While holidays are meant to be relaxing, I love nothing more than to spend mine walking. Of course I do, walking is one of my favourite things to do anywhere, and when I’m not at work I have more time than normal to do it. I thought I’d share the two short hikes I did on our week-long break in Tenerife earlier this year (just before lock down, rather excellent timing). Neither are long or difficult, but each would make an excellent addition to any holiday on the island with lovely views of the surrounding scenery you can’t get from the car or coach window. Both are doable by anyone with a reasonable level of fitness in a couple of hours wearing trainers, making them ideal holiday walks to break up the time by the beach or pool. In this post I will feature a short hike around Roques de Garcia in Teide National Park – there’s a walk up Montana Roja coming soon.
Roques de Garcia
Roques de Garcia is where you’ll find the remnants of an ancient volcanic crater wall within Teide National Park. The strange red rock formations and desert landscape is more than a little bit lunar, kind of a cross between Bryce Canyon in Utah and Monument Valley on the Utah/Arizona border – it is rugged, wild, barren, and beautiful.
This area is technically a caldera, named Las Cañadas, formed hundreds of thousands of years ago as a result of the collapse of the volcano with the same name. I’ve read that the collapse was most likely gradual, and rather than collapsing vertically, it was lateral, meaning it kind of fell over – which in all honesty sounds a bit underwhelming and almost comical. I’m sure it would have been spectacular (and deadly) to witness, but still, volcanoes aren’t meant to just fall down, they’re meant to explode. It clearly still did plenty of damage, it undoubtedly made a big mark on the map. Very interestingly, this Las Cañadas caldera is one of the two calderas after which all other calderas are named (the other is Caldera de Taburiente in La Palma). “Caldera” was first used here in a geological sense by a German geologist Christian Leopold von Buch who visited the Canaries in 1815. I think that’s the history lesson done.
You can, of course, pull up in the parking area and walk the short distance to the viewpoint to see the landscape without putting any effort in at all. Many people do this because they either have no time for anything else, or they wouldn’t manage a hike around the area. But if you can, I would highly recommend grabbing a bottle of water and putting on something other than flip flops, and heading out into the landscape to see it properly – from within it. This 3-ish mile loop around and in amongst the rocks does have a reasonably significant descent and ascent involved, but it is well worth the exercise.
Route and Way Finding
We parked up at La Ruleta Lookout Point. Actually, as it was early afternoon by this point as we’d had our cable car ride up Mount Teide in the morning (read about my favourite views in Tenerife here), the parking area was already very busy and so we ended up parked over the road in the larger car park attached to the National Park Visitor Centre, where there is also a café, shop and toilets. Like any easy-to-access viewpoint in National Parks the world over, parking is not so easy if you don’t arrive first thing in the morning. But no matter, we did manage to grab a spot, and headed over the road to start the trail.
We’d chosen to hike trail number three, which was occasionally marked along the route by green squares with the number 3 on them. We had this description saved on my phone which we referred to a couple of times just to make sure we were going the right way (there was a link to a map on that page we could have used if we were lost/worried/needed help), but once we were on the trail and away from the parking area it was an easy to navigate route and no mapping was needed in our case.
Once on the correct side of the main road, we headed towards the very popular viewpoint, but before we got that far we swung right to take the trail that heads around the outside of the rocks. This is wide to begin with, the first part had a few people wandering up and down it to get photos of the various rock formations, but once we’d gone a couple of hundred yards we were on a more normal looking footpath and only saw a handful of other people for the next two hours.
As I mentioned above, it is worth noting that while this is a reasonably straight forward 3-ish mile hike, and there are no actual mountains involved, it is not a flat walk. Far from it. The descent comes about a third of the way in, and the last km or so is a very steep ascent. Don’t let this put you off, though, it’s easy to stop and rest on the zigzagging path up the hill at the end as the views are spectacular and change with each metre climbed. We had no issues with grip, terrain or vertigo, and it felts like a proper hike even though it was only really a couple of miles long.
As mentioned above, the trail starts by heading around the outside the first rock formation. Walking from the parking area, the route turns right before you reach the viewpoint steps (the bit where all the people are). The path is wide and flat here, and the views are already beautiful – you will find lots of people taking photos and no doubt will want to join in with them. There are plenty of amazing rock formations in the first few hundred yards, including Roque Cinchado, El Torrotito, El Burro and Roques Blancos – I didn’t get photos of them all but I have dotted a few I did take through this post. This is also an excellent spot to grab a photo or two of Mount Teide itself not far from the start of the trail; we were fortunate to have clear blue skies for our backdrop as this is not always the case, and in fact just a couple of days later found ourselves in the dust of the Calima (which you can read about in this weekly blog post) which would have certainly meant no hiking and no views for a few days.
Within ten minutes or so, as you start to head around the back of the rocks, we had forgotten that there were hundreds of people fighting over car parking spaces and lining up to see the scenery from the viewpoint. It’s the reason I love to hike, even if just for a mile or two, in National Parks – these places are vast, it doesn’t take long to get some space and feel like you’re on a little adventure. Even when we were at Bradgate Park in Leicestershire this weekend (read weekly blog episode 23 here) it felt like the whole world had descended on the car park, but as soon as we were through the gate and up the hill, the crowds had totally dispersed as most people keep within a few hundred yards of their car. The caldera here at Roques de Garcia is absolutely huge, and you feel alone in the rugged desert landscape in no time at all. We probably came across ten or so other people hiking the route, and we were all spread out, there really was enough space for everyone. I think I’ve made my point!
The path narrows considerably to a single file track trail. It’s always easy to follow and nice underfoot, just watch your step as you wind down the hill to the plain beneath you. This is known as Llano de Ucanca, and has been created by sedimentary rock – it really is very Monument Valley here. On the way down we noticed what appeared like a waterfall of rock – this is apparently dried lava, super interesting to see. There were examples of these lava tongues called pahoehoe all the way down the hill, they were very strange shapes with smooth surfaces that told a little bit of the story of what happened here thousands of years ago. Oh how I long to see a real active volcano!
Once down in the basin of the caldera, you really get a sense of where you are – and when you are. The cliff rises steeply to your left, and stretches out for miles to your right, the temperature changes significantly as you cross from sunshine into shade, and it’s very easy to feel small and insignificant. I do love a rugged and barren landscape, it’s the reason Glencoe is one of my favourite places in the world, such views just seem to speak to my soul. If we had brought a picnic this is where we’d have eaten it, the view is just massive. The huge rock in the middle of the scene, featured in most of my photos on this page, is known as The Cathedral (La Catedral). This is a volcanic phonolite chimney – I learned that when the volcano was active here, lava would have flowed up through this chimney but hardened before it met the air, forming a column of super hard rock. As the rest of the landscape has eroded away to make the strange rock formations and hoodoos you see all around, this chimney of particularly hard rock has stayed put, towering above everything else and presenting as a dominant feature on the landscape.
After following the path in the basin for a short distance, it is time to head back up. The footpath goes what looks (and feels) like straight up the wall of the caldera back up to the viewpoint and car park. It’s not a bad climb if you take plenty of stops on the way up to admire the view and see how far you’ve come… Before you do the last zigzagging ascent, take a short detour to the right up to another set of rocks for a wonderful view across the plain and all around, a last few moments of peace and calm in the landscape and some more beautiful photographs to jog the memory later in life.
You complete the circle back at the steps from the car park, where you are faced once again with the hoards of people stopping for a quick look at the rocks from the official viewpoint. It took us just a couple of hours to do the circular route and we are so glad we did, it was completely worth the effort and the time in our day, and I’d recommend it to anyone with a reasonable level of fitness who wants to see things a bit more up close and personal.
Be sure to carry water and wear decent shoes (trainers are fine for this hike, but I wouldn’t tackle it in flip flops), and enjoy not just looking at the scenery but being right in amongst it for a short while.
I’d love to know if you do this hike, or others in Teide National Park, when you go to Tenerife. Be sure to drop me a line in the comments below or over on twitter to let me know.
Have you got other short hike suggestions for Tenerife? Feel free to send me your links.