Published on 28 Mar. 2021
Estimated Reading Time: 10 min
by Anna Osowska
A Visit to the King's Palace
Let me tell you my story about visiting the north of Tenerife with a special focus on the heart of the island because it is here that the palace of the ruthless king and architect of the island is located: the Teide volcano, the highest peak in all of Spain. In this text, however, you won't find information about the south of the island, since I leave it to the regulars of tourist resorts, fanatics of sunbathing, party goers, surfers, and January sun seekers.
The Fortunate Isles
But before I start proving to you why it was the north of Tenerife that stole my heart, let's start the story with the Canary Islands Archipelago. By taking a look on the map you will see that these little points in the Atlantic Ocean near the Moroccan coast are geographically part of Africa, but politically it’s still the European Union and two Spanish provinces.
An interesting fact is that the name of the islands comes from the Latin word “canis” (dog) because large herds of wild dogs roamed through the islands. The name of the bird "canary" comes from the name of the archipelago, not the other way around. The islands have their own flag and coat of arms with dogs on them. These islands were known in antiquity as "The Fortunate Isles" and were regularly visited by the ancient Greeks and Romans.
At the beginning of the 14th century, these islands were rediscovered by Europeans. The Canary Islands were then inhabited by the Guanche people, related to the Berbers, who were later almost completely exterminated in many bloody colonization battles. The total conquest of the islands lasted almost a hundred years and ended in 1496. The last island conquered was Tenerife. In 1982, the Canary Autonomous Community was established on the islands. Since then, they have a local parliament, government and judiciary shared between the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas.
The archipelago consists of seven large and six small islands. The big ones are: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Each of them is different and by visiting them you will be amazed by changing landscapes, from rocky lunar expanses, black cliffs hit by ocean waves, through high misty mountains, verdurous vegetation, to beautiful and extensive beaches.
Continent in Miniature
Now let's zoom in on Tenerife. The largest island of the archipelago is just over 2,000 square kilometers big. Despite the small area, the climate is diverse due to the high mountain range that divides the island. South Tenerife belongs to the subtropical, desert climatic zone, and the north has a Mediterranean climate. Although it is called the “island of eternal spring”, the rich diversity of climate and terrain meant that it was given the nickname of "the continent in miniature".
Tenerife is an island of volcanic origin. To understand the process of its formation, we have to look 30 million years back to a time when the lava flowed from the Atlantic Ocean, which formed the hills above the ocean's surface. In subsequent stages, it was the volcanic eruptions that shaped its present appearance. And it still happens today. To this day, the absolute ruler of Tenerife is the active volcano Teide, proudly rising in the very center and visible from almost everywhere on the island. Teide is also the highest peak in Spain with an altitude of 3,718 m above sea level (and 7500 m counting from the sea bottom). The last eruption of the volcano took place in 1909. Teide is like a bomb that can go off at any moment, which makes this place even more fascinating to me. It's like having a home in the kingdom of an ancient, ruthless and capricious god who loves beautiful places and life at the same time.
A Pandemic Coincedence
When it comes to traveling, coincidences usually are your best friend. I was planning a vacation in Portugal; plane tickets were bought, and the trip already planned. Two days before our departure, my country's government has banned flights to Portugal. I had already started my days off at work, so heated discussions began in my home about what to do with the vacation. The decision was not easy, here we have a closed border, there we need a coronavirus test before crossing the border. At the last minute, we decided to change the flight tickets to Portugal for tickets to Tenerife.
I didn't know much about Tenerife, apart from the knowledge of Geography and the vague stories of my friends who were there. This meant that for the first time in my life I was flying somewhere without any expectations. I have been trying to travel this way for a long time. I like to be prepared before the trip, but I try not to add my own imaginations about the place and expectations, which is quite difficult. This time fate forced me to not do so. I just had too little time to create such images in my head.
At the last moment I bought a paper guidebook at the bookstore. I buy such versions of guides less and less, but this time it seemed to be a good solution to use a few hours' flight to prepare for the exploration of the island. I also kept a dozen or so random posts on the internet on various blogs.
We landed at one of the two airports on the island: Tenerife South. The first impression was not very good: grey, sandscapes and a dark, hazy sky. The airport was in the south of the island and we were supposed to get to the north since there was an apartment where we were to spend the next two weeks. We rented a car, did some shopping in the nearest hypermarket and set off into the unknown. In the evening of the same day, when I went out on the balcony and looked at the ocean, I saw waves crashing against the black jagged cliffs - it was magical!
A Volcanic Kingdom and its Ruler - Mount Teide
When you look at the map of Tenerife, the center of it is Teide National Park. It is a huge volcanic cone of El Teide, and a huge flattening around the cone, which was once a crater of an earlier volcano. The Teno massif is located in the western part of the island. It is a mountainous area that slopes directly into the Atlantic. Cliffs and deep gorges create an unforgettable landscape here. In the eastern part of the island, on a narrowing peninsula lies the Anaga mountain range. These are evergreen mountains covered with laurel forests. These wooded ridges are also a nursery for countless species of fauna, especially birds. Today, we will start our journey through the island with a visit to the king's palace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Mount Teide (Pico del Teide) - an active volcano, the highest peak in Spain, and the main architect, creator and ruthless ruler of the island. The conical mountain located in the heart of Tenerife is visible from many places on the island and for centuries it has aroused admiration, delight and terror. The volcano's name comes from the Guanche language, the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands. Teide meant Hell Mountain, where the forces of evil and, above all, the demon Guayota lived. According to legend, the demon Guayota kidnapped Magec, the god of light and sun, and imprisoned him under a volcano, plunging the world into darkness. In those days, the Guanches believed that Teide reaches to heaven. The last eruption was in 1909. More severe eruptions happened in 1704, 1705 and 1706. As a result, the most important port of the island of Garachico was destroyed.
How to visit the Mount Teide? There are two options and I'll start with the easier one. The volcano reaches an overall altitude of 3 555 m above sea level and you can go up by cable car. Some say that this is a version for tourists, not for travelers, since they prefer climbing the mountain by foot. Choose whatever works best for I, but I took the cable car. Tickets must be purchased in advance and only online here. The earlier you book, the better, since it can get very crowded in high season.
However, please remember that the end station of the cable car is at a height where symptoms of altitude sickness like feeling of weakness, problems with pressure and breathing, and after a long time also other mental and physical symptom, may appear. In addition, note that even in summer it is quite cold and windy at the top cable car station, and at the same time there is a lot of UV radiation. In winter, the volcano is often covered with snow. After reaching the volcano by cable car, you can go to two viewpoints. The views are stunning almost everywhere, with a vast caldera, mesmerizing formations in different colors and shapes created by lava.
Or…you can climb to the top of the volcano. Access is free, but you need to book it in advance on the same website. The distance to the top is short, but the route itself is very difficult due to the altitude which greatly affects the body. If you have no experience how your organism works in such environmental conditions, you should not do it. Anyway, you can also book accommodation in a hostel at the upper station of the cable car, but during the pandemic it is probably still not possible. However, not only the ruler Mount Teide himself is worth visiting, but his entire palace, the Teide National Park, which covers the area around the volcano. I read that it is the most visited national park in Spain. Some statistics also say that it is the second most visited national park in the world.
An asphalt road of very good quality from east to west leads through the national park and of course to the volcano itself. It is best to take this road in both directions. But if someone has to choose, it is better to choose the one to the west - there are more interesting viewpoints over the volcano, the beautiful Roques de García rocks and in clear weather also other islands of the archipelago. When driving east, it is worth to stop and see the volcanic desert - Minas de San Jose.
Of course, you will find many interesting trekking routes in the Teide National Park. I recommend one that is quite simple, doable within 2-3 hours and very picturesque. The route goes around the Roques de Garcia rocks below the Teide peak. These rocks are among Tenerife's most popluar attractions, with the Roque Cinchado (also known as “Dedo de Dios”/ "God's finger") at the center of attention. The origin of the Roques de Garcia rocks is unknown, but one theory says that they were once part of a crater wall.
During the walk, in addition to admiring volcanic formations, you can also see various plants that grow in the caldera area, including many endemic species. One very interesting plant which grows in the Teide National Park is "tajinaste rojo" (Echium wildpretii) - giant, purple cobs sometimes reaching even 2-3 m. The plant blooms in May and adorns Teide Park for the next two months.
Needless to say, that this is not the only interesting plant in Tenerife. The island is full of amazing endemic trees and flowers, but I'll tell you more about them later. For now, we will end our journey through North Tenerife after visiting the king Mount Teide. In part two, I will show you the rest of Tenerife's magical and fascinating north and I invite you to also read the next part where we will travel along mysterious mountain trails, meet the first inhabitants of the island and visit post-colonial towns. See you next week!
In case you already feel that Tenerife is a place you would like to explore, don't wait for the next blog post. Giving Getaway can plan an unforgettable trip for you even today by compiling customized information and recommending the best attractions, accommodations, restaurants and much more in five different Customized Information Packages!
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