plant life has to fight for survival.
You don’t have to be a masochist to enjoy the challenge of walking from road level up to La Rambleta at the top of the cable car, followed by a zoom down in the lift, but neither should you take this walk lightly. People unused to serious hiking will find this a very strenuous walk. Get off the bus (request the driver to stop) or leave your car at the small road-side parking area (signposted ‘Montaña Blanca’ and ‘Refugio de Altavista’) 8km south of the El Portillo Visitors Centre and set off along the 4WD track that leads uphill. En route, you can make a short (half-hour, at the most), almost-level detour along a clear path to the rounded summit of Montaña Blanca (2750m), from where there are splendid views of Las Cañadas and the sierra beyond. For the full ascent to La Rambleta, allow about five hours (one-way). If you’re intending on taking the cable car back down, it’s vital that you allow sufficient time (and have enough food supplies) to walk back down the mountain if the cable car has to close early. Alternatively, make the Montaña Blanca your more modest goal for the day and then head back down again (about 2½ hours for the round trip).
Another long but relatively gentle route is the 16km Las Siete Cañadas between the two visitors centres, which, depending on your pace, will take between four and five hours (note that you’ll need transport waiting for you at the end of this walk).
Maybe the most spectacular, and certainly the hardest, walk in the park is the climb to the summit of Pico Viejo, then along the ridge that connects this mountain to Teide and then up to the summit of Teide. Allow at least nine hours for this hike (one-way) and be prepared to walk back down Teide again if the cable car is closed. In fact, for this walk it’s actually better to walk to the Refugio de Altavista at 3270m on the first day, overnight there and then continue your ascent to the summit of Teide the following morning, as this will allow you most of the second day to descend Teide on foot if required.