I first came to Tenerife back in March 1984, as one of the millions of tourists who flood the island each year, primarily to escape the harshness of the British winter, and to enjoy the warmth and sunshine that this wonderful sub-tropical island has to offer. The flight was a very sedate affair, but it was only when we began our descent onto the island that this great beacon suddenly appeared through my window, amidst a grey and misty sky, its majestic peak standing tall above a blanket of cotton-wool cloud. This was ‘Mount Teide’, the highest volcano in the whole of Spain, welcoming its latest visitors to its homeland -a land that has a thousand tales to tell, but none more exciting than the story of the true ruler of Tenerife -the Armageddon of this Atlantic archipelago of paradise islands.
Unbeknown to me at the time, but I had already witnessed much of Mount Teide’s incredible landscape almost ’20 years’ prior to seeing this awesome monolith in the flesh, so to speak, having watched the movie ‘One Million Years BC’, starring the iconic Raquel Welch (how could I ever forget that bikini), which was filmed here back in 1966. The majority of the movie ‘Wrath of the Titan’s’, a sequel to the epic film ‘Clash of the Titan’s’, was also filmed on Mount Teide -with other scenes (coincidentally) being filmed in my beloved homeland of South Wales. Not only has Mount Teide been acclaimed as one of the most impressive volcano’s in the whole of Europe (second only to Mount Etna in Sicily), but the Teide National Park, where it is located, is also the most visited national park -and ‘natural wonder’ in Europe -and the second most visited national park on the planet.
With an altitude of 3,718 metres above sea level, and peaking at an incredible 7,500 metres above the ocean floor (which means that over half of the volcano is actually submerged under the Atlantic Ocean) it is the third largest volcano on Earth, after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, both of which are 6,000 miles away in the Pacific Ocean, situated on the island of Hawaii. The altitude of Teide also makes Tenerife the 10th highest island in the world, and on the 28th June 2007 the Teide National Park was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Like Mount Olympus in Greece, Teide was considered sacred by the Aboriginal Guanches, the original inhabitants of the island, and numerous myths and legends have been associated with this gargantuan god, which is still very much alive-and kicking today -even-though its last serious eruption was well-over 200 years ago, way back in 1798.
Mount Teide currently receives on average around 3.5 million visitors a year, which is second only to Mount Fuji in Japan, and like the mighty Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia, Mount Teide, due to its unique composition, continually changes colour throughout the day, depending on the reflection of the sunlight, which transforms this huge brown mountain into various shades of beige, blue and grey, before finally ‘setting it alight’, by turning it into a crimson red beacon at sunset.
The drive to the crater of Mount Teide takes approximately one hour from Tenerife’s southern coast, the most-popular route beginning at the turn-off for Los Cristianos, before heading northwards through the village of Arona and onwards to Vilaflor -the highest village in the Canary Islands – and the halfway stage of the journey. From here it is a case of simply following the mountain road all the way to the top, stopping-off at strategic viewing points along the way, in order to enjoy a selection of the most jaw-dropping vistas one is ever likely to see in one’s life -period!
Driving through the magnificent pine forests, and winding your way around the incredible rocky mountains is like poetry in motion, but there is nothing that can compare to that moment when you step out of your car, only to find yourself walking ‘above the clouds’ -spooky, or what! No-matter if the whole of Tenerife is under a blanket of cloud, you are now standing above them, and so the chances are that you will now be basking in the glorious sunshine once again. Having traversed this unforgettable climb, all visitors to Teide are then confronted with the most mind-blowing landscapes in all directions, as their vehicle rolls gently into the centre of the crater, and its occupants are completely surrounded by cooled lava on all sides, a lunar-landscape consisting of millions of tons of rocks and boulders, the aftermath of what was once a blazing inferno, systematically destroying everything in its path.
The final ascent to the summit of Mount Teide is made by cable car, a journey that takes only a few minutes to complete from start to finish, but one that is a truly memorable and exciting experience that will last for a lifetime. Once at the top it is time to begin the relatively small hike across the rocky terrain, following the specified (cut-out) routes around the summit, before stopping to take a breather, as the air is now a lot thinner than it was at the base of the volcano. On a clear day one can be blessed with panoramic views over all seven of the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro) and even in winter time the warmth of the blazing sun can easily compensate for the bitter-cold mountain breezes, which seem to come from all directions of the compass.
Looking up at the summit one can see the fumaroles, puffing away into the sky above, like some great chimney-pot encompassing a fire that refuses to go out -and I, for one, was simply in awe of its majesty. Since first visiting the Teide National Park back in 1998 I have returned on many occasions, having taken dozens of family-members and friends with me over the years on this journey of a lifetime. Indeed, I still insist to everyone I meet that visiting Tenerife without going to the top of Mount Teide, is like holidaying in Niagara, and not bothering to go to the falls! (I was actually more awe-inspired by my first visit to Mount Teide, than I was when I flew over the Grand Canyon in a light aircraft -Fact!)
Today there are numerous companies offering a range of trips to Mount Teide, often as part of an island tour, which invariably will not include the jaunt to the summit in the cable-car, as this can be quite time-consuming -especially in peak periods, when the queues for the cable cars can be quite substantial, and so if this is a major part of ones itinerary, then hiring a car for the day can be the better alternative. There are also numerous Jeep Safari trips traversing the mountain almost every day of the week -and even a plush night-time expedition, especially for star-gazing enthusiasts (the panoramic, and crystal-clear views of the star constellations from the Mount Teide Observatory are some of the most spectacular available in the world) which includes stopping for a sumptuous three-course meal, along with enjoying one or two glasses of champagne as part of its packed itinerary. There is also a massive barbeque-cum-picnic area just above Vilaflor, which has about a dozen outdoor stone barbeques, along with a score of picnic benches to relax and enjoy one’s food and drinks on, and so if one is going by car then this can be an ideal stop-off point either before or after visiting the park.
Also, there are a range of places to head for after visiting the mountain, such as driving north to Puerto-de-la-Cruz, to enjoy a spot of retail-therapy in its glorious shopping centre, or perhaps heading due East, to Santa Cruz, the islands’ capital city, to round-off the day with a hearty meal -eaten al-fresco, of course, under the lights of this magical city. Alternatively, one can head due west, calling into the unbelievable village of Masca, before dropping down into Los Gigantes (‘The Giants’), to finish-off the evening by dining at one of the many wonderful restaurants that adorn the picturesque marina -which is in turn surrounded by some of the most breathtakingly beautiful cliffs one could ever wish to see. For a short period during the winter-time Mount Teide can be covered in a blanket of snow, causing certain roads to be cut off, but that is when this Goddess of the Canary Islands really does shine-out in all her glory. And so if you are contemplating coming to Tenerife for the first time -or if you have been here before and have never taken time out to visit Mount Teide, then may I humbly suggest that you do so -for you will ‘not’ be disappointed.