A wonderland in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean
North of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital, and a short drive from the historic San Cristobal de la Laguna lies a cool oasis of greenery: the Macizo de Anaga, a protected natural area and an incredible playground for hikers and lovers of wild landscapes.
Tenerife Forest: never one to rest on its laurels
Occupying the vast majority of the mountain range, Anaga Rural Park contains some of the last remnants of laurisilva (or laurissilva) forest, one of the primary forests that covered the entirety of Europe’s Mediterranean basin during the Tertiary Period. A genuine prehistoric gem! The forest has deep soils and is typically north-facing, with a tangle of laurel trees and huge heathers, ferns, mosses and lichens. Just as breathtaking, geological formations sprout from this lush vegetation: needles, cliffs, steep ravines, eroded former volcanic pipes (roques) and sheet-like bodies of igneous rock (dykes) that originally cut through two masses of rock and now, due to erosion, look like walls. And to put the finishing touches to the scenery, the moisture-laden trade winds often shroud the Anaga mountains in fog, giving the forest its enchanting and mysterious aura.
A biosphere sanctuary
Anaga is such a biodiverse nature reserve that it was added to the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2015. Because of its rugged terrain and wide variety of microclimates, the park contains incredibly diverse natural habitats. As such, it is home to the highest concentration of endemic species in Europe. No less than 800 unique species of flora and fauna have been recorded in its skies, waters, the shade of its dense laurel forest and its sparsely vegetated mountain peaks. They include the Canary Island spurge, Phoenician Juniper and must-see dragon trees perched on inaccessible rocks. As for wildlife, there are hundreds of endemic invertebrates and reptiles, such as the aptly named Tenerife lizard. You can also spot a host of birds there: over 200 species fly over the island each year.
The Macizo de Anaga: a hiking paradise
Walking is probably the best way to appreciate all the natural wonders Anaga Rural Park has to offer. Countless hiking trails crisscross the park, taking you from one end to the other and from the lowest valleys to the highest peaks. With walks ranging from a couple of hours to a full day, there is something for everyone, no matter their ability. The best place to decide where to go is at Cruz del Carmen, a must-see visitor centre before any hike. Take a leisurely stroll along El Bosque Encantado hiking path in the protected El Pijaral zone, surrounded by the primary forest and enjoy stunning views from the Mirador Cabezo del Tejo observation deck. Or follow a circular route from the hamlet of Chamorga via the village of Roque Bermejo. As you walk, take in the agaves, prickly pears, palm trees, dragon trees and views of the famous Roques d’Anaga, two monolithic rocks that emerge from the ocean off the eastern end of Anaga. Or how about embarking on a more challenging hike between Afur and Taganana that takes you along a superb mountainside path with ocean views? Along the route, a valley at the foot of the cliffs takes you to the unspoiled black sand beach of Tamadiste. Although the weather and temperature can quickly deteriorate, rest assured the sun always breaks through. That’s what makes these incredible excursions in Anaga so magical. You just have to be well equipped : a thick jumper and rain coat in one bag and a swimsuit and sun cream in another.
As an alternative or additional activity…
… you can explore the peaks by car or on the“guagua”, the local bus. Starting in San Cristobal de La Laguna, the (very) winding route crosses the mountain range, taking you to high altitudes and revealing colourful panoramic views. A series of hairpin bends leads to the peak of Monte de las Mercedes and on to the Pico del Inglès at an altitude of 960 metres. On clear days, the views are breathtaking: the sea all around you, Santa Cruz below, and, in the distance, all 3,715 metres of Mount Teide.
Of Villages and Men
Why do we talk about “Anaga Rural Park” rather than “Anaga Nature Park”? Because, in addition to protecting and promoting its nature, the park also focuses on preserving the few villages and hamlets nestled in the Anaga mountain range. Explore these 26 villages and hamlets, picturesque clusters of houses clinging to the mountain with unique architecture, meet their inhabitants and discover the traditions they have preserved. They are mainly agricultural communities, divided between vines and orchards, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams.
North to South
In the north, Taganana, with its white houses scattered across the mountainside and steep streets, is one of the most picturesque hamlets in Anaga. At its foot, down towards the coast, lies the pretty Playa de Benijo. In the south, don’t miss San Andrés, one of the oldest settlements on the Canary Islands with the unmissable Playa de Las Teresitas, one of the only golden sand beaches in Tenerife, a stone’s throw from Santa Cruz.
Photos credits : © Istock
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