Having recently climbed to the top of a volcano (Mount Teide in Tenerife, Canary Islands), I was curious about lava flows. So when I heard that Tenerife had tours of the longest lava tube cave outside of Hawaii, I signed up immediately. The lava cave on the island of Tenerife is called Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind). It has over 17 km of passages mapped and there’s more to explore!
Lava tubes are an exceptional earth formation. They are the caves and tunnels in which lava once flowed. It seems that volcanic eruptions not only create the big crater on top of the volcano that is the typical image, they also explode out to the side of mountains. This forms outlets to the side that can eventually cool off, dry out, and empty out and become lava caves.
Cueva del Viento (Cave of the Wind) lies just outside Icod de los Vinos, the same town which has the famous Dragon Tree (Drago) that is 1000 years old.
Cueva del Viento, is the fifth largest lava tube in the world and the largest lava tube in the Europe, the first four are all located in the Hawaiian Islands. The lava cave is comprised of a three layered system of galleries with a total length of 17 km.
We booked the 12:30 p.m tour. Access to the volcanic tube is restricted to four tours per day and limited to 16 people to protect the ecosystem. They don’t allow you to take backpacks or purses into the cave so we left them behind. I stuffed my pockets with my camera and a bottle of water.
Before we set off we listened to brief talk and watch a video. Each person was given a helmet with head lights, and a bright yellow cap. The lava tube was sculpted by the eruption of the Pico Viejo, which is the volcanic peak which rises close to El Teide in the Teide National Park.
Our group climb aboard a mini bus and after a short 10 minute drive we were dropped off at the beginning of a clearing on the forest road.
We started our 30 minute walk through a wooded area of Canary Pines, and learned to identify different types of lava, and our guide talked about the plant life around us.
The guild told us the story of how the cave was first discovered, a lady fell through the hole. We gather around a grating in the middle of the woods, which protects the entrance to a chasm which we lean over to see falling away into the bowels of the earth. This isn’t the entrance though.
The entrance, when we arrive, was surprising and not your typical showy, touristy place I thought it might be. We descended through a gap opening in the earth, down steps and into the yawning space beneath. We were told to be careful when we walked and follow the path as the lava rocks can be prickly. I walked carefully and felt the lava rocks jabbing at my feet on occasions. I was wearing a pair of converse sneakers and they certainly weren’t the right shoes to wear. Just the thought of shuffling on a rock and falling flat on my face on the prickly floor was enough to keep me alert. The other thing you had to be aware of was not touching the sides of the cave.
The caves are completely dark with neither natural nor artificial light, hence the head lamps. In some areas handrails and steps have been installed only where it is essential for safety, and other than that the only sign of man is the information boards at various points to illustrate and explain what we are seeing.
We stopped at various points as our guide explained how the passageways were formed. It seems that lava cools so quickly that thirty minutes after it has flowed, it’s cooled enough for people to walk through the cave. Do you believe it? I wouldn’t like to try it.
At one point he instructs us to turn off our lights to experience what it’s like be be underground in pitch darkness. After a minute or so, the other senses begin to stir.
Towards the end of our walk is the chasm which we had seen from above, where the lady is said to have fallen in the hole. We got as close as we could and looked up the shaft of light and the bracken trailing over its edge.
We walked back through the lava cave to the opening where we started off. Then continued down the forest path to where our mini bus was waiting for us to take us back to the visitors center.
Back at the visitors center, our guide explained the fossils and skeletons of the Canarian Megafauna, the Canariomys Bravoi (rat), and the Lacerta Goliath which is an extinct giant lizard. No one knows how these animals wandered in and lost themselves in the tunnels. The animals which do live here have adapted, as cave-dwellers do, losing pigmentation, growing antennae to compensate for the lack of sight, and learning to survive for long periods when there is no food.
Visiting Europe’s largest lava cave is a unique experience, and it helps you appreciate the landscape of Tenerife. Our guide said that we would look at the land in a different way after spending time with him and we all did. I cannot recommend this highly enough, a great experience and great value.
To book a tour check out Volanco Life Experience website .
Tour: 2 Hours
How to dress:
- Wear long pants
- Bring a jacket or sweater
- Hiking boots or hard rubber shoes
- Children younger than 5 years old should not be brought on this tour.
- People who suffer from claustrophobia or who have bone, knee or ankle mobility problems should refrain from this activity.
Disclosure – I would like to thank Turisme de Tenerife and Volcano Life Experience for providing us with a free tour. These are solely my personal opinions/experiences and I was not financially compensated for this post.