The Canary Islands are home to some of nature’s most magnificent treasures, the national parks. These spaces are rich in both natural and cultural significance, boasting unique flora and fauna, along with captivating geological formations. They stand as environments deserving of preservation and protection.
Currently, the Canary Islands boast four of Spain’s 16 national parks. However, this count is expected to soon increase to five with the potential establishment of Spain’s first 100% marine national park on El Hierro.
Our aim is to shine a spotlight on the natural beauty of the islands by showcasing its national parks. Within each of these parks lie hidden wonders waiting to be explored. It is a collective responsibility to ensure the care and preservation of their invaluable treasures.
THE NATIONAL PARKS OF THE CANARY ISLANDS
- Teide National Park (Tenerife)
- Caldera de Taburiente National Park (La Palma)
- Garajonay National Park (La Gomera)
- Timanfaya National Park (Lanzarote)
We also anticipate the addition of a fifth national park in the near future, as the Government of the Canary Islands has proposed the establishment of a marine national park on El Hierro, further enriching the natural heritage of the region.
Teide National Park, Tenerife
Teide National Park, situated in Tenerife, reigns as the largest and oldest national park in the Canary Islands. Covering a sprawling 189.9 square kilometers, it stands as a geological marvel harboring species of flora and fauna unique to the Islands, deserving utmost care and preservation.
Within its realm, you’ll encounter iconic plant life such as the Teide violet and the towering red tajinaste, a plant reaching impressive heights of three meters. But it’s not just the flora; Teide National Park houses exclusive insect species, distinctive reptiles like the black-headed lizard and perenquen, and endemic avian wonders like the blue chaffinch.
The park’s geological formations further elevate its status among the Canary Islands’ national parks. Volcanic cones and petrified lava flows create a breathtaking landscape adorned with a diverse palette of colors and shapes surrounding the majestic Teide, Spain’s highest peak at 3,715 meters above sea level, as officially recognized by the National Geographic Institute.
Teide and Las Cañadas hold historical significance, particularly for the Guanches who revered Teide as Echeyde, a sacred mountain. It serves as a treasure trove of the history of the aboriginal Canary Islanders, boasting numerous archaeological sites.
Over the years, Teide National Park has earned recognition, being declared a National Park in 1954, receiving the European Diploma for Conservation in 1989, and securing UNESCO World Heritage status in 2007.
Visitors can explore the park through a network of trails, discover its wonders, and should refrain from collecting natural elements like stones or vegetation to protect the environment and preserve its natural wealth.
Caldera de Taburiente National Park, La Palma
Caldera de Taburiente, located on La Palma, stands as the second national park in the islands, designated in 1954, right after Teide National Park. Additionally, since 2002, it has enjoyed the status of a World Biosphere Reserve, encompassing the entire island of La Palma.
The island of La Palma, known as La Isla Bonita, hides a multitude of geological and biological treasures, with Caldera de Taburiente being a prominent symbol of its natural beauty.
Caldera de Taburiente boasts an enormous volcanic depression resembling a caldera with an 8-kilometer-wide cirque of peaks. The highest point is Roque de los Muchachos, soaring to 2,426 meters above sea level.
At 2,396 meters, you’ll find the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, renowned for its optimal astronomical research conditions, thanks to La Palma’s pristine skies. It hosts the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope.
The park holds significant geomorphological value, shaped by volcanic eruptions, landslides, and the erosive force of water, creating a rugged landscape with some of La Palma’s oldest lava. A network of streams, diverse plant species, and captivating geological formations further highlight its importance among the islands’ national parks.
Within this idyllic setting lies the Cascada de Los Colores, a semi-natural, multicolored waterfall born in the 1960s when water from Caldera de Taburiente needed containment. Over time, its yellow and orange hues from iron deposits blended with the green of moss and the black of volcanic stone, creating a captivating attraction for tourists and locals alike.
Explore the area through excursions, visit the El Paso visitor center, or admire the landscape from the La Cumbrecita viewpoint.
Garajonay National Park, La Gomera
The Canary Islands boast the finest representation of laurel forest within the 40 square kilometers of Garajonay National Park on La Gomera. This park earned its national park status in 1981 and the UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1986.
The Canarian laurel forest, also known as laurel forest or temperate rainforest, is an awe-inspiring environment, thriving with lush greenery. To truly grasp its magic, you must immerse yourself in the rustling leaves of these unique flora and fauna, exclusive to this habitat.
Garajonay houses a variety of plant species, including laurel, lichen, heather, willows, vinatigo, faya, and wild orange trees. Its hallmark is the enveloping mist, creating a humid atmosphere ideal for preserving laurisilva, making it one of Spain’s most distinct and emblematic forests.
The park’s unique features encompass a diversity of plant formations, endemic species, and geological formations characteristic of the Fortunate Islands, including the Natural Monument of Los Roques.
Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote
Nestled in the municipalities of Yaiza and Tinajo on Lanzarote, Timanfaya National Park earned its designation in 1974. It stands as the only national park in Spain’s network primarily defined by its geological character and is also recognized as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This volcanic park boasts over 25 volcanoes, with iconic peaks like Montaña de Timanfaya, Montaña Rajada, Caldera del Corazoncillo, Volcán Nuevo del Fuego, and Volcán del Chinero, as well as Calderas Quemadas. While the last eruptions occurred in 1824, there is still volcanic activity evident in some hot spots reaching temperatures between 100 and 120°C at the surface and 600°C at deeper levels.
Timanfaya is renowned for its rugged landscapes, predominantly adorned with black and reddish tones of lapillis and basaltic lava sands. The unique lichen, capable of adapting to diverse environments, stands out among the diverse flora. Moreover, Timanfaya houses one of the three modules of the Lanzarote Geodynamic Laboratory, dedicated to studying this potentially active area of the Earth.
Visitors can explore the park, starting from the Mancha Blanca Visitor Center, offering an intriguing view of Timanfaya National Park. Don’t miss the Fire Mountains, where geothermal demonstrations and the Route of the Volcanoes offer unforgettable experiences. Lastly, consider a camel ride from Echadero de Los Camellos for an entertaining touch.
When visiting these magnificent national parks in the Canary Islands, it is vital to remember the importance of preserving these environments. Avoid extracting plants or minerals and refrain from disturbing elements of the environment to maintain their natural state and charm.
El Hierro National Marine Park
The southern waters of El Hierro, designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2000, are an ideal area for establishing a marine sanctuary to safeguard its natural values.
Efforts are underway to declare Spain’s first 100% marine national park in the Mar de Las Calmas. This proposal was presented to the Council of the National Parks Network by the Canary Islands Government. If established, it would be the fifth national park in the Canary Islands archipelago.
Since 1996, El Hierro has housed the La Restinga-Mar de las Calmas Marine Reserve, a 1,180-hectare underwater haven hosting unique species alongside oceanic giants like turtles, sharks, dolphins, and beaked whales.
Currently, Spain has protected 10% of its marine areas, with a goal of reaching 30% by 2030, known as the 30-30 target. El Hierro’s ecological
riches make it an ideal candidate for conservation, further expanding the marine protected area (MPA) with the establishment of the El Hierro National Marine Park.
Understanding the Differences Between National Parks, Nature Parks, and Biosphere
Reserves National parks in the Canary Islands are celebrated as remarkable natural wonders and elevate the region to the status of having the most national park areas in Spain. However, it’s essential to discern the unique characteristics of these areas and differentiate them from other classifications like nature parks and biosphere reserves.
National Park: A national park is a natural space of exceptional natural and cultural value, relatively untouched by human activity. It is deemed representative of Spain’s natural heritage and is considered to be of general national interest. National parks must fulfill specific criteria, such as representing the natural system to which they belong, having sufficient surface area for natural evolution, and maintaining natural conditions and ecological functionality. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food, and Environment oversees these areas.
Spain boasts 16 national parks, including the four in the Canary Islands. They serve as vital ecological and cultural treasures deserving of heightened conservation efforts.
Nature Park: Nature parks, in contrast, are managed by the Autonomous Communities in which they are located and do not have direct oversight from the national government. These areas have been minimally altered by human activities and habitation and are recognized for their breathtaking landscapes, deserving special attention for protection and conservation. While they may not meet all the criteria for national park status, their unique ecosystems of flora and fauna make them areas of significant ecological, aesthetic, educational, and scientific value.
Biosphere Reserve: Biosphere reserves are designated by UNESCO based on proposals from different Member States. Their primary goal is to promote sustainable development and raise awareness about the responsible use of natural resources. These reserves can encompass terrestrial or coastal ecosystems and serve three main functions: conserving landscapes, ecosystems, and species; facilitating sustainable economic and human development with ecological and socio-cultural considerations; and supporting research, demonstration, and educational projects related to the environment and sustainable development.
Unlike national parks, biosphere reserves are not entirely dedicated to conservation. They represent a broader concept where human activities can coexist within specific parameters while preserving the environment and its unique features.
Without a doubt, the national parks of the Canary Islands showcase nature’s grandeur and embody the responsibility of conserving and protecting these exceptional landscapes. Each park has its own unique charm, be it the geological wonders of Teide, the awe-inspiring Caldera de Taburiente, the lush laurel forest of Garajonay, the volcanic landscapes of Timanfaya, or the potential El Hierro National Marine Park. Understanding these distinctions helps us appreciate and preserve these invaluable natural treasures.