Travel

Scale Spain’s Highest Peak at This Volcanic Canary Islands National Park

Steep elevations, cinematic hikes, and starry nights converge inside Tenerife's Teide National Park.

canadastock/Shutterstock
canadastock/Shutterstock
canadastock/Shutterstock

There’s a reason so many Western Europeans view the Canary Islands as a warm weather paradise. Between black sand beaches, lively resort towns, and proliferation of historic architectural gems, the Spanish territory off the coast of North Africa has a lot to offer the hordes of holidaying Germans, English, Italians, and mainland Spaniards that flock there year-round.

But it’s not all swim-up bars, banana daiquiris, and whale-watching expeditions-though, those should definitely be included, too. Tenerife, the largest and most populous Canary Island, is also home to an incredible range of flora and fauna. Here, natural attractions run the gamut from meticulously stocked botanical gardens to Teide National Park, a vast protected area situated at the innermost point of the triangular landmass. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, the park’s 47,000-acre rocky expanse centres around its eponymous volcano, a spectacularly craggy behemoth that rises some 24,600 feet above the ocean floor. Spain’s highest peak and the third-largest volcanic structure in the world, Mount Teide is a sight to behold-even if your eyes are a bit fatigued from the night before.

Lobachad/Shutterstock
Lobachad/Shutterstock
Lobachad/Shutterstock

“Just look around, and you’ll see the most famous and most colourful pumice stone in Tenerife,” proclaimed Darío López, a born-and-raised Canarian and my group’s dedicated tour guide on a recent trip to Tenerife. He stood at the front of the bus, microphone in hand, eyes fixed on the dozen or so sleepy faces staring back at him while he waxed poetic about the otherworldly terrain unfurling outside our windows. It was a little after 9:30 am on a Sunday in February, and the majority of us visitors had spent the previous night living it up on the streets of the capital city Santa Cruz de Tenerife as a part of the annual Carnival celebration. Glitter still flecked our foreheads as we turned to look at the hillside streaming past.

“Look there, all that yellowish sand is pumice stone,” he continued, his hangover-free voice booming over the speakers like an enthusiastic thundercloud. “The first robot sent to Mars was assembled in the observatory of Tenerife, and then it was tested right here. If you see photos of Mars’s surface, it’s this landscape.”

From my perch in the back row, I wholeheartedly agreed. The flaxen-hued volcanic rubble stretched as far as I could see, interrupted here and there by clumps of spindly shrubbery. It looked like something out of a Star Wars film, like at any moment R2-D2 and C-3PO might pop out to battle a gang of hooded Jawas. And, as it turned out, I wasn’t too far off.

Lobachad/Shutterstock
Lobachad/Shutterstock
Lobachad/Shutterstock

“Here we had two eruptions,” said López, bringing me out of my sci-fi daydream. “The first one, all these rocky formations came from a lava flow that ran down the hill. And then there was a second eruption that covered that first lava flow with all different colours of pumice stone-you can see greenish, bluish, reddish, oranges. One of the first editions of Planet of the Apes was filmed here, and Clash of Titans was filmed here, too.”

Twenty minutes later, and we were filing into a dangling cable car, gearing up to summit the impressive Mount Teide. The increased altitude coupled with a sharp drop in temperature-we could see clumps of snow blanketing the rocks below us as we climbed-were just the wakeup call we needed. That, a few glugs of Europe’s take on Gatorade, and the vista’s sweeping panoramic views made the early call time well worth it.

Here’s everything you need to do to make your next visit to Tenerife’s Teide National Park a memorable one-no matter what condition you arrive in.

Dmitry Eagle Orlov/Shutterstock
Dmitry Eagle Orlov/Shutterstock
Dmitry Eagle Orlov/Shutterstock

Snap a sky-high selfie atop Spain’s tallest peak

As mentioned, a great way to get the lay of the land is by ascending Mount Teide on one of two resident cable cars. The scenery just doesn’t quit, from the moment you board the car until it deposits you back down to the base centre some 4,000 feet below. With regular ticketed departures running from 9 am to 4 pm for €21.50 per person (plus special sunset and chartered rides), the trip takes approximately eight minutes each way, and the cars come equipped with 360-degree windows so you can easily document your dramatic approach.

Up at the top, multiple viewing platforms give way to the jagged rocks and obsidian-strewn lava flows that make up the park’s sprawling grounds. Fun fact: The upper station is also home to Spain’s highest public telephone. On particularly clear days, you might even be able to spot Tenerife’s sister islands, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Palma, and Gran Canaria, emerging from the surrounding ocean waters. This is also the jumping off point for several routes enticing daredevil visitors in search of even higher ground, open to hikers depending on weather and safety conditions and, in some cases, only available via permit.

If you can time it right, try to arrive at the peak near sunset. It’s then that Mount Teide starts to project the world’s largest shadow onto the ocean. The dusky reflection extends around 25 miles out from the summit, casting neighbouring Gran Canaria in soft darkness each evening.

Christopher Moswitzer/Shutterstock
Christopher Moswitzer/Shutterstock
Christopher Moswitzer/Shutterstock

Hike to your heart’s content on an active volcano

Speaking of trekking, Teide National Park is littered with designated hiking paths catering to all interests and abilities. For a low-impact-yet-rewarding stroll, tackle the Roques de García Loop Trail, a 2.6-mile loop that takes about an hour and a half to complete. Beginning at the Mirador de la Ruleta lookout point, the circuit passes counterclockwise through the Roques de García, a curious formation best witnessed during Golden Hour, when the stone faces light up in a variety of warm colours.

According to López, this was where the Indigenous Guanches and, later, Spanish farmers used to camp out overnight with their herds: “Until the ’50s, when the national park was declared, around 4,000 or 5,000 goats used to spend holidays here with their shepherds, so every area of the national park was attributed to a different family. The goats of the García family were the ones around this area.”

Photo by Meredith Heil
Photo by Meredith Heil
Photo by Meredith Heil

Another popular option is the Montaña Samara Circuit Trail, which stretches a little more than three miles around the base of Samara Mountain and offers a host of different viewpoints and terrains to explore. This one really gets you out into the lava fields, upping the surrealist vibes considerably and providing lots of great photo-ops as the verdant pine forest and towering rock structures merge with the gleaming, obsidian-covered slopes. Feeling ambitious? Continue the hike by climbing the mountain itself on a sunny day, the perspective from the summit is nothing short of spectacular.

Looking for a challenge? Fill up your water bottles and set out for Pico Viejo, a strenuous, 8.5-mile journey featuring a whopping 3,280-foot change in altitude and pristine vistas overlooking the entire park. The trail branches off from the Narices del Teide parking lot, guiding trekkers up and around the island’s second-highest volcano, which last erupted in 1798. Keep an eye out for morphing colours as you climb, from the base’s lively greenery to the mountainside’s dense, charcoal-black rubble, and, finally, the vast crater’s moon-like copper depths.

Paradores
Paradores
Paradores

Grab lunch, peruse a modern museum, and stay the night in the heart of the park

Can’t get enough of the national park? No problem-by booking one of the 37 guest rooms spread throughout the Parador de Cañadas del Teide’s three desert-hued floors, you can lay your head smack-dab in the centre of the action. The Spanish hotel chain specializes in historic and unique lodgings around Spain and its territories, and the Mount Teide location, stashed inside a broad crater a little over 6,500 feet above sea level, is a fantastic example of the company’s mission.

First built in 1962 and revamped in 1996, the cozy, Alpine-inspired outpost was designed to blend seamlessly in with its stunning surroundings, a wash of smooth sand-coloured brick, hefty stone walls, and tawny brown roofing. In terms of creature comforts, consider yourself covered. Amenities include a heated pool and sauna, open-air terrace bar, roaring fireplace, small gym, and a lovely onsite restaurant offering refined Canarian cuisine. Even better? It’s remarkably sustainable, producing its own electricity and tapping into the mountain’s natural reserves for its water supply.

Photo by Meredith Heil
Photo by Meredith Heil
Photo by Meredith Heil

Tucked away beside the Parador you’ll find Cañada Blanca Visitor Center, a fascinating museum space and one of the park’s latest additions, having opened in June 2022. The contemporary collection walks visitors through Mount Teide’s timeline, from its prehistoric origins to the arrival of scientists and the founding of the national park. Displays showcasing local flora and fauna highlight the park’s intricate ecosystem, while other exhibits cover the site’s astronomic, geological, and volcanological importance. Don’t leave without ducking into the adjacent theatre, where a poignant documentary cycles viewers through a four-season tour of the park’s natural riches.

carlos martin diaz/Shutterstock
carlos martin diaz/Shutterstock
carlos martin diaz/Shutterstock

Take in a truly epic night sky

In addition to being a perfect stand-in for developing interplanetary missions, Teide National Park also holds great scientific value in the field of astronomy. As the mountain rises far above the cloud line, access to the open skies from its slopes is unprecedented-it’s no wonder that the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias has manned the world’s largest solar observatory right here since 1964. Perched at 7,840 feet, the Teide Observatory is jammed full of high-tech telescopes of all shapes, sizes, and powers. The location is so ideal for stargazing, in fact, that several major discoveries have taken place on the mountain, including the 1995 identification of the first-ever brown dwarf star named, fittingly, Teide-1.

Visit Tenerife
Visit Tenerife
Visit Tenerife

Daytime and afternoon guided observatory excursions can be booked in advance, but if you can’t fit it into your schedule, rest assured that the rest of the park is rife with perfect vantage points for basking in the universe’s twinkling breadth. The Starlight Foundation has recognized Teide National Park as an official Starlight Destination since 2014 thanks to its extremely limited light pollution, topographical composition, temperate climate, and commitment to natural preservation. All you have to do is post up near the cable car base station or wander out into the lava fields, tip your chin up to the sky, and prepare to be wowed-Saturn’s ethereal rings, a multitude of far-off galaxies, the Moon’s pockmarked surface, and perhaps even a cascading meteor shower await, depending on the time of year.

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Meredith Heil is the Editorial Director of Thrillist Travel. She feels much better now, thank you.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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