Mount Teide National Park: rivers of lava

El Teide 1

Mount Teide dominates the island of Tenerife, whether it be climate, skyline and geography.  At 3,718 metres and with an impressive profile, it’s easy to see why the island’s ancient inhabitants considered this a magical place and the gateway to Hell.

For our road trip through the Parque Nacional del Teide (Mount Teide National Park), which welcomes more than 2.8 million visitors per year, we set out from the lovely town of La Orotava, known best for its stunning views over the northern part of the island and its 16th and 17th century architecture.

Be sure to check the weather before setting out – it’s quite common to have areas of thick fog between 1000 and 1500m altitude, although they do tend to clear above this altitude.  Also bear in mind that December and March tend to be the rainiest months.  As always, take care on the roads and if you are an inexperienced driver, maybe consider taking an organised trip or local guide instead of doing a DIY.

La Orotava lies at about 360m above sea level – but heading up into the Teide National Park, the road climbs over 2000m in just 40km.  The roads are winding (although in good condition) and there are some big drops, although once you get to the part itself, things flatten out considerably.

On the first part of the drive, there are some stunning views down to the Atlantic as well as plenty of traditional houses and guachinches – local bars and restaurants that are good places to stop for a rest and a local tapa or two.  Between altitudes of 1000 and 2100 metres you will see lots of the native Canarian pine trees typical of the outer Canaries.  Higher up, keep your eyes peeled for Canarian cedars.

The last great eruption

Mount Teide is still an active volcano although the last big eruption was in 1798.  Today, the mountain’s peak sits atop a 17km wide crater, and it is easy to see the Northern part from the road.  This part of the volcano was frequented by the ancients, and was where they tended to scavenge for pumice stone, sulphur and, at times, ice.

Campo de lava en el Teide

When you get to the area of the El Portillo visitor centre (centro de visitantes El Portillo) (on the TF-21 road, KM. 32, at 2300m altitude), you can really get an idea of the true size of the mountain, as well as a good view of its white peak.  It’s worth stopping here to take in some of the most interesting scenery in the national. In this area (and only a few steps from the road), you will find red and orange sands and strange rock formations that seem almost Martian.  With a bit of luck, you might also see one of the local tizón lizards, a local species that is dark in colour and can grow to more than 20cm.

Many visitors choose to hike from this area.  If you do, be sure to take plenty of water, suncream and appropriate clothing and footwear.  It’s also worth talking to the people at the visitor centre, as they run guided walks suitable for most levels.

From a little further along, you can also take the teleférico (cable car) to the very top of the volcano (open 0900-1600, €26 for adults)

For those who enjoy walking, it is possible to stay within the Teide National Park at the Parador Nacional, a 4* hotel popular with international athletes (especially cyclists) training at altitude.  You can also stay at the Altamira refuge nearer the summit at 3270m if you are planning on walking up (€25 per night).

Vista hacia el mar desde el Teide

Views to the sea from el Teide

In our case, we decided to continue our visit by crossing the lava fields and visiting the mountain town of Masca in the West.  This part of the road is less busy, and in parts is cut through the rivers of solidified lava that serve as reminders of the 1798 eruption that lasted 6 months and resulted in the destruction of a number of settlements further down the mountainside.  In Canarian dialect, this  kind of landscape is known as malpais: the badlands.

Vista de Masca


The Masca road winds up and over a mountain ridge before plunging down to the little town of Masca, where visitors can stop for a bite to eat and to take in the views.  This road is not for the faint of heart and often busy – we would recommend going either early or late in the day to avoid the worst of the crowds.

We finished out trip with lunch on the seafront at the lovely colonial town of Garachico on the North coast.


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