Not too long ago…about 25 years ago…I was wintering in a small village on the southern coast of Tenerife in the Islas Canarias (Canary Islands) called El Médano (the dune).

The beach at El Médano, with Montaña Roja (red mountain) in the background.
  Except on days when cloud cover would descend, the magnificent peak of El Teide, the third largest volcano in the world, could be seen all the way from the black sand beaches. Sometimes it was snow-capped, but always it was calling to me to get off my, er…beach blanket to check out the summit of Spain’s highest mountain.

Aiming to get through the winter on $1000, I had to choose an inexpensive way to get into the national park of Las Cañadas del Teide. So I hopped a guagua (local terminology for “bus”) and got as far as Villaflor, the highest village in Spain at about 4900 feet.

I stopped into a tiny bar-restaurant and ordered a glass of wine and a slice of tortilla española, the ubiquitous and delicious Spanish potato omelet. Soon I was approached by a handsome guarda forestal (park ranger) whose job was to patrol el Parque Nacional de Las Cañadas. He was soon complimenting me on my excellent Spanish as I stumbled over the few sentences I could produce. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about Spanish speakers – they’re so generous with praise, even when you’re not exactly deserving of it. It certainly did encourage me to keep speaking with the man.

Teide as seen from the Costa del Silencio (coast of silence), not far from El Médano
  Mr. Guardaforestal found out that I was trying to get to the top of El Teide, and told me there were no more busses going to the park that day, but that he’d be happy to give me a ride. Figuring that I could trust a man in uniform (I was young – and lucky!), I took him up on it.

Along with the ride I got some friendly conversation and instructions on how to get to the summit. Alas, he had to report to work so he couldn’t accompany me all the way. He did drop me off at the teleférico (cable car) station at the base of the final volcanic cone. There I bought my ticket and boarded the cable car along with a couple dozen other tourists.  

Teide as seen from within Las Cañadas National Park

The view from the teleférico
  The ride up was tremendous, taking us from 7730 to 11,663 feet, with beautiful views of the Cañadas crater and beyond. After stepping out at the top end of the ride, there was a 20-minute walk to the summit. Even though I knew in advance that there would be about half the oxygen I was used to breathing on the coast, I was unprepared for the snail’s pace I had to take just to climb that last little bit.

Finally I was there, standing on el pico del Teide at 12,198 feet. What a rush! I could see all seven of the Canary Islands – lucky for me, as many days the clouds a couple thousand feet below the summit obscure the view. The top is not a large area, and stinky fumes were emanating from sulfur-yellow cracks. A nice gentleman from Italy took my picture with La Gomera, a lovely green island, in the background. I was so proud of myself, having arrived under my own steam…and that of the bus, the ranger’s car, and the cable car.  

Approaching the summit of Teide

View from the summit, looking north all the way to sea level at Puerto de la Cruz

View from the summit, toward the Izaña Astrophysical Observatory (to the right)

So what was so perilous about this trip to the top of the volcano? Certainly not the volcano itself. It hasn’t erupted since 1909. So it must have been the hiking, right? No, aside from having to do a lot of extra breathing, it couldn’t have been easier. The cable car? No, perfectly safe and sound. So what was it? The peril of being tempted to join that gorgeous ranger on his rounds rather than going up the mountain! But I was strong in the face of danger.

As I write, I make a virtual ascent of today’s Teide. I hop from website to website, looking for information. My, how things have changed! You can take a bus directly from Playa de las Américas all the way to the park or drive route C-821 from Granadilla, through Vilaflor and on to Las Cañadas through the Boca de Tauce. Alternately, you can take a bus or drive from Puerto de la Cruz on the north side of the island.

Las Cañadas National Park gets over two million visitors per year now. It is reasonable, then, that access to the top should be limited. To obtain the free permit you now need to reach the summit, you must appear in person at this office with your passport:

ICONA Office P. N. de Teide,
Calle Emillio Calzadilla 5
38002 Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Phone 922 29 01 29 or 922 29 01 83
Opening hours (Monday to Friday except public holidays) 9 am to 2 pm

You might want to call first to be sure the hours and location haven’t changed! And be sure to bring your passport and your permit with you when you ascend the volcano.

As of this summer, 2000, entrance gates will be installed at Boca Tauce and El Portillo, during which time access to the park will be free, although visitors will have a limited period during which to use their tickets. The entrance gates will be in operation from 8 in the morning until 8 at night, and will be left open at night and during snowstorms. All of this is being done to control the crowds of visitors which tend to cause damage to this fragile, unique ecosystem.

Now for just a couple more views of El Teide, seen from the island of La Gomera...
Olav Thu

Lonnie Turbee, 2000