Tempting though it is to stay by the pool, take time out from sunbathing to explore the volcanic landscape of Mount Teide National Park.

 The cone-shaped summit of Mount Teide is the iconic symbol of Tenerife, visible from all corners of the island and easily accessible from the beach resorts. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch great views of the upper slopes rising above the clouds as you fly in.

At a lofty 3718 meters, Teide is Spain’s highest mountain, but it’s also ranked by geographers as the third highest peak in the world, a volcanic island whose base is 4000 meters beneath the sea bed. Only two volcanoes in Hawaii can top it.

Hire a car or take one of the many guided coach trips that visit the crater each day.  And don’t worry if you can’t see the top when you set out. Teide’s upper slopes are often shrouded in a ring of cloud that provides vital moisture for the indigenous Canarian Pine trees beneath. From the coast, the summit can be hidden, but drive through the cloud layer and you’ll almost certainly emerge to brilliant sunshine and blue skies.

Changing vegetation

I wound my way up the long series of hairpin bends from the south coast resorts. The drive to the crater takes around half an hour so if you suffer from motion sickness, you might actually prefer the pool option, but you’ll be missing a treat.

The road passes through Vilaflor, Spain’s highest village, where I explored the twin churches and relaxed over a coffee in the village square. As the road climbs, so banana plantations on the lower slopes give way to vineyards and curious domed bushes, perfectly designed for poor soil and strong winds.

The temperature drops as you enter the pine forest ‘crown’ and head into the cloud belt where black tree trunks are testimony to the forest fires which consume the fallen needles but rarely penetrate the protective bark. More zig-zags and eventually you come out of the clouds and into the moonscape of the volcanic crater which measures 16km across.

A triangular-shaped island, Tenerife was originally three volcanic islands which – to hugely simplify millions of years of geology – eventually joined together. Mount Teide as we see it today and the crater of Las Cañadas, was created when a much larger volcano collapsed and slid towards the sea. And that’s all you really know to appreciate this extraordinary landscape of solidified lava and volcanic peaks that come in shades ranging from russet and orange to chestnut, dark brown, and black.

Dizzy heights

The main road that runs through the eastern side of the crater affords an ever-changing perspective on the peak. Tour buses all stop at the Roques de Garcia and so should you – park by the visitor center and walk to the viewing terrace beneath the pinnacles for sweeping views in every direction.

A short way beyond the Garcia rocks, you can catch a cable car that takes you to within 200 meters of the summit. If you want to hike the final section to Spain’s highest point, you’ll need to apply for a permit from the National Parks office in Santa Cruz, an initiative that keeps daily numbers to acceptable levels. Time your climb right and, on a clear day, it’s possible to see the silhouettes of all six Canary Islands.

Then either return the same way or take the main road to the north coast, which passes through more lava forms, ranging from coarse sand to craggy clinker.  Each one dates from a different eruption, the last one taking place more than 200 years ago.

Canarian traditions

The route north drops down through the banana plantations of the Oratava Valley towards the holiday resort of Puerto de la Cruz, but stop off en route at La Orotava, just a few miles inland. This attractive town clings to a steep slope and can be a tad touristy at peak times, but is still well worth a visit for its carved wooden balconies, picturesque streets and well-stocked craft shops.