There is a moment watching stars when you suddenly get it. I remember a summer, lying on my back in the cool night grass, and feeling that nothing could be more important then finding a way to touch those fiery distant lights. But I never did build that rocket ship, and somewhere along the line I stopped looking up. Not anymore. The night is rising over Mount Teide National Park in Tenerife – one of the best places in Europe for stargazing – and I’m here to find that feeling again.
Neil Armstrong once described the Teide landscape as the closest thing to the lunar landscape that he’d ever seen, and it’s easy to see why: near continuous volcanic activity has left an otherworldly quality here, a frozen violence too wild and raw to be of this earth. I pass endemic spring flowers, shoulder high, alien red Bugloss cones and fragile Teide Daisies somehow finding root among the black volcanic Lapilli dust and Scoria scree that textures my every step. And in the centre of the park, ever present in my view, is the still active summit cone of Mount Teide itself – smoking more than 5,000-feet above this high plateau. It is a landscape as big as myth, a place too dramatic to be real. I pass a gaggle of ancient warriors bedecked in maroon tunics with swords and dusty shields, extras on a break from shooting the latest ‘Clash of the Titans’ movie, and not one of them looks out of place, only the cans of Coke and baguettes in their hands.
As night falls I meet my star-guide Yolanda Afonso. She points out patterns in moonlit darkness, explaining the archaeological history of constellations I’d hardly noticed before. She tells me how the Mayans would run from the coast as the Draco constellation descended to the sea, and how this helped them escape the wrath of seasonal hurricanes. She shows me how each season has it’s own stellar geometrical shape, and explains how the movement of these was used to monitor the planting and harvesting of crops.
Later, with the park empty, I climb the Roques de Garcia at the base of Mount Teide and find a perfect seat sculpted in the stone. The moonlight etches soft chalk lines across the valley far below, the night deepens and stars flood the sky. And for just a second, I realise that we are – right now – moving through space at over 60,000mph. We are one of trillions of possible worlds orbiting one of billions of possible suns. This is really happening. And it makes us seem frighteningly small. But it also makes us part of something incomprehensibly large. The stars make children of us all. And for just that second, I get it again.
Parador de Las Canadas del Teide is the only place to stay in the Teide National park itself. The rooms are comfortable, simple and reasonably priced. Best of all, after sunset you’ll have the entire park completely to yourself. If you like stargazing this is the place to go. I’d also highly recommend it for a night or so as part of a longer trip around Tenerife. They offer a free stargazing session on Friday nights – but check first and make sure to book it in.
Teide Astro offer regular stargazing sessions in the Teide National Park … most of them are in Spanish but if you book ahead they will organise an English speaking guide for you. The full package includes dinner and sunset but the actual astronomy part lasts about an hour. I found it really interesting and a great introduction to heading out on my own later on …
It’s really easy to walk in independently in the Teide National Park – there are loads of clearly marked trails, and the scenery is stunning. But if you feel more comfortable taking a guide try Teno Activo – they’re a small local company, the love and care for their island and have excellent English speaking guides.