The day I watched the sun rise from the highest peak in Spain

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

One of the many reasons I love to return home to Tenerife is to decompress from the 24-hour buzz of life in London and reconnect with nature. Sure, the city has plenty of beautiful parks I love – but there’s nothing that really compares to a 3-4 hour hike in the mountains or even a 1-hour stroll along a sunny coast.

In the heart of the Tenerife, lies El Teide, which at 3718 M (roughly 12,198 feet) above sea level is the highest point in Spain and also the 3rd highest volcano in the World as measured from its base on the Atlantic floor (right after Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in Hawaii). You might be surprised to read that El Teide is still active – with its most recent eruption as late as 1909.

After a few months of regular training, I was ready to take on a new challenge: climbing Mount Teide to watch the sunrise from the highest peak in Spain.

First Section – From Montaña Blanca to the Base

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Our path began at roughly 4:00 PM the afternoon before at the car park located on km 40.3 of the TF-21 road. The track is a very easy walk that offers impressive views of the volcano and its surroundings – largely covered with pumice (a light coloured volcanic rock). After about 30 minutes, we reached a set of volcanic bombs known as the Huevos del Teide. These solidified lava balls rolled down the mountain side from the front of advancing lava flows during the volcanic eruptions.

45 minutes later, we arrived at the bottom or base of the volcano itself – where the real adventure began!

Second Section – From the Base to Refugio Altavista

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

The road we had been following throughout the past 5KM turned into a steep, narrow and rocky path (Route 7 – La Rambleta).

The ascent from the base (at roughly 2700 M) to Refugio Altavista (at 3260 M) is short in distance, but quite tough because of its slope (almost 600 M hight in roughly 2 KM). With each step, I noticed the increasing lack of oxygen – What would normally take me 30 minutes to hike, took almost double the time.

Occasionally, we were overtaken by some super-humans who probably spent every one of their holidays racing up and down volcanoes. I wasn’t there to compete though – so I walked my own pace to allow my body to adjust to the height and avoid running out of breath.

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Roughly two hours on, we arrived at what would be our accommodation (Refugio Altavista) – right on time to quickly freshen up before watching the sun set over the mountains.

The Refugio Altavista consists of two buildings with a capacity of 54 people. Everybody staying in the refuge had one common goal – to reach the crater before sunrise! For this reason, the maximum stay is one night only and you asked to leave the Refuge before 8:00 AM (who stays until that late anyway?).

I was in bed by 9:45 PM.

Note: The panoramic picture above is the view from the refugio – showing the shadow of the volcano.

Third Section – From Refugio Altavista to the Crater

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

I didn’t sleep much that night. I’m not sure if it was the excitement, the altitude or the snoring (or maybe a combination of all three) – but time flew and it felt like only minutes had passed when I started to hear the first early-risers getting ready for the big climb. At 5:15 AM I slowly climbed down my bunk bed, put on my headlamp and packed my backpack.

At 6:00 AM, after a light breakfast and a strong coffee, it was time to go!

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

Starting at over 3200 M above sea level and having another 500 M height difference ahead of us, we calculated we’d need one and a half hours to reach the summit. I thought I’d have a tough time getting up early to go out for a challenging hike in the dark, but I was wrong – I felt like a kid on a very important mission.

The wind had picked up a bit, which made the walk in the dark even more interesting. Every now and then I could catch a flickering headlamp and hear low voices drifting from above. Sometimes, I stopped to look back just to confirm that I indeed wasn’t alone up there. 

When the sun began to rise, I was still a short walk away from the summit. I had to stop for a picture, though – the panoramic view was breathtaking.

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

One final push and I reached the summit on time for the grand opening!

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

My hands were trembling (it was cold!) and my heart felt like it was going to pack up and leave. While I attempted to recover my breath, I explored the rest of the summit and found the the other side of the sunrise – the shadow of the volcano.

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

The skies began to transcend from pink to yellow. Some hikers (probably those with another long day of adventure ahead of them) began their descend. Others (me included) didn’t really want to leave at all. I could have stayed all day, if it wasn’t for the strong smell of sulphur!

Sunrise from the highest peak in Spain (Teide, Tenerife)

Fourth Section – from the Crater to the Cable car

It was only once we began to descend the crater that I could fully appreciate the lunar landscape. The trip down wasn’t easy as there was plenty of loose rock and gravel – another perfect excuse to stop to take photos.

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Many hikers (me included) took the easier way back down the volcano by getting on the cable car. The first one runs at 9:00 AM, which gave me some more extra time to capture the rocky landscape.

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Too soon, it was 9:00 AM and we hopped on the cable car together with another 20 glowing hikers – all of us sharing photos and experiences of that crazy time we watched the sun rise from the highest peak in Spain.

Hiking Montaña Blanca - Teide (Tenerife, Spain)

Note: while a number of enthusiastic hikers challenge themselves to reach the crater before sunrise, this is far from being the only way to go. From the Upper Station of the cable car, Route No. 10 (Telesforo Bravo) also leads to the summit. This hike, while still challenging because of the altitude and the loose rocks and gravel, is much shorter! Remember: you will need a permit to access the crater during daytime (you can request the permit here). 

Practical Information

Route: Montaña Blanca – Pico del Teide
Elevation gain uphill: 1450 m approx.
Elevation gain downhill: 170 m approx.
Length: around 12 km
Duration: from Montaña Blanca to the Refugio Altavista, around 2.5 to 3.5 hrs // from Refugio Altavista to the summit between 1.5 and 2.5 hrs (depends on how you cope with altitude).
Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult (depends on your shoes and condition)
Wikiloc: Ruta Montaña Blanca-Pico Teide (does not include the descend to the cable car)
Accommodation link: Refugio Altavista

Click here to go to all my hiking adventures.


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30 thoughts on “The day I watched the sun rise from the highest peak in Spain

  1. Hi Kate i was wondering what languages you speak and also whether you had been to La Gomera as i have a friend there and it is a beautiful place (also in the Canary islands)

  2. Sounds like a fantastic adventure! Good for you! I’m pretty sure I’ll never get to do it, but it sure is a pleasure to read about it and seeing all the beautiful photos!

  3. What an adventure! The pictures are beautiful. I love hiking and fortunately we live near mountains, unfortunately we don’t go on near as many hikes as I would like. I enjoyed reading about your adventure, I would love to experience that for myself one day.

    Thank you for linking up for Social Saturday last week, I’d love to have to participate again!

  4. I have tp add my “wow” and “beautiful” in with the rest of them! Did you do this route self-guided or were you with some sort of group? I would love to do this!

  5. Hopping on over from the link up! Wow!!! What an amazing adventure! And a gorgeous gorgeous sunrise! I haven’t hiked in a long time, I sure miss it. It would be so cool to hike a volcano.

  6. Holy wow. This is absolutely amazing. I must say, you’re pictures just made me add this to My Bucket List. That first panoramic shot. I mean, holy wow.

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