On top of the world in Tenerife

by AndyMont

It is Spain's highest mountain, and a dormant volcano too – but climbing Mount Teide, in Tenerife, is an experience well worth it. For tips on how to do it, where to stay and how to survive, read on…

To the Guanche, Tenerife’s earliest known inhabitants, Mount Teide was a sacred spot "where the Earth holds up the sky". Rising 3,718m above sea level, it is Spain’s highest mountain and a Unesco World Heritage Site – and within its 17km-wide crater is a surreal landscape of orange volcanic cones and russet-coloured lava flows, set in a sea of white pumice where weird rock formations sit against a blindingly blue sky.

The climb to the summit of Mount Teide begins at the Montaña Blanca signpost on the TF21 road that runs through the crater. A large display board showing the route and a handful of parking spaces mark the spot. Following the easy trail into the solitude and splendour of the crater, to the base of Montaña Blanca where the real ascent begins, takes about an hour; there is adequate time to realise that walking at altitude is a lot tougher than people think.

A steady ascent takes you high above the crater floor, where you can gaze down on the incredible palette of colours that the violent forces of nature have created. To the south, the crater wall still stands, acting as a cauldron for the banks of clouds that pour over its rim like steaming vapour.

After four or so hours of muscle-testing climb, the Alta Vista Refuge ( www.teleferico-teide.com) comes into sight and you can collapse on to one of its benches, watch the sun set over the landscape and wait for the feeling to come back into your feet. This is no five-star hotel. Accommodation is in dormitories and facilities are limited to a couple of toilets, a cold-water tap and some tables and benches. Bring your own food and beverages. There's a small gas burner, but with anything up to 60 climbers passing through, a hot drink is just a dream.

There's a log fire – but it won’t be lit unless temperatures drop to -5 degrees. Bedding is provided, only one night’s stay is permitted and you leave when they tell you to… at 4 am when an alarm call takes you from the comfort of your dormitory to the pitch black of the pre-dawn mountain and the final 500m ascent.

Climbing in the dark adds another frisson of challenge to the adventure, but an African sky bejewelled with shooting stars helps distract from the exertion of the final push.

With sulphurous fumes filling the nostrils and scorching boulders providing welcome hand-warming opportunities, you are only too aware that this is a volcano that you are standing on – and you quietly hope it doesn’t choose today to remind you it is only dormant, not extinct.

Reaching the summit, you are rewarded by the sight of the twinkling islands of the entire Canarian Archipelago floating on the horizon; the lower peaks break through the clouds like humpback whales riding the surf, and the rising sun reflects blood-red at your feet, right where the earth holds up the sky.

When to go

The summit of Mount Teide is accessible most of the year, except when winter snow coats the peak  which can happen any time between November and February.

How to Get There

There is a bus service to Teide National Park from Puerto de la Cruz, Los Cristianos and Playa de Las Américas so it's feasible to do the climb by public transport if you're staying in one of those resorts. But the bus only runs twice a day – once to get you up there, and once to get you back. If you're staying anywhere else on Tenerife, trying to link up with the only bus could prove a bit risky.

Where to stay

If you have the spending power, Tenerife’s only Parador (+34 922 386 415; doubles from €134 per night) is located within Teide National Park and offers comfort, the crater to yourself and a telescope for star-gazing. 

The budget-conscious should choose one of La Orotava’s beautiful rural hotels – Hotel Rural Victoria and Hotel Rural Orotava (see Make It Happen, top left) – which allow you to combine mountain climbing with exploring Tenerife’s most sophisticated town.

The Alta Vista Refuge

Cost is €20 per person.

The good news? You don't need a permit to visit the summit of Mount Teide if you spend the night at the Refuge – provided you're back to cable car level before 9am. It's essential to book in advance (+34 922 010 440).


A cable car operates every day and takes thousands of visitors to within 500m of the peak – but you need a permit to get to the summit, and it's only valid for the specified day. Applications have to be in person or by post at least a month before or by fax/email at least one week before the intended climb. Application is to: National Park Office, C/ Emilio Calzadilla, Nº 5-4ª planta, Santa Cruz de Tenerife (you can find details at www.todotenerife.es). Rumour has it that the climb from Montaña Blanca is easier than getting permission.

Essential tips

In winter, it may be sunbathing temperature on the coast, but the altitude makes a huge difference. After the sun goes down, temperatures can quickly plummet to -7 degrees and beyond. It is wise to adopt the onion approach and wear layers. Thermal gloves and a hat are also advisable in winter.

In summer, the intensity of the sun is heightened in the rare atmosphere; sunscreen and head protection are life savers. Carry two litres of water per person and replenish it at the Refuge. (In winter, water will be frozen by the time you reach the peak but will thaw again on the descent.) Whatever the time of year, you will need a good head torch for the pre-dawn final ascent.




I have lived and worked on Tenerife as a freelance feature writer and travel guide author for 7 years. I am Editor and Co-Director of Tenerife's premier online lifestyle magazine – Tenerife Magazine.

I first set foot on Tenerife in 2002 with a mindset that was predisposed to hating the place.
It is to Tenerife's eternal credit that what I found was so far removed from my prejudices that one year later I actually upped sticks and moved here.

Since then I've made it my business to uncover every gem in Tenerife's hidden treasures in my quest to tell the world about the 'other' Tenerife – the one that's really quite cool.
My Road to Damascus revelations have been chronicled in Traveller, Ling and Living Tenerife magazines, in various travel websites and blogs and in the two guide books I have authored; Real Tenerife Island Drives and Going Native in Tenerife.

I believe that to get to the heart of a place you have to throw yourself headlong into all it has to offer, so when I'm not researching or writing you can find me at Carnaval 'til dawn, sipping mojitos in a Cuban bar or clinging to some vertigo-inducing outcrop by my fingernails to see if an ancient path still exists.

My Tenerife

Where I always grab a coffee: in one of Cafe Ebano's big wicker chairs in Puerto's Plaza Iglesia for a café americano and a slice of chocolate cake.

My favourite stroll: Along the Rambla del Castro coastal path in Los Realejos to the little fort of San Fernando with views back over the palm groves and Casona de Castro hacienda.

My favourite beach: Bollullo on the border of Puerto de la Cruz and La Orotava is too remote for all but locals to access. There are no regimented sunbeds or water sports, just black sand coves, one cliffside restaurant and wild Atlantic rollers.

Fiction for inspiration: Agatha Christie's The Man From The Sea, part of the Mysterious Mr Quin collection was penned in the La Paz district of Puerto de la Cruz. Not her best but the location descriptions haven't changed all that much.

Where to be seen: at the Ítaca Terrace of the Faro Chill Art Bar in Costa Adeje.

Most breathtaking view: From the Pico del Inglés mirador in the Anaga Mountains. Looking south Mount Teide dominates the centre of the island with the Aguere Valley, La Laguna, Santa Cruz and the north airport spread below it. Looking north the Atlantic Ocean shimmers beyond the ancient Anaga Mountains.

Best spot for peace and quiet: the upper La Orotava Valley where trails thread through fragrant pine forests with only the sound of birdsong and the scuttling of lizards in the undergrowth to disturb the silence.

Shopaholics beware! The streets around Calle Castillo in the capital city of Santa Cruz have high street names and independents cheek by jowl with shady pavement cafés and tapas bars – a shopper's paradise.

Don't leave without: visiting Teide National Park and taking the cable car to within 200 metres of the summit for satellite views over the Canarian archipelago.