El Hierro – A volcanic hotspot underneath the sea

El Hierro – A volcanic hotspot underneath the sea

The Canary Islands have more to offer than the well-known beach resorts on Tenerife and Gran Canaria. With breathtaking mountains and rugged volcanic landscapes there is a lot of spectacular nature to be discovered.

When I went island hopping on the Canary Islands, the one that definitely had to be part of the trip was the least visited & most remote of them all: El Hierro, the volcanic hotspot.

Crater-dotted west coast of El Hierro, Canary Islands.
The crater-dotted landscape of El Hierro.

The west coast of El Hierro, Canary Islands.
The wild west coast.

Tranquil and unspoiled

Because of its remoteness, El Hierro isn’t the most obvious place on itineraries to the Canary Islands. But those who take the effort to venture beyond the conventional routes into the unknown will find an incredibly beautiful island with unique nature. Tranquil and unspoiled by mass tourism, El Hierro is the most authentic one of the archipelago.

Gnarled wood and juniper trees on El Hierro.
Gnarled wood and the typical wind-swept juniper trees.

The edge of the world

Once considered as the edge of the known world, El Hierro consists mostly of huge cliffs rising straight up from the sea to over 1000 metres high. A highland plateau forms the central part of the island, with the towering Pico de Malpaso reaching an altitude of 1500 metres. The north coast contains an enormous crescent shaped valley, formed by an ancient landslide when a giant chunk of the northern mountain flank collapsed into the sea.

It’s absolutely spectacular.

View from Malpaso to El Golfo, El Hierro, Canary Islands.
The giant valley of El Golfo.

View into Las Playas valley, El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain.
Looking down the dizzying slopes of the Malpaso mountain range into Las Playas valley – a sheer drop of over a 1000 metres. Guaranteed to cause a feeling of ‘natural high’!
😉

The volcanic hotspot of El Hierro

Shortly before I went there, the El Hierro volcanic hotspot that lies beneath the Canary Islands kicked into life. It started coughing up a new island from underneath the sea, just off the south coast of El Hierro. At some point there were even bits & pieces of rock splashing up through the roiling waves above the submarine volcano.

La Restinga underwater eruption

So I stood excitedly on the coast of La Restinga in December 2011, staring out to sea and hoping to see it break through the surface in Surtsey-like spectacle…

But all I could see was a huge distinctive grey spot floating about in the distance.

Submarine volcanic activity near La Restinga in 2011, El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain.
Volcanic activity roiling & boiling underneath the sea!


NASA’s Earth Observatory satellite passed by just a few days later, and took this striking picture from above.


A new Canary Island in the making

The El Hierro hotspot quieted down again after a couple of months. The undersea volcano still has about 90 to 100 metres to go until it breaks the surface. It remains unpredictable when the new Canary island will finally rise above sea level…

In the meantime it has already received a name: in 2016 it was officially named Tagoro.


Tagoro roiling & boiling underneath the sea, but not yet breaking the surface.
Photo: InVolcan.

How to get to El Hierro

Ferry from Tenerife

There are regular ferries to Puerto de la Estaca (Valverde) on the northeast coast of El Hierro. The ferry departs from the harbour town of Los Christianos in the southwest of Tenerife. In Puerto de la Estaca you can take the local bus up the steep hills to Valverde, the capital on the El Hierro central highland plateau. Or you can hire a car to explore the island at leisure.

There is only 1 afternoon or evening ferry per day between Tenerife and El Hierro. Los Christianos is also the departure port for ferries to the other western Canary Islands of La Gomera and La Palma.

Mirador de Jinama with a view to the west coast of El Hierro, Canary Islands.
Camino de Jinama, an ancient route descending over 1200 metres from above the clouds into El Golfo valley on the west coast.

The south coast of El Hierro, Canary Islands.
The steep south coast of El Hierro.

Plane from Tenerife or Gran Canaria

Another option is to take a regional flight to Valverde from Puerto de la Cruz in the north of Tenerife, or from Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. The Canary Islands Tourism website offers a handy overview of the ferry and plane connections between the islands.

El Hierro island map

This handy interactive map shows the locations in the pictures above. You can also zoom in for more details of El Hierro itself. Note the cute heart-shaped form of the island. 😉

Remote Islands – El Hierro, Canary Islands

This article was originally published as a NaturePic Challenge: pictures of epic nature with a specific theme, and places that will trigger a natural high.

@ If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below. I’d love to hear from you! Your questions, comments and suggestions can also be helpful for other readers. Thank you for sharing.

Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High

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Las Playas bay, El Hierro, Canary Islands, Spain.
Wilderness Coffee by the sea @ Las Playas bay, one of the few (pebbly) beaches on the east coast of El Hierro.


More to explore & discover

La Palma – Cumbre Vieja Volcano Route

Pico del Teide – A volcanic playground

Hawaii – Volcanic fields of fire

Stromboli – The ancient lighthouse of the Mediterranean

The zen of Stafsnes – The hidden beach


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Last update: 23 December 2023
First published: 5 February 2017

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