Exploring the Stories of the Islands and the Freedoms of Third Age

Hiking Surprises: San Miguel to La Centinela, Tenerife


Say the word “hike” to me and, after years of living on Tenerife, I conjure images of arid badlands, shady, mystical forests, volcanoes and other such exciting stuff, so a few weeks back,  hiking closer to home than usual,  I didn’t expect to find anything other than exercise to be honest because the hillsides of the south of Tenerife are barren at the best of times when compared to other parts of the island, and now, after around two years without any substantial rain, they are especially seared and tan, hence the low expectations……….but it proved to be a day of surprises

Pilar and I set off from the village of San Miguel de Abona around mid-morning, under one of those crystal clear, achingly-blue skies which make you double-check the contents of your daypack:  Sun cream? Check. Hat? Check. Plenty of water? Check. Ok to go then.

Daytime San Miguel perfectly fits the description “sleepy village.” Every time I visit, it has that siesta time air, as if the population are all whiling away the heat of the day behind closed shutters. It’s pretty, and well-maintained and restored.

We  sauntered out of the village. It almost felt like tip-toeing to avoid waking  residents.  The hillsides were parched, dusty and achingly dry, but within minutes we’d left all of that behind and  descended into greenery.  It was a revelation to find a certain lushness around us. Remember there are no rivers on Tenerife (many were already underground, and others were long ago diverted to take advantage of the natural, underground storage, to conserve water supplies). The reason soon became evident; along the way we passed places where water trickled  down the rock face, and in a couple of places we stepped into mud, clearly there was water underground, although the mud was the only evidence above, and there was the merest whisper of its running.

Pilar crosses a recently-installed bridge as we near Fuente de Tamaide

Probably that presence of water was the reason for all the other surprises that day.

One thing I miss  hiking here is birdsong. Summer hiking England and the air fairly vibrates with song. It isn’t as if there is nothing here for bird lovers, in recent weeks I’ve seen kestrals, buzzards, woodpeckers, hoopoes, great grey shrike, partridge, plovers, egret and a dove which is endemic to the island, as well as numerous gulls, blue tits and canaries, but there isn’t that  unseen pulsing  you feel  in England. Normally, that is – in this wee valley it seemed as if all the island’s missing birds were come together to celebrate spring, and the air was sweet with their chatter.

At some points we could look up and see the peaks of the caldera above us

Second surprise – we hadn’t been walking very long when we came across very visible water in the form of  La Fuente de Tamaide, a natural spring, like so many here, where water which has filtered underground in through the porous rocks of the mountains above eventually emerges into daylight. Even dew or light rain seeps through the this rock  and trickles downward, often finding its way out in scenes like this.

You can see how the basin of what is, really, a small waterfall when there is a lot of water, has been adapted to human needs.

Below a link to the past, and up above modern life intrudes.

Throughout history, and even before of course, water has always been important. The world over, byways and settlements sprang up close to water sources, and this, particular one, like others in this valley, served not only for practical purposes, like drinking water, washing, and watering of crops and animals, but also as a meeting place. There was a plaque explaining what it was we were looking at, with some old photographs. The photos didn’t tally exactly with what we saw, so I assumed that they were an illustration of how natural pools of water like these are adapted and harnessed by man to fit his needs.

The natural pools had a helping hand and you can see how it must have been a rendezvous for the village women. Can’t you just imagine them dishing the dirt as they beat and scrubbed their washing on the beveled sides of that  tank, or blushing as that handsome young man rode up on his horse? Beats hypnotizing yourself watching your machine’s wash cycle doesn’t it? Fresh air, a nice gossip with the girls, but then you have to remember that this is a valley, and they had to return with the wet washing uphill. They were made of strong stuff these country lasses.

Photo of the village washerwomen on the plaque.

There is no date for the photographs,  so I presume that they are intended as an example of how a pool like this fitted into daily life two or three centuries ago. There are, apparently, three such pools in the area, but we saw only two. It was noted that the first written record of this spring was in 1849, and it’s certain that it was used by man long before that, even by the aboriginal Guanches before the Spanish conquest. History hung in the air.

Sheltered in the barranco, it was easy to leave the modern world behind and imagine oneself back into history. We passed only one other couple until we got to the end, although, it’s for sure that it must have been busier back when than it is now. Abandoned cottages dot the landscape, as is common here, families long since absconded to the more profitable pursuits of the coast; the hillsides are swathed by barren, desolate terraces but here and there a green oasis, a terrace still cultivated. As we began to gently climb out of the barranco we had views right down to the coast. In Tenerife you are never out of sight of the ocean for very long.

Abandoned terraces

An oasis on the parched hillside.

As we emerged we came to a modern road and there was the next surprise. The odd-looking building by the roadside turned out to be another piece of history. It was an old tile kiln, built in the late 19th century, and restored for posterity, and once again a plaque explaining how it was used, and in English and German as well as Spanish too, another trip into history. The rest of our way took us past old houses,  an immaculate rural hotel and thirsty hillsides.

Tile Kiln La Hoya

Beautifully restored building which now houses a rural hotel.

This isn’t a difficult walk, looking back now I don’t remember puffing or panting at all until the last few yards of the outward journey, which took us to the mirador which clings to the rock just under the peak of the volcanic cone of  la Centinela. There there is a restaurant with an impressive view from its sweep of windows taking in much of the island’s south-east coast. The food is good there too, but this day we had to do a quick turn around back to San Miguel, so we lingered only long enough to take in the views, from the very peak, above the restaurant you have a 360º view, taking in mountains, ocean, agricultural fields, the resort areas of the coast and neighboring island, La Gomera, on a clear day you would be able to see Gran Canaria, La Palma and perhaps El Hierro too.

View from just outside the restaurant on La Centinela

We followed a slightly different path back, but its surprises were less evident, a mysterious door to nowhere; trying to catch a glimpse of the cackling we knew was a partridge hidden in the dusty scrub; climbing the side of a barranco and hearing that bucolic and satisfied clucking which indicates chickens laying eggs – it took us a while to identify from where the sounds came, then we realized that hidden under brush and branches in the dip below us was a row of chicken coops, hidden, we assumed, from aerial predators – we’d seen huge birds riding the thermals earlier, but were sure they’d come from a local zoo which specializes in bird life, whose eagles and vultures fly free for demonstrations during the day.

Chained and locked the door to nowhere, but it would be easy to hop over the wall. A mystery!

Almost back in San Miguel we turned to look back at La Centinela across the valley, and were surprised how far away it seemed to be. It hadn’t been a taxing walk, and we didn’t feel as if we had walked so far, but it had been something like time travel, a glimpse of other, earlier worlds, and we arrived back to find the village still snoozing in the mid-afternoon sun.

Close to where we parked in San Miguel this cave, clearly still in use for storage, may well have been inhabited in times past.


Author: IslandMomma

Exploring island life and the freedoms of Third Age: Challenging myself every day: writing, traveling, snapping pix, running & teaching ESL

9 thoughts on “Hiking Surprises: San Miguel to La Centinela, Tenerife

  1. A fascinating hike Linda. Some great shots too. Is that a new camera I wondered? There was a clarity and a depth about them that I admired. And also we love this Mirador and often have lunch or coffee up there. I have to drive up to the Post Office behind the quiet old church up in San Miguel and it is a little drive I much look forward to, unless there is a queue of course in the PO. But a bit of local life upfront and personal is also beneificial, I love it.
    The solitude and the breathtaking silence and the view and the odd wheeling and diving kestrel are a joy and nourishment for the soul. And I had no idea one could hike up there from San Miguel! I so envy you Linda being able to hike with a strong pair of legs and a fine good friend like Pilar as a guide. Can one find maps of these hikes or a book you could recommend? I have a 13 year old grandson who is a natural mountaineer arrivig soon with his mum and they would love to do some walking up there. Thankyou once again for a marvellous account of the journey. Why don’t YOU write my guide to hiking? Now there’s a thought.

    • Hello, Patricia. This particular hike isn’t at all hard. I was quite surprised, as I expected to puff and pant a bit getting up from the barranco, but hardly at all :=) If you look at the answer to Dave, there are 2 websites which should give you all the information your grandson needs. They are both very good and very knowledgeable. If you need hardcopy I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that Barbara’s Bookshop in Los Cristianos (they speak excellent English) might have something in English. They are helpful, and if they don’t have anything in stock they should be able to recommend and order for you. It doesn’t usually take very long when they do that. Otherwise, on those, two websites there is information and guides which you can download and print out, which is probably not only the cheaper option,but the best one too, with more personalized information. I hope your grandson has a great vacation – do remember how much the heat can affect folk hiking here. My friends & I never hike in a heat wave, and it definitely affects people coming from colder climates more.

      • Thanks Linda. Great sites both of them just what I was looking for. And thanks too for that heat warning! About time I invested in a printer. They get cheaper and easier every year.

  2. Sounds wonderful and thanks for taking the time
    I only holiday on the Island, and love my walks. I get buses around and then have a wander, as opposed to a proper hike – although I did do the wonderful Barranca del Infierno before they shut the walk a few years ago.
    My problem is I don’t know all the places you refer to – although I did pass through San Miguel on the bus last time I was over.
    I wonder how much trouble it would be for you to draw a simple map and maybe photograph and upload?
    Thanks in advance

    • Hi, Dave and thank you so much for reading and commenting. I see what you mean. The TITSA bus service is excellent, but you need to know where you are going to and leaving from before you can find out the bus times! I often use buses, but not normally for hiking. Although when Pilar and I did Siete Cañadas a few weeks back it was one way, and we had to be sure to reach our destination in time for the bus which would take us back to the car.

      I’m not too talented in the art department, but I will bear in mind what you say for the future. My blog isn’t primarily a hiking blog so much as generally about things I like (of which hiking is one). For good information about hiking here are some really good resources in English: is specifically a walking blog written by friends of mine, Andy and Jack, who live in the north of Tenerife. It is really, really excellent information, and has lots of tips you wouldn’t find in a normal guide book. although I’ve (strangely) never met Gary whose website that is, I’ve had some online exchanges with him, and he also has really reliable information. He knows of local hikes in the south, which would mean the transport would be much easier I think?

      You could also try Colin is a great writer, and both walks AND uses the buses all the time. His blog isn’t just about walking, though but you should be able to find the information you want. He doesn’t drive here, so you can imagine he will know just where and when to get a bus!

      I hope all that helps, please let me know if there is anything else I could push you in the way of :=)

  3. One surprise after another! I wish I could have been taking this hike with you. Beautiful views all along the way. But I would have liked to have lunch at that restaurant, too. Great photos & story, Linda!

  4. Thank you, Cathy. If you ever make it to Tenerife I will buy you lunch in that restaurant! It is very good, perhaps too good to walk back afterwards! Might be better to take two cars :=)

  5. Thanks for the mention Linda. That’s a great little walk with lots of interesting bits to it, as you’ve pointed out in the blog. The first time we walked it, we struggled to find the start of the camino real in San Miguel and asked the local postman for help. In true Tenerife fashion he had no idea where it was 🙂

  6. LOL! Pilar wasn’t sure either, although she has worked as a guide she hadn’t done this walk before. Not sure I could find it again. Have you walked from Charco del Pino to San Miguel? Friend & I went looking for the camino real there & found “part of it” & some guys assured us it we follow our noses we will find it! Barranco Ochilla is so beautiful I want to see it closer up.

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