Parks in the Canary Islands. Of the 14 National Parks that exist today in Spain, four are located on these famous Spanish Islands.
In the Atlantic Ocean, barely 59 miles (95km) from the African coast and 590 miles (950km) from Cape San Vicente on the southwest coast of mainland Spain, you will find the archipelago known as the Canary Islands. These seven islands form one of the 17 autonomous communities that make up Spain with a population of 2.2 million inhabitants or 4.5% of the total Spanish population while its area occupies only 1.5% of the area (2875 sq mi or 7447 sq km) that comprises the country. Thanks to its isolated location in the Atlantic Ocean, its geographic characteristics and its volcanic origin, these small group of islands feature a unique set of bioclimatic conditions. This autonomous community is a treasure trove housing a large number of native species of plants and animals as well as other special natural elements help make this an ideal tourist destination for the curious and adventurous traveler.
It should not be a surprise to discover that of the 14 National Parks that exist today in Spain, four are located here: Teide, Timanfaya, Garajonay and the Caldera of Taburiente. These parks occupy the first, third, fifth and seventh places in the ranking of annual visitors of Spanish park system. We will briefly look at each of these four parks which are ordered from west to east.
Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente
This park is located in the heart of the island of La Palma and is located in the remains of a volcanic caldera that resulted when the top of the volcano collapsed upon itself 2 million years ago. The crater that formed has its floor between 2000 and 3000 feet in elevation (600 to 900m) with the surrounding walls reaching as high as 7960 ft (2426m) above sea level at the Roque de los Muchachos (Kids' Rock), which is also home to a very important astronomical observatory.
This park is also a World Biosphere Reserve since 2002 and is closed to all traffic. There are many hiking paths that cross the park permitting lovers of hiking to take different routes so that they can enjoy different experiences in this exceptional natural environment rich in hydrographic resources which can be seen on display through the numerous springs, brooks and waterfalls located in the park. The Salto de la Desfondada waterfall is an example of how these resources maintain a wealth of plant life among the laurel forests, Canary Island pines, heather and Persea indica. You will also find diverse and unique fauna—especially invertebrates—among which you will find native creatures like the blind albino beetle which can only be found in certain caves along the caldera. On the exterior rim of the caldera, near the town of El Paso, there is a visitor center where the interested can find all the information they want about the park.
Parque Nacional de Garajonay
In the center of the conically shaped island of La Gomera we will find this national park which owes its name to a legend involving a local Guanche (the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands) Princess, Gara, and Tenerifan prince, Jonay. These two fell in love against the will of their respective families and ended up committing suicide together by jumping off the Roque Blanco, the highest point on the island. This love story would fuel the imagination of many and is suspiciously comparable to a story written centuries later by William Shakespeare in his story, Romeo and Juliet.
Garajonay Park was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 1986 and has become an important attraction for those wanting to explore the finest remaining example of laurisilva or laurel forest, a sub tropical forest with high humidity and stable, mild temperatures. This type of forest is also home to the perennial plant species that covered Europe between the Paleogene and Neogene Periods and can now be found only in a few corners of the archipelago. Of the characteristics that make this national park special, there is the large quantity of native flora and fauna (150 species of unique invertebrates) that can be found here. There are also examples of gigantism which are unique to this area where we can see some plant species grow to be much larger than normal like tree heath which can grow as much as 65ft (20m) high or 4 times its normal size. In 2012, there was a wildfire on the island of La Gomera which reached the park and affected an area inhabited by Canary Island pine. Fortunately, this native plant is able to survive forest fires by letting its bark burn off while maintaining is trunk alive. Perhaps this tree adapted to these conditions since it survived until now in a volcanic environment. Today, this fire is only a memory and the park's verdant color has since returned.
Parque Nacional del Teide
This is the most visited park in Spain with an average of more than three million visitors per year. Located in the center of the island of Tenerife, this park also possesses the highest peak in the island chain as well as mainland Spain—Teide peak towers 12,200 feet (3718m) above sea level. El Teide is the third largest volcano in the world from the sea floor to the top of its peak behind Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, both of which are located in Hawaii. This park was also named a World Heritage Site in 2007.
For the Guanches, this area was very important for higher altitude cattle grazing during the summer and because of this, there are archeological sites sprinkled across the area that have been found. For the Guanche people, Teide, or Echyde in the native language, was the dwelling of Guayota, an evil deity that kidnapped the sun god, Magec. Magec was held captive in the interior of the volcano which brought darkness over the island. The aborigines called on Achamán, the supreme god of the sky who defeated Guayota and imprisoned him within Teide while freeing Magec. The legendary Echeyde has remained dormant for centuries, experiencing its last eruption in 1798.
The characteristics of this landscape are analogous with that of the planet Mars. This has made Teide an ideal location for NASA and the ESA (European Space Agency) to try out instruments and apparatuses destined for use on the Red Planet.
Accessible by different roads, there are two information centers available to visitors: El Portillo to the north and Roques de García in the southwest. Visiting Teide will offer the visitor the possibility to experience firsthand the powers behind the formation of the Earth, the unstoppable power of lava and the capacity for life to exist in some of the most remote and inhospitable places. Going to the top of Teide is a challenge for hikers, however there is a cable car that leaves us just 500ft. (150m) from the summit making the trek easier for most visitors. Plant species like the Mount Teide bugloss, a spectacular native species that flowers once every two years, the Teide violet and other examples of native flora and fauna guarantee the visitor memories to last a lifetime.
Parque Nacional de Timanfaya
On the island of Lanzarote between the towns of Yaiza and Tinajo you will find this park. The eastern most of the four parks, this park was declared a Biosphere Reserve along with the entire island of Lanzarote in 1993. Within the park one can feel the heat emanating from under the ground. This heat is so close to the surface that the park's visitor's center—which is closed to private vehicles—has a large grill where food is prepared using the heat generated from underground. The temperature just 46ft (14m) below the surface reaches up to 1112ºF (600ºC) and with these temperatures a visitor can hold handful of dry grass and sticks over a crack in the Earth and will see how it begins to burn immediately due to the heat that is rising from below. Another experiment that shows just how hot it is below is accomplished by emptying a pail of water into a tube that has been placed in the ground; seconds after emptying the water into the tube a geyser of water and steam is shot up as a result of the extreme heat that is found below.
This national park allows us to contemplate a world in constant formation, surrounded by surprising landscapes like La Geria and the lava fields that inspired César Manrique, the most influential artist/architect/ecologist in the history of the Canary Islands. One visit to this park on the back of a dromedary is an experience that will not only be unforgettable but will also make you want to come back for more.