Hiking Mount Teide for sunrise – on Spain’s highest mountain

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At 5 am, several alarms beep and jingle and shafts of light tremble through the room, until finally someone turns on the ceiling light. The air in the large dormitory is smelly, but the Refugio Altavista is the only accommodation near the peak of Mt Teide, Spain’s highest mountain. Almost everyone sleeping here is going to hiking Mount Teide. Except perhaps for a few who may have been up there yesterday.

At 3718 m, Mount Teide is not only Spain’s highest mountain but also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. It is also the centre of a protected national park. There’s a cable car leading up to about 3500 m, but the number of daily visitors to the peak is strictly limited in order to protect the crater area from mass tourism in the face of its easy accessibility. We also visited the old town of San Cristobal de la Lagune, Tenerifes second UNESCO site.

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When we tried to apply for the necessary permit a couple of weeks before our visit to the Canary Island of Tenerife, all slots were already booked. Presumably by tour operators who reserve them well in advance, we found out later. The only other option to climbing Mount Teide is staying at the Refugio Altavista. This way it is possible to pass the control point before the official opening time at 9 am. In that case you don’t need a permit (the gate is always open).

In the evening, the around 50 people staying in the hut had already discussed the options: Most were planning to reach the summit for sunrise, just before 8 am. Guidebooks advise to start 2 hours earlier to make it to the top in time in the darkness and thin air,

An early start

At 5.20 am, most hikers have already left, nervous not to miss the sunrise. When we get our backpacks from the now-empty dormitory, a wiry shadow hops towards the door, turns off the light and hisses “I can’t sleeeeeep! Close the doooor!” Only a few seconds later, when we have already left the room again, we realize that he didn’t wear any underpants …

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Anything before 6 am is too cold and unpleasant to be on a winter mountain – it is pitch-dark and several degrees below zero, with an icy wind blowing over the rocks. In spite of walking rather fast and upwards – it’s 500 altitude meters from the hut to the peak, after all – our hands and feet are freezing when we reach the summit, and we are glad that we didn’t leave too early: The horizon is already orange, and we only have to shiver for another 10 minutes or so before the sun goes up, sending Mt Teide’s own shadow in the clouds behind us.

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A few more glances at the panoramic view below us, and we hurry back down to the mountain hut, have some breakfast shielded from the cold wind, and descend to the 2000 m plateau where we can have more coffee, cheese sandwiches and cake before we finally catch a bus back into civilization.

Is Mount Teide worth climbing?

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As it is Spain’s highest mountain and not difficult to climb the main counter-argument may be the logistic difficulty of getting a permit. The hiking path, like on any volcano, lacks diversity, but it’s easy to hike and the view from the top is impressive. Personally we can’t really confirm that climbing the peak especially for sunrise is worth it, though.

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How to climb the peak of Mt Teide

In order to walk up from the surrounding plateau, you should be reasonably fit and have proper Alpine hiking equipment (high boots, sticks, layers of clothing). Technically, however, Mt Teide is not difficult, and no mountaineering experience is necessary. Considering the thin air, it is important to drink a lot and not to walk too fast. Taking an Aspirin may help the blood to circulate.

There one a single bus connection per day to the starting point of the hike from Los Christianos in the south, and one from Puerto de la Cruz in the north.
In winter you might encounter some snow, but even then hiking to the top should be possible. When we hiked in the middle of December there was no snow at all, but a few days later heavy snowfall set in.

Using the ropeway makes the access to the peak even easier, but obviously it also reduces the achievement.

We also did a superb one week hiking trip on the Canary island of El Hierro and some hiking on Gran Canaria. On Gran Canaria you can combine hiking and sightseeing.

Have you been on top of Mt Teide? How was your experience?

NB: We were not sponsored in any way for this trip and paid all expenses.

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11 Comments

  1. Fantastic views and landscapes! We’ve been toying with the idea of visiting Tenerife for a weekend to climb Mt Teide as the flights from Scotland are really cheap outside of the peak season. How long did it take you to climb to the summit and back down?

  2. We think it should be possible in one day: Hiking up to the peak from the parking / bus stop (about 2100 m) might take 5 to 6 hours, so it’s maybe 12 to 14 in total, including breaks, and a rather demanding day. The main difficulty is logistics, as you need to get a permit (https://www.reservasparquesnacionales.es/real/ParquesNac/usu/html/detalle-actividad-oapn.aspx?ii=6ENG&cen=2&act=1) for a convenient midday slot. You can either rent a car and drive up in the morning and back after the hike (an even longer day), or stay in the (somewhat pricey) Parador Hotel in the National Park. By bus, you only arrive at the start of the hike at 10 am and will have to take the cable car down to make it in time for the bus back.
    If you don’t get a permit for the peak, the two-day hike overnighting in the Refugio Alta Vista (as we did) is still an option and perfectly doable over a weekend.

  3. I realise this post is over a year old. It may be that the bus from Puerto de la Cruz arrives at Montana Blanca [the start of the walk] at 10 am, but the bus from Los Cristianos arrives at about 11 am. In our view, this doesn’t leave enough time to get to the summit and walk back down to the top cable car station in time to catch the last cable car down at 5.00 pm.

  4. The early morning wake up call I am sure was rough, but so worth it for that view!! Also the cold…my goodness good for you! I love hiking, but definitely would find myself doing this for sunset instead!

    1. Dear Sophie, sunset is also great I think. But to hike up the mountain for sunset you would need one of the limited permits. Permits are checked during the day. If you hike before sunrise, you can just walk up the mountain.

  5. Wow, I wouldn’t be able to do what you did. 12-14 hour day or even 5-6 hours hike is bad enough. Trying to do it in freezing cold, waking up so early I can’t do!

  6. Kudos to you for taking an early morning hike! I’m not a morning person at all and the sunrise hike in Bali took so much effort for me. But yeah, as long as the final views are rewarding, it’s all worth it in the end. Looks like a great hike!

    1. Dear Medha Verma, we are not morning persons either, but getting up early was the only possibility to do this hike as all the day permits were gone.

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