Thursday, July 4, 2013

Teide Volcano Caldera Loop, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Distance: 6.5 miles (10.5 km)
Elevation: 7,050 - 7,400 feet (2,150 - 2,255 m)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Time of Year: Anytime

The island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, just off the coast is North Africa is a magical place. While heavily visited by tourists from Northern Europe, there is a reason why. It's mild climate, diversity of ecosystems, and amazing scenery make it well worth the visit. If you are interested in biogeography, then this is your place, with numerous endemic species who have been isolated from the mainland for millenia. I'll do a series on places to visit on Tenerife in the next couple of week. Today, I'll start with a hike at the base of Teide Volcano.

Teide summit cone with icy chunks on the lava flows
Teide Volcano is 12,197 feet above sea level and 24,600 feet above the ocean floor, making it the largest volcano in the world outside of Hawaii. When most people visit the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and head up onto the Teide Volcano, they usually do two things. Either they just do a drive through of the caldera, or they get on the cable car to ride it up to the 11,660 foot elevation of the terminal station. Getting to the summit requires an additional hike up and a special use permit, as it is very limited access. We too planned to take the cable car up. But, high winds and icy conditions closed the cable car for the day. Thus, we decided to go for a hike inside the caldera instead.

Fog rolling up from the outer slopes of the caldera

To access the caldera and trails, you can either drive up from Puerto de la Cruz (the way we accessed) or from Vilaflor (the way we exited the national park). Then, once in the caldera, you can park at the Parador Hotel Las CaƱadas or at the pullout just below the cable car station called the Teleferico. Either spot will connect you to the loop. The loop is actually two different trails that connect together, #19 and #16.

Brooms and subalpine vegetation in the caldera
At these subalpine elevations, the climate is dry and can either be very hot or very cold. The elevation is such that moisture from the ocean condenses at lower elevations resulting in a fog-belt that supports the Canary Island Pine forests. But, these clouds do not reach much higher, resulting in desert-like conditions above. As you hike, you will see scattered brooms and small shrubs, but not much else.

The endemic Echium wildpretii grow on the volcanic rocks only in this caldera

The trail from the Parador hotel follows an old dirt track up toward the edge of the caldera. You will see large stalked rosettes of Echium growing on the the rocky outcrops. Like many subalpine plants in tropical regions, it has taken on a classic stalked rosette form. When it flowers, a huge plume of bright pink flowers will climb up to 1-2 meters high. This is just one of the several species of endemic Echiums that live in the Canary Islands that evolved in isolation over millions of years. They are familiar to many gardeners, as a number of species in this genus are grown as ornamentals.

Flowers of Echium wildpretii
The trail from the Parador will weave through a number of rocky formations, past some high volcanic dikes, and then descend down to connect with trail #16 just past a few old shacks. Here you will swing left and follow the track straight for the Teide peak. Along the way you will enter a small canyon, where the endemic Canary island lizard species can be seen scrambling among the rocks.

The endemic Tenerife lizard (Gallotia galloti)
This trail will then enter a dry wash and emerge eventually at the main road crossing the park, with the cable car station visible above. Just as you reach the road, turn left and follow the Trail #16 as it parallels the road through a desolate desert-like landscape along the base of a volcanic cone. You will be able to see the Parador Hotel in the distance, so just keep following this track toward it.

Volcanic dikes, resistant to erosion, emerge above the caldera
If the clouds remain below the lip of the caldera, the Los Roques del Teide will be visible ahead. The remnant of a volcanic dikes. But, it is always possible that the fog will rise up and into the caldera, obscuring the views, but also cooling you down in the hot sun of the mid-day.

Along the trail in the caldera...La Canada ridge beyond
Soon you will return to your vehicle. If the weather permits, you can ride the Teleferico up to over 11,000 feet for a view out across the entire island. But, it is also possible that high winds or icy conditions will make that not possible. Keep checking out the website for additional places to visit on the island of Tenerife.

Los Roques del Teide

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