The triangular peak of Spain’s highest mountain is everyone’s classic idea of a volcano. Dominant feature on the holiday island of Tenerife, the moonlike crater beneath Mount Teide is the most visited National Park in Europe, listed by UNESCO for its extraordinary biodiversity that includes many unique species of flora and fauna.
But I’m enjoying a rather different perspective on this iconic outline. It’s late afternoon and I’ve taken the 8-minute cable car ride that whisks visitors to a terrace and visitor centre a short way beneath the summit. When I first visited the island in the 1970s, I remember trudging to the very top amidst whiffs of sulphur, but today this is as far as most visitors get. Access to the summit is restricted for conservation reasons so if you want to go badly enough, you need to collect the free pass from an office in Santa Cruz. But there are some great alternatives.
As the balmy winter temperature drops, I’m looking down from the terrace into the crater, a glass of local fizz in one hand, a mug of hot chocolate ready as a chaser. Beyond the rugged rim of the crater, created after an ancient eruption, I can just see the outline of the three eastern Canary Islands peeping above the clouds, but my gaze keeps turning downwards. As the sun sinks behind me, so the triangular shadow of Teide reaches out across the crater, but, most bizarre of all, the tip of it glows blue, like a message from the fire gods. Dormant we may be, but never say never …
This fascinating phenomenon is just the curtain raiser on the Sunset & Stars trip which runs regularly from March through September as the day draws to a close and the cable car closes to all but booked groups. There are various pick-up points around the island so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride up through the cacti and banana plantations of the lower slopes, through the ring of Canarian Pines that encircle the crater, and finally into that moonscape of clinker and solidified lava.
By day, the colours of the volcanic fall-out vary from dark brown to black, steel grey to russet red, but as the dusk approaches, the palette changes by the minute. Drinks finished, we follow a broad but stony path around the south side of the peak to the Chio viewpoint opposite the adjacent island of La Gomera.
At this point, a few words of warning. The peak of Teide is 3,718 metres above sea level and the altitude up here does not suit everyone, so if you are one of the few who feel breathless, light-headed or nauseous when getting out of the cable car, stay on the terrace to enjoy the sunset rather than take the path. It’s still spectacular. Flat, non-slip shoes are an absolute must, as is warm clothing. The path is undulating and uneven and once the sun has set, the light fades fast, which means a fairly smart retreat to the terrace. If you suffer at all from joint, back or foot problems, do as I did and just head down the first stretch and perch on a convenient rock to enjoy the show.
And it is quite a show. Those matt, earthy colours take on a golden glow as the sun disappears behind La Gomera. This is the time for shadow selfies as your silhouette elongates to comical effect. You can get some amazing pictures, even with a smart phone, but don’t spend all the time looking at the screen and miss the real event. It’s over all too soon. As the light drains into the Atlantic, darkness quickly descends and constellations begin to twinkle overhead.
But the fun’s not over. After a light buffet of typical Canarian dishes in the visitor centre, we head back down the cable car and across the crater by coach to a dark car park where four expert stargazers are waiting with telescopes to give us a close-up view of those twinkling celestial bodies. On dark nights you can see the Milky Way, but in bright moonlight, we exchanged the ethereal heavens for the chance to see the solid bulk of the full moon through a powerful lens. It’s all pretty humbling stuff.
The Sunset & Stars trip costs from €51 – details on www.volcanolife.com. And if you like authentic island experiences, I’d also recommend taking a look at www.elcardon.com, a local tour operator who organise small group tours by minibus including astronomy excursions, whale watching and kayaking. I enjoyed their day trip, Secrets of the Teno Mountains, which took me into the Teno Rural Park to see villages and traditional activities off the well-worn tourist trail.
There are lots of great – and sometimes unexpected – outdoor activities on this beautiful holiday island where you can get as wet or grubby as you like by day and return to your comfortable accommodation to get cleaned up before dinner. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Iberostar Anthelia in Costa Adeje with its landscaped grounds, various pools and seafront position.
For general information on Tenerife, visit www.webtenerife.co.uk.