Tenerife feature: The Two Faces of Tenerife

How do you like your mountains - bare and barren or clad in verdant cloud forest? Tenerife has both types in bucket loads, as Hanna Lindon discovers

Illustration photo of Tenerife feature: The Two Faces of Tenerife

It took us an hour of walking along rough coastal tracks to reach the village. Clinging to the side of a steep-sloped barranco with the sea lapping at its feet and a roof of spiky, forest-felted peaks rising behind, this crumbling cluster of red-roofed houses had steadfastly refused to march to the beat of progress. There were no roads, no shops, no rustic restaurants; just a small oasis of cultivated terraces and goat-grazed gardens surrounded by silent mountains.

If you were dropped here unawares and asked to guess where you were, you might put your money on Vietnam or China - maybe a remote area of Thailand as a long shot. There’s something about the meringue-whipped shape of the peaks and the cloud forest blanketing their slopes that makes the mind jump to exotic Asia.

Unless you were in on the secret, you’d certainly never think that you were looking out on one of Europe’s most popular package destinations with London just a four-hour flight away. That’s the thing about Tenerife, though - it’s chock full of surprises. Even when you’ve digested the fact that this supposedly tat-tastic Canary Island has one of the world’s highest volcanoes and an interior that’s as red, bare and otherworldly as the surface of Mars, there’s still Anaga’s cloud forests in the north east and the wooded cauldrons of the Teno mountains in the west waiting to be discovered.   

It was the spiky allure of Anaga and Teno rather than the higher and more famous Teide National Park that had drawn my grandma Trudi and I to Tenerife. We were intrigued by the guidebook images of these two geologically ancient ranges - their teetering ridges, wind-whittled peaks and wooded slopes cascading down into the ocean. We’d read stories of tiny, car-less hamlets tucked into remote barrancos and sheltered beaches that could only be accessed by long treks through the mountains. But there was one thing the books hadn’t warned us about: the weather.

There’s a reason why all the pictures of Anaga and Teno zing with bright green colour, and that’s because the sky opens on these isolated ranges with depressing regularity. On our first morning, ensconced in a cosy little Airbnb-sourced wood cabin in the foothills of Mount Teide, we checked the forecast and found it to be wanting. Low clouds were blanketing most of Tenerife and watering the forested peaks of Anaga. We might have given up and headed for the tourist bars of Puerto de la Cruz if it hadn’t been for the bronzed German couple breakfasting next to us.
“You’re walkers?” asked the lady.

We said that yes, we would like to be, but the weather had put a crimp in our style.
“But no, this is just low cloud cover,” she said. “When the weather is bad down here, Teide National Park is still in bright sunshine.”

Mount Teide and its surrounding national park make up a great swathe of inner Tenerife. This 3,718 volcano is still officially active, last erupting in 1909, and its sides are streaked with crusted lava trails. The desert-like landscape surrounding Teide’s towering cone is so geologically similar to the surface of Mars that it’s often used in research studies relating to the Red Planet - and criss-crossing those dusty ochre plains is a network of paths that has earned Tenerife a reputation as one of the best walking destinations in Europe.  

Blue skies and glorious views over a cloud inversion sea drew Trudi and I up to the Teide National Park for three days in a row. We scrambled up Guajara, Tenerife’s third-highest peak, weaving past vast rocky pinnacles twisted into termite mound shapes and tramping over ancient lava flows. Our boots left deep prints on the dusty earth as we rounded the bulbous sides of Montana El Cerrillar and waded through the gravelly pumice desert surrounding Montana Blanca. It was the Earth as I’d never seen it before - but the best was still to come.     

On the fourth day, the cloud rose high enough to make a journey to Anaga worthwhile. The drive to our walk’s starting point was long and arduous, passing through the bustling capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife before undulating northwards between bristly mountain peaks until it hit the coast near Taganana.

We parked in the village of Benijo and followed the coastline east. The path led us past long stretches of pristine volcanic sand and through steep-sided barrancos, passing the idyllic hamlet I’ve already waxed lyrical about before spiralling steeply up into the mountains. Wild flowers lined the path and the air was thick with the scent of herbs. It was a stiff uphill slog, and we were just beginning to gasp for breath when the laurisilva forest thinned out and we emerged on the top of Montana Tafada. The views were an assault on the senses, stretching over the Roques de Anaga, Roque Bermejo and Faro de Anaga to a distant blue horizon. The landscape around us frothed with flowers and greenery. It couldn’t have been more different from Teide but it was, in its way, just as otherworldly.  

Everybody has different ideas of their perfect mountain day. Yours might be scrambling up a rocky ridge, weaving through fragrant cloud forests or navigating the lava-choked slopes of an active volcano - but in Tenerife you don’t have to choose. This island of contrasts really does have it all.