Hands up if you’ve seen “Clash of the Titans” yet? If you have, then even if you don’t live here, you have already made a virtual visit to the weird and awesome scenery that is the Parque Nacional de Teide. “Clash” isn’t the first movie to have been filmed there, the original “Planet of the Apes” comes to mind for another. The National Park will have been chosen in both cases because it isn’t quite like anywhere else on earth. When the mountains, which now form this island, thrust their way from the ocean bed 16 million years ago they surged and jostled their ways into strange and wondrous shapes, which are the landscape of prehistory rather than our familiar green/blue orb, and by luck or foresight that landscape has scarcely been touched by man.
Whether you choose to cruise the landscape in comfort or hike it, there is no way it will fail to impress you. But here we’re talking about “a day out”, so I am assuming that you’ll come from the coast. As in most everywhere in the world the mass of the population hugs the coast, and buildings dwindle as you climb into the mountains…..so can the heat, so be sure you throw warmer clothing in the car. The locals will be secretly laughing when they see you shivering in your skimpy top and reefs, but more importantly, if you’re cold you’re not going to enjoy this majestic scenery. Even if you go for a “ride out” you’ll want to jump out of the car to take snaps or just stand in silent meditation of Nature. If photography is your hobby, here’s your chance to take pictures where you can be sure there will be no telegraph poles or wires spoiling the view, so make sure your battery is fully charged and your card has enough capacity too.
Over the 23 years of living here it’s tickled me frequently to prove to folk that there is more to this island than sunshine, British bars and nice beaches. Even quite well-informed (but thankfully open-minded) pals arrived having no idea of the variety we enjoy here. One of our favorite trips in the early days was to cram guests and family into the SUV and head up towards the northern airport at Los Rodeos, we then took the road up towards El Rosario and on up to the National Park. You don’t need an SUV though, the roads are good and you can make it in any decent car. At one point there is a mirador, or viewing place, where you can pull over to look down on the capital, Santa Cruz, and on a clear day to the neighbouring island of Gran Canaria, a magnificent view. It’s your first “Haaah” of the day from your guests.
Here’s where I have to point out one of the downsides of life here. The lifeblood of this island is tourism, and where there is tourism there is lowlife which will feed on it. Up to now it’s mostly non-violent, so long as you don’t go looking for trouble, but it can ruin a vacation, needless to say. The last time I took friends on this particular jaunt, we pulled over as planned. Our belongings safely stowed, so we thought, out-of-sight in the car boot, nothing on display on the seats, but foolishly we didn’t lock the car, as we were going to stand only a few feet away for a fairly short time, and I kept turning to check the car. Even so, when we stopped for lunch an hour or two later we discovered Jean’s bag missing, and had to hurtle back to make a police report and cancel their credit cards. A lesson well and truly learned….ALWAYS lock the car! Thievery here is mainly opportunist, and they don’t lack opportunities, sad to say, neither do they stick to the teeming resort towns, as we learned that day.
Anyhow….so you won’t be leaving the car unlocked at any point, will you? So let’s carry on.
Onwards and upwards you wind along what is, essentially, the backbone of the island, through farmland (the only cows I’ve ever seen on Tenerife), woodland, and pretty villages. Having spied Gran Canaria, next you will see La Palma floating sleepily off the coast to your right, and you will want to stop somewhere about there (remembering to lock the car!) to take a peak down, where you will see lush pine forests, and slopes much greener than the South leading down to Puerto de la Cruz. It might be that you have driven up through cloud and mist, and have emerged above the Mar de Nubes, or Ocean of Clouds, so you won’t be able to see the town, but regardless, it’s a breathtaking sight and your second “Haah” of the day, so as leader of this little party you can give yourself a pat on the back.
Just a bit further and you will get the next one, as Mount Teide comes into view. El Teide is a spectacular site, no doubt about it. The highest mountain in Spain, known to the original, pre-conquest inhabitants of the island as Echeyde, it dominates the island from almost any angle, but this is one of the best views. My favourite time is Winter, when it’s covered in snow, making for many a happy Kodak moment.
The road takes you next over barren hillsides, and being the road less travelled still, it can even be a bit spooky when those clouds begin to finger their way up the mountainsides and across the road in front of you. Hound of the Baskervilles anyone? If you step out the car here on such a day a chill will go through you. The air is clear and crisp, and this is why it is the site of the observatory of the Instituto Astrofisico de Canarias even those buildings look a bit spooky from a distance, but the clean air gives them optimum vision of those other worlds out there. It seems appropriate given what is becoming a slightly other-worldly feel to your surroundings now.
One last downhill and you come to a crossroads, the right fork would take you down to Puerto de la Cruz, through those leafy, shadowy forests you saw from above, but you are going to take the left fork and drive right into the huge volcanic crater that forms the National Park. It might be a good idea to stop for a drink at one of the bars at the crossroads, or even to eat, the food is basic but cheap enough, and if there is no bus parked outside, then it will be quiet enough too.
Now, this is where your guests are going to have their breath taken away, and not by the altitude. It’s going to be, well, really, exactly what you might expect it to be like driving through a volcanic crater. Rocks thrown up millions of years ago lie looking as if it happened yesterday. There are fields of fierce, black rocks and there are fields of small, pumice stones. There are fantastical, twisted shapes, and places where you can see festoons of lava preserved as they ran down hillsides, and flows of lava which stopped, perched for eternity atop a hill. You will see rocks of every shape, size and color you can imagine, some fused together by heat which spewed them out. If you want well presented information, you are going to pass the Visitors’ Center just a few minutes after leaving El Portillo.
All along the road, which clings to the mountain in places in a disturbing manner, there are miradors, viewing points, where you can stop to take photos or to picnic in your car if you choose. The National Park became a World Heritage Site in 2007, something of which the island is immensely proud, and it is meticulously maintained. On a recent visit I didn’t see one scrap of garbage. Visitors obviously respect the environment here.
In May or June you will see the landscape transformed by tajinastes, these strange and colorful plants grow nowhere else on earth outside of the Canary Islands.
About half way between El Portillo and the Cable Car there is a flat stretch of road with three or four cafés and souvenir shops. They aren’t impressive by any scale, but you can’t have everything can you! At this point you are well over 2,000 meters, and Teide, as it looms larger by the minute, as you head South West, stands at 3,718, so it still towers over all. If you want to go higher you can take the cable car to 3,555 meters. It costs (last I checked) €24 for non-residents, but only €12 for residents, so it depends on just how cheap you want this day out to be. When you get off the car there is a short walk, and you are rewarded with some stunning views. It’s not a difficult walk, last time I did it there were two guys with us who each had a prosthetic leg, and they didn’t find it hard at all.
After the cable car the road runs straight for a while, you are now deep in the enormous caldera. This is where you will find the parador, one of the government sponsored hotels, well worth a visit on another occasion. Today you might want to check out the Visitors’ Center if you didn’t stop into the previous one, or have a drink in the café before you begin to head down. Opposite to the parador is another mirador, where you can gaze over the enormity of the West side of the caldera, which is flat and dominated by a huge, gothic-looking rock formation, locally known as the cathedral, and the famous Roque Cinchado, which you will recognize from so many postcards.
You have two routes down, now, you can fork right just at the end of the crater and down towards Chio or Los Gigantes, or down through Vilaflor and Arona to the resort town of Los Cristianos. Either way will take you through forests and back to the deserts of the South West coasts. You will find more places to stop, maybe the Ocean of Clouds or the coastal panorama to admire. You are almost certain to see the island of La Gomera, and if you’re lucky you will be able to see El Hierro too, which will mean that including the one you are on, you will have seen this day five of the seven Canary Islands.
The day will be fading now, and if it is it will be worth parking somewhere, you have a good chance of taking in one of the most glorious sunsets you will ever see.
This is just one suggestion. There are several ways you can get up or down the mountain. There is a deeply forested road which turns off of the main road we took up from El Rosario which emerges in Güimar, there are the roads to Chio or Puerto de la Cruz we mentioned, or when you get to Vilaflor, instead of coming through Arona you can take a turn for San Miguel. Whichever way you elect to go, en route you will find bars, bodegas and handicraft places most tourists don’t even know exist, you will meet friendly people who are not inured to tourists and you will, hopefully, find the “real” Tenerife. It’s a small island. It really isn’t that hard!
Tour operators also run bus trips. I’ve never tried one. It isn’t my cup of tea. There may be circumstances in which you might want to try one (some friends of mine here for just a day and a half on a cruise found it excellent). There are also local bus services from both Playa de las Americas and Puerto de la Cruz, but only once a day. That restricts how far you can go, and how long you have to spend, again, maybe worth it in some circumstances. I hate to be non-environmentally friendly but truly for a great day a car is the best option.
You will pass both walkers and cyclists on your drive – OK so they are fitter than you are, but you have taken in a wide variety of scenery over the course of the day, and without a doubt you will have some excellent snaps to prove it. I began these posts in a flurry of anger when I read a comment on TripAdvisor or somewhere to the effect that there was nothing to do in Tenerife. I don’t intend them to be detailed observations of anywhere or anything, I’ll leave that to another day. They are just my knee-jerk reaction to a silly comment from a person with no imagination, and what I have begun so I will continue and finish :=)
This post was part of a series, here are the others: