We went to Mount Teide by car and hiked in the moon landscape of the volcanic national park. It was a great family day out up at 2000 meters and a scenic drive to remember.
Beaches are what most tourists come for to Tenerife, but try to leave your resort at least for a day. Driving to Mount Teide by car is a highlight of any trip to Tenerife.
Tenerife is one of the seven Canary Islands off the African coast, next to the Tropic of Cancer and three hours by plane from Spain. All islands have volcanic origins but Tenerife is the one where you most clearly see it. And that’s not all, Tenerife has the biggest volcano, Mount Teide, 3718 m.
The Roques de Garcia hike with children, Mount Teide by car
Mount Teide has a huge caldera below it, an exceptional nature wonder designed by lava flows in the course of millions of years. The stony caldera is a collapsed crater of a still higher volcano that blew up in the air, containing fancy rocks, long stretches of black lava and colored stones in all shades.
This vast caldera was a sacred place for the Guanches, the original people of the Canaries. Today it is a both national park and on the UNESCO World Heritage list. No wonder the Mount Teide caldera is a popular day trip destination.
We rented a car and went to see what Parque Nacional del Teide, Mount Teide National Park is like. I will show you our whole Mount Teide drive, but will first tell you about Mount Teide itself.
Mount Teide on the Top of Tenerife
Mount Teide, 3718 m above sea level
The 3718 m high volcano Mount Teide is in the center of the holiday island and divides it in two: the green north and the dry south. Teide is not only the highest peak of the Canaries but also the highest mountain in Spain. Mount Teide is the third largest volcano in the world.
But that’s not the whole truth. The massive volcano continues long ways below the water line, so its total height measured from the ocean floor is 7500 m. That compares to the Himalayas.
Mount Teide and smaller volcanoes
Luckily Teide is a sleeping volcano, and not the only one on the island.
Tenerife’s volcanoes have been quiet for more than a hundred years now, the last eruption was in 1909. Until that there was activity about once in a century, sometimes even more. The eruptions have formed the island and so will the next one that nobody knows when its time will be.
But today the volcanic landscape around El Teide is a safe place to visit – and a fantastic place to hike.
Hiking in the moon landscape of Mount Teide National Park
Mount Teide National Park
Mount Teide National Park in the caldera of an ancient volcano
There are not many national parks that are located in a crater. The Mount Teide caldera was formed 3 million years ago when another, still higher, volcano exploded. As the caldera’s walls are 16 km apart and 500 m high, it must have been a huge one.
Whatever happened, today we can enjoy this sheltered plain at the height of 2000 m – and all its strange rock formations.
Las Canadas crater, 2000 m above sea level
This sunny plain is isolated from the rest of the island and consequently has its own flora and fauna. The plain also has its own stones in different colors, jade green, turquoise and blue. The color and glitter comes from iron, copper and other minerals that these volcanic rocks contain.
Flora of Parque Nacional del Teide
Green rock of the national park
Day Trip to Mount Teide by Car
To see the magic crater, we made a day trip by car with the family. We were four adults and four children from 1 to 7 years and, as always, were driving with two cars. As so many people don’t fit in one car, we have to rent two.
That became an adventure and our Tenerife highlight that our one year olds won’t remember – but we others will. Fantastic nature, strange stones, mountains above clouds, moon landscape and sandy paths. And we will also remember our outdoor picnic lunch on our 3,5 km Roques de Garcia hike.
On the top of Tenerife: Mount Teide by car
We started from South Tenerife where we were staying. Here is our driving itinerary on the map:
Mount Teide by Car: Itinerary on the Map
Day trip to Mount Teide: the driving itinerary
There are two routes to choose from south coast resorts and two from the north. The drive is not long, one hour one way without stops. Mount Teide is an easy trip and doesn’t require much sitting in the car.
We took the road from Los Cristianos in the morning and came down to Tamaimo and Chio in the evening. The reason was that we wanted to get the morning sun on the way up, and evening sun on the way down. Driving the opposite way would have meant more shade. Once in Tenerife, we like the sun!
Tenerife Sur to Mount Teide by Car
Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos after a 15 minute drive
From the south, the road climbs up making steep hairpin bends. The first village is Arona that looks like a place we should sometimes stay at if there is accommodation. Arona is so close to the coast and yet so original compared to the resorts lower down.
From Arona there are two alternative itineraries. We took the smaller side road of the two. The road was narrow and a bit scary in places, but what was positive there was no meeting traffic. The scenery was like this:
Driving to Mount Teide
Later on came an area with vineyards, tomato fields and almond trees (they were in flower). In places all trees had dropped their all leaves as it was winter time. Then came pine forests and after them we began to see lava fields.
This is El Pino Gordo, a giant pine tree and a local sight. It’s just north of Vilaflor. Vilaflor is at 1400 m and the highest village in the Canaries. We keep on climbing…
El Pino Gordo of Tenerife
The huge pine trees are Canary Island pines – and those trees have giant cones! As soon the kids saw how big the cones were they wanted pick them from the roadside. So big cones compared to what we have back home!
Parque Nacional del Teide
Driving in the moon landscape of Mount Teide
So we entered the moon landscape through Boca de Tauce. As there’s only one road through the caldera, it’s not hard to choose which road to take. Only one road is needed to reach all hiking trails criss-crossing the valley.
The meeting point in the center of the valley is a hotel, restaurant and tourist information point, the Parador las Canadas del Teide. It’s the only hotel in the national park, state owned and liked by hikers. If you want to book, do it well in advance. You can book your Mount Teide accommodation here: Paradores de Turismo.
There’s also another visitor center but that’s on the north side of the park where you enter from Puerto de la Cruz.
Visiting Mount Teide by car
The plateau is at 2000 m and Mount Teide rises beyond it. To get to the top of El Teide you can climb along a marked route, a demanding hike that takes hours – or pay and take the cable car almost to the top. The cable car takes you from 2300 to 3500 m and has always long waiting times. If you want to skip the queues pre-book your ride. To do that check out the Volcano Teide website.
But our interest was not the cable car, we are hikers and even the small ones are learning to hike.
Hiking in Mount Teide National Park
What kind of hikes are there? Many, and very different, you just have to know.
Mount Teide National Park has 21 walks, the shortest of which is 600 m and the longest 17 km. They are self-guided and well marked on the park map.
Mount Teide National Park Hiking Map
This is the official Mount Teide hiking map where all routes are numbered and marked with red. Scenic lookouts are marked with binoculars.
Map of Mount Teide National Park (Source: Gobierno de Canarias Parques Nacionales)
The hiking routes you can see on the map are explained on the Gobierno de Canarias Parques Nacionales website: Gobierno de Canarias, Teide Hiking Routes.
So we had to choose a hike. Climbing Mount Teide is definitely not a family hike, so we took one of the short ones, the one we believed was the prettiest. We hiked around the Roques de Garcia.
Roques de Garcia Hike
View from Sendero 3, Roques de Garcia
Roques de Garcia is hike number 3 and starts from the Visitors Centre El Portillo. The 3,5 km loop track goes around the exceptional long row of rocks you can see from all over the valley.
The beginning of the track is flat and accessible, but north of the rocks there is a climb where you will need better shoes than flip flops. Turning back south, the track is all big stones on the way down to the plain Llano de Ucanca, from which it’s a steep climb left to where the track ends.
Here is our Roques de Garcia hike on the map:
Roques de Garcia hike on the map
And here is the hike more in detail:
Walking North: Flat, Accessible Path
Mount Teide by Car: Starting our family hike
As advised, we walked counter clockwise so the strange rocks were all the time on the left hand side. Here we are starting the walk, in sweaters as the air up here is cool. As at 2000 m the sun is strong, we are prepared with hats, sunglasses and a lot of sunscreen on our tiny faces.
Hiking Teide National Park with children
As the first half of the walk is accessible, you can do this part even with a stroller.
The kids were excited about it all and found many things on the ground that they liked.
One-year-old picking up lava stones
2. Picnic Break
Mount Teide at its best: family picnic in the outdoors
After 1,5 km the trail started climbing a little bit, and after the climb all children were hungry. That meant it was time for a picnic on super warm lava stones.
Roques de Garcia rock formations
We enjoyed the Alpine sun and extra clear skies. As the crater is above the clouds, Mount Teide National Park mostly has clear skies. Clouds mostly gather at the heights between 500 and 1500 m. This is a thing that makes the national park a perfect stargazing destination at night. Sun at the daytime, stars at night.
Now, believe it or not, Mount Teide National Park draws 3,5 million visitors a year. That number makes it the most visited national park in all Europe.
We, however, didn’t see those visitors, being almost alone in the park and on the paths. Maybe all tourists come at the same time. We were visiting just after the Dia de los Reyes that ends the Christmas season. So maybe all tourists had gone back home.
Even the smallest ones walked the first part, but after the picnic they needed their afternoon nap and therefore spent the rest of the walk sleeping in rucksacks.
3. Llano de Ucanca
Hiking between volcanic rocks of Teide
It was a perfect nap timing. When we walked on it became evident that the track simply was not for them. Carrying the small ones from the picnic place on was the best idea of all.
However, with the two bigger kids it was different, they just loved the rocky trail and left us adults far behind when rushing away to explore the stones.
Look at these rocks back down on the plain! Fantastic! No wonder the rocks of Garcia are among the most photographed in the national park.
Roques de Garcia rock formations, Tenerife
4. The Final Climb
Sendero 3, Roques de Garcia
As the Sendero 3 is a loop walk we came back to where we started. As the air up here is thin, the last climb was a bit hard, but the kids didn’t notice it, they were still running. We did it!
Of course all kids were super hungry again, so before taking the road back to the coast we took a lunch break at the visitor center.
Mount Teide by Car: Back to the Coast
La Gomera and La Palma seen from the road
The drive down was amazing, the sun was now on this side and made the dark lava fields shine even more. The clouds were still far below us and at distance were the neighboring islands La Palma and La Gomera.
The kids slept all the way down and missed the scenic downhill drive. But they didn’t miss the beauty of Mount Teide National Park.
UNESCO listed national park: lava in its all forms
El Teide from the road to Chio and Tamaimo
More about Canary Islands
See our other Canary Island posts: