The only sound breaking the silence 2,200 metres above ground is the wind whipping through the parachute overhead as I glide across the valley. Harnessed to my tandem pilot, I feel as though I’m soaring over the vast forested caldera, which lies within the precipitous valley walls of the island’s volcanoes. From our jump point on the steep mountainside, we glide over Teide National Park on our way towards the coast.
Despite having to wait for the northeast winds to blow in from the sea, the conditions that day were apparently perfect, which is just how it felt as we ran towards the edge of the mountainside and lifted effortlessly into the air. We partly have the time of year to thank for such fortuitous conditions; when the temperature in the valley doesn’t rise as high, there’s less turbulence in the skies overhead.
Taking off was easier than expected. “When I say walk, you walk fast, then we have to run,” said Rogelio, the pilot I’d be flying with, “Remember, you only need to help me with take off and landing.” The anticipation built as we waited our turn from the six paragliders there that day, but only second in-line, we were soon ready to go. “Run” said Rogelio, unpredictably, as we felt the parachute behind us pulling back with the wind. Within just three or four steps our feet were running in thin air. Rogelio steered to the right and we gracefully glided away from the take-off site, following the curve of the mountainside.
Now, as Rogelio steers the glider towards the distant coastal cliffs, I know I have nothing to fear; local to the island, Rogelio began paragliding back in ‘88, and now has thousands of flights under his belt. It was four years ago that he started taking people out in tandem for the small paragliding outfitter Enminube, which fittingly translates to ‘In My Cloud’. “I’m an engineer by profession,” he says, “but with the economic crisis in Spain, I’ve had to turn my hobby into a second income.”
“I love Tenerife,” Rogelio enthuses as we glide over the lush Orotava Valley, “And it’s the mountains here on the north side of the island that I love most of all.” Up amidst the clouds, I have to agree, and I can’t imagine a better way to see the north of the island than this, with the pine forest, volcanic terrain and distant villages spread out below me. On ground level, my perception of the landscape had been entirely different, instead seeing the details in the coloured earth, the rocks that glowed in the changing light, and the blossom showing on the trees.
Tenerife’s unique environment is defined by its five layers of flora and fauna, which are dictated by the changes in altitude and climate. The north of the island benefits from trade winds that blow in from the sea, bringing more rain and humidity, resulting in a lush laurel forest that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
Garnering the most attention though is the peak that’s so dominant on Tenerife’s horizon, the 3,718-metre Mount Teide, which along with the volcanic plains and patches of forest it’s surrounded by, lies within a vast caldera. Volcanic activity has been recent enough to leave behind great ash fields and lava-flows, with emerald green pines, which, having adapted to the harsh volcanic environment over time, contrast dramatically with the dark earth. With such a distinct environment, as much as 50-percent of the island is protected, and the network of hiking trails that winds through this otherworldly terrain makes it easy to explore.
When Rogelio and I reach the sea, we fly low over the waves as they roll in towards the black sand of Playa Jardin, a beach lying in the shadows of cliff-top town Punta Brava. The sound of crashing waves now mingles with the wind, with the distant sound of a dog barking on the promenade below.
The landing happens as quickly as take off; we run giddily a few steps on the seafront tarmac, before stopping alongside pedestrians who seem astonished to see us land in front of them. As soon as I’m back on solid ground, I know this flight is going to be the first of many. But first, I have more of this side to the island to explore.
HOW TO DO IT
Paragliding outfitter Enminube offers tandem flights from various points around Tenerife. Flights cost €100 or €120, depending on which part of the island you fly from.
Situated in Puerto de la Cruz, Hotel Botanico is an ideal base from which to explore the northern side of the island. The hotel and spa lies on the edge of lush botanical gardens, with a classic-opulence meets Southeast Asian-style running throughout the interior, award-winning spa and tropical gardens.
All images of Teide National Park © Lauren Jade Hill. Paragliding photo © Enminube.