Last update: 22 November 2021
On the same day that Fagradalsfjall in Iceland subsided, the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma cracked open a new crater and roared into life on 19 September 2021. But this is no friendly flowing volcano like the gentle Fagradalsfjall.
Cumbre Vieja Natural Park offers stunning hiking routes amongst volcanic cones and giant craters. The park is now temporarily closed, for obvious reasons. When this fierce volcano settles down again, the Cumbre Vieja Volcano Route is one of the finest walks you can do on La Palma.
Cumbre Vieja eruption
Cumbre Vieja unleashes furious lava fountains and aggressive ash clouds, belching from various craters and vents on its western flank. At one point there were 8 or 9 craters going off at the same time. The lava flow consumed houses and entire villages within the first couple of days. It tumbled down the mountainside from its original crater at an altidude of 900 metres and plunged into the ocean 6 kilometres further away only 10 days later, on 29 September.
Cumbre Vieja eruption from many craters. Photo: La Voz del Sur.
It was very reminiscent of the Eldfell eruption on Vestmannaeyjar in 1973, when the entire island had to be evacuated. And similar to Reykjanes in March 2021, the La Palma eruption was preceeded by an intense swarm of more than 25.000 earthquakes within 3 weeks before it started.
Cumbre Vieja – even the name itself sounds threatening. Ominous like the rumbles from its belly it sends forth with its destructive lava flows.
Cumbre Vieja before the 2021 eruption
Cumbre Vieja is a shield volcano that covers the entire southern part of the island of La Palma. It runs from north to south over a distance of 24 kilometres, and is connected to Caldera de la Taburiente in the north by the Cumbre Nueva central ridge, famous for its perpetual rolling tablecloth cloud.
Clouds rolling over Cumbre Nueva, with Los Llanos de Aridane in the background. On the left the steep slopes of Caldera de la Taburiente are pointing up to the sky.
The famous tablecloth cloud of La Palma rolling over Cumbre Nueva.
A wonky ridge sprinkled with many craters
Satellite images on Google Maps reveal a long ridge, pockmarked with a line of craters scattered all over the top. It looks like a wonky zipper that could rip apart any time. The entire Cumbra Vieja mountain range consists of a mind-boggling 120 (!) volcanoes and craters. And when it erupts, there are usually several of them going off at once.
Cumbre Vieja’s newest crater hasn’t been officially named as of yet. One of the name proposals is Tajogaite. This is the local Guanche name for Montaña Rajada, which appropriately translates as Cracked Mountain. It refers to the area directly downhill from the eruption site.
Cumbre Vieja ridge. Photo: HelloCanaryIslands.
Cumbre Vieja volcanic park
The Cumbre Vieja Natural Park area offers stunning hiking routes amongst volcanic cones and giant craters. The 24 kilometre long Ruta de los Volcanes (Volcano Route) is one of the most beautiful hikes on La Palma.
The park is now temporarily closed, for obvious reasons. But when the volcano settles down again, this is one of the finest walks you can do on La Palma.
When I went island hopping on the Canary Islands, I hiked the northern part of the Ruta de los Volcanes, from El Pilar to the intimidating Hoyo Negro crater, and back again along the same track.
This is how Cumbre Vieja looked like before the volcanic eruption of 2021.
View to Valle de Aridane from Cumbre Vieja, above the eruption site where the new crater formed in 2021.
View from Cumbre Vieja to the rolling clouds and the massive Caldera de la Taburiente in the north.
Ruta de los Volcanes
The Ruta de los Volcanes is well signposted and runs from the recreational area El Pilar in the north along the tops of Cumbre Vieja all the way to the Fuencaliente lighthouse in the south. The southern tip also contains the Teneguía volcano, the last one to erupt on La Palma in 1971, until the current 2021 eruption began.
The main hiking path is 17,5 kilometres. It takes about 6 hours from El Pilar until you emerge from the wilderness in Los Canarias, the first village on the southern tip of La Palma. There are no facilities between El Pilar and Los Canarias, you so have to be well prepared. Take plenty of food & water with you.
From Los Canarias you can add on another 6 kilometres to the very end at Fuencaliente lighthouse.
Ruta de los Volcanes track beneath the rolling clouds of Cumbre Nueva.
Cumbre Nueva tablecloth cloud
The first part of the track from El Pilar goes beneath the perpetual cloud tumbling over the Cumbre Nueva ridge. It’s mesmerizing to see how it weaves in and out between the trees on the meandering path. Then you emerge from the forest up to the first craters of Pico Birigoyo, and follow the path all the way south along the ridge. The views are breathtaking all around. From here you can look across the top of the rolling tablecloth cloud towards the massive Caldera de la Taburiente in the north. Further on to the south you’ll encounter bizarrely shaped crater pits, like the daunting Hoyo Negro.
With the current eruption going on, it’s intimidating to think of the force and huge amounts of lava that must have come out of that giant black pit. It last erupted in 1949.
The daunting Hoyo Negro crater.
How to hike the Cumbre Vieja volcano route
The easiest way to do the Cumbre Vieja hike is from north to south, as you will be walking downhill most of the way. The altitude varies from around 1500 metres at El Pilar to 1949 metres at the summit of Las Deseados, the highest point on the Cumbre Vieja ridge. After that, you descend all the way down to Los Canarios at 725 metres, or the Fuentcaliente lighthouse at sea level.
Ruta de los Volcanes altitude map. Photo: Senderos de La Palma.
Getting to & from the track
If you want to hike the entire route, the best option is to park your car in Los Canarios and take a taxi from there to the starting point at El Pilar. If you don’t have a (rental) car, you might be able to arrange transfers from your accommodation. There are no buses up to El Pilar, but there are connections between Fuencaliente and the capital Santa Cruz de La Palma.
Signposts along the Ruta de los Volcanes.
Valle de Aridane before the 2021 eruption. The lava is flowing between and behind the two little hills into the ocean, and has created a new lava delta.
How to get to La Palma
Because of the current volcanic situation, the airport at Santa Cruz de la Palma is regularly closed due to ash clouds and other volcano-related inconvenience. The safest option is to fly to Tenerife and take the ferry from Los Christianos over to Santa Cruz de la Palma. This is also what I did on my Canary Island hopping trip, when I wanted to combine Tenerife, El Hierro and La Palma in one go.
Ferriy to Santa Cruz de la Palma
There arre regular ferries to Santa Cruz de la Palma from the harbour town of Los Christianos in the southwest of Tenerife. Both ferry terminals are within walking distance of the town itself. Los Christianos is also the departure port for ferries to the other western Canary Islands of La Gomera and El Hierro.
The Canary Islands Tourism website offers a handy overview of the ferry and plane connections between the islands.
La Palma is famous for its epic sunsets.
Exploring the inner geekness! An interesting book about the geology of the Canarian volcanoes.
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(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
Cumbre Vieja geological map with lava flows from previous eruptions. Photo: Researchgate.
Covid travel restrictions Canary Islands & Spain
In these uncertain times, things can change quickly. Procedures are constantly evaluated and updated. For the current situation regarding Covid-19 related travel advice and restrictions in Spain and the Canary Islands, see the official government information on Travel and Covid-19 (in English).
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More to explore & discover
Fagradalsfjall – The spectacular Iceland eruption
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
Etna – Vigorously steaming from all its craters
Hawaii – Volcanic fields of fire
Faroe Islands – Atlantic weather systems moving overhead