Tenerife, day 1: From Vilaflor to Parador Nacional via Montana Guajara

Montana Guajara at sunset

Montana Guajara (2, 718 m) in the Teide National Park at sunset

Aside from being a haven of perpetual spring for British and German retirees, Tenerife also offers some great hiking, including Spain’s highest mountain – the Pico del Teide (3, 718 m).

Constantin and I decided to make use of the perpetual spring to extend our hiking season well into November and do a bit of hiking in the Parque National de las Canadas del Teide.

An incomplete plan

The Pico del Teide is a volcanic crater on top of an even older huge volcanic caldera, which emerged when the top of the old volcano broke off and slid down into the sea. After that the summit of the Teide and a few other summits bubbled up with lava. The caldera now constitutes the National Park and offers a number of hikes in a moon-like landscape.

We were hoping to start with a hike from Vilaflor over the caldera ridge and the Guajara summit (2, 718 m) to the Parador Nacional, overnight at the hotel there and then to hike up the Pico del Teide.

Pan de Azucar - the summit section of the Pico del Teide

The summit section of the Teide above the cable car – the Pan de Azucar – is during the day only accessible with a permit

Unfortunately, I underestimated the level of upfront planning needed for the hike to the summit. To be able to access the Teide summit, hikers need a permit from the National Park. Alternatively, it is possible to overnight at Refugio de Altavista on the Eastern flank of the mountain and summit the Teide without a permit before 9 am.

Three weeks before our departure, when I got round to planning the hiking trip, the Altavista hut was already booked out. Instead of trying to get a permit immediately, I decided to put it off and wait until we were on Tenerife and apply for one based on the weather forecast. That was a mistake.

When we finally checked the National Park’s website the day before we were meant to set-off from Vilaflor, all permits were allocated. Our only hope was to wait for cancellations either of the permits or of bookings at Altavista.

From Vilaflor to Parador

Somehow undeterred we set off on the first hike anyway, equipped with mobile data roaming and determination to refresh the NP and Altavista sites as often as possible.

Vilaflor (1, 420 m) is a village up on the southern flank of the Teide massif, still well below the caldera ridge. There is a hiking trail from the village through the surrounding pine woods to the summit of the Guajara. The Guajara is the highest peak of the caldera rim and towers right above the only hotel in the caldera – the Parador Nacional.

We arrived at Vilaflor on the TITSA bus from Los Cristianos to El Portillo at about 10:20 am (leaving Los Cristianos at 9:30) and after a little bit of faffing around in the village, set off for the white lunar landscape “Peisaje Lunar”. The hike there on the path East off Montana Colorada took us about 2 hrs.

Pisaje Lunar - white lunar landscape

This is the white lunar landscape – there is not much more to it

The lunar landscape was somewhat underwhelming, particularly in light of the lava landscapes that followed. If I did the hike again, I’d take the shorter trail west of Montana Colorada. You get a good enough glimpse of the spires from there too.

We had lunch at one of the view points before continuing uphill towards the longer, but supposedly easier summit trail along the eastern Guajara ridge. After a short while the trail leaves the pine forest and enters a proper Lunar or maybe even Martian landscape. There are no trees just lava gravel and sand; at first orange then black.

Then it finally turns off left towards the Guajara. For about a kilometer we gradually ascended through black, soft lava gravel. It looked beautiful in its bizarre way, but was incredibly draining. The views from here are amazing. Suddenly, a view over Tenerife’s South East dropping over 2,000 m all the way to the coast opens up.

At the foot of the Guajara on Tenerife

What a reward for a long slog through soft lava sand

After the gravel field, the ascend gets steeper and now leads over white-orangeish rocks. At first the steeper ascent felt ok and we gained altitude relatively quickly. After a while our heavy packs became a real burden though (we were carrying everything we had with us for a week on Tenerife, including some city and beach clothes). As we skirted around the Western flank of the Guajara towards the caldera ridge moving up hill became a real effort.

Not being sure of how long the different sections of the hike should take, I was surprised how long it took us to reach the turn off on path no. 15 – the final summit approach. Even after that I had mistaken an elevation edge for the summit and thought we were much closer than we really were.

Now at about 2, 600 m the air felt very thin and the backpack very heavy. Constantin kept on making shorter breaks on the ascent and even sat down a couple of times. I felt like I’d never be able to get up again, had I sat down. We slogged on, step by step until 2.5 hrs after we left the white lunar landscape we finally reached the summit.

I was exhausted and couldn’t wait to eat an apple and something sweet, which I have been “dreaming” of for the past hour. The Guajara was (aside from the strong wind) a perfect place for a snack break. The view was amazing. We were sitting directly opposite the Teide, with a perfect view across most of the caldera below us.

It remained a question whether we would get a chance to stand on the opposing summit, though. Despite all the website refreshing, there were still no cancellations.

Realising that we had less than two hours until it would get dark, we set-off again on the same path back to the caldera ridge and then along trail no. 5 down into the volcanic cauldron. As the sun set, we could marvel at numerous bizarre rock formations along the gravel road to the Parador.

When we arrived at the hotel an hour and a half later, we were completely exhausted, dehydrated and cold. The guy manning the front desk had a bit of a shock when he saw us. As a four star hotel with clear ambitions to add a fifth, they clearly don’t usually get hikers who do more than stroll through the caldera around the hotel.

After a hot shower and a dinner at the hotel restaurant, we dropped dead into our bed. There were still no cancellations either at the Altavista hut or for permits to the Teide, but we had no energy left to care.

Tomorrow, it would be different though.

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