Barranco de Masca
...Descending the Canyon

Descending the Barranco de Masca (Masca Canyon) is a unique experiences that you will definitely enjoy in Tenerife. As we, from Tenerife Travel Secrets, always try to give a personal recommendation for all the places mentioned on this website, we gladly took the opportunity to join the El Cardón team to be able to give our readers a glimpse of this experience. If you have some time available during your holidays, descending the Barranco de Masca should certainly be on your list of things to do in Tenerife.

Meeting the El Cardón Guide

I arrived at Plaza de Los Silos shortly before 9am on a sunny Thursday to meet the other hikers and the El Cardón team. On this occasion I had to do the excursion alone, as Fabio could not come to Tenerife that week. It was therefore quite a challenge to take in the views, take notes about the excursion and enjoy the moment on this beautiful part of the island.

The beginning of the way down the Masca Ravine

Tenerife Travel Secret

If the meeting point to start your excursion to Barranco de Masca is the village of Los Silos, you can leave your car at a free car park just 5 minutes from the main square. At the first roundabout at the entrance to the tow (coming from Puerto de La Cruz), take the second exit. Then at the next roundabout take the first exit and you will see the car park on the left-hand side. From there, walk along the street leading to the Virgen de la Luz Church and you will find the beautiful main square.

While I was waiting for the El Cardón team, a local inhabitant approached me and gave me a rose, saying ‘The gardens provide flowers that should be given to women’. He then went on to give a rose to another girl who was also in the square. It was a very nice gesture and it reminded me of those little things which are common in small towns where people live quietly and are perhaps a little more aware of what is going on with the people around them (although sometimes that isn’t a good thing …).

Soon afterwards, a taxi arrived with Rosalía (the El Cardón guide) and four Germans who were also going on the excursion that day. I got into the car (they were also expecting Fábio who, as I said, was unable to make it) and we set off, the taxi driver and Rosalía answering my questions together.

Tenerife Travel Secret

Rosalía Reyes is a very friendly, Canary Island – German (dual-nationality) biologist with a wide knowledge of the geography, biology, architecture and history of the Canaries and particularly Tenerife. Her knowledge combined with the unique landscape made the tour very educational and interesting. She intersperses explanations in German and Spanish, starting off by speaking the language of the majority of the group and then switching to the other. Rosalía has recently passed the accreditation to become a professional guide and expert in Canary Island architecture. In my opinion, the experience was extraordinary in a large part thanks to her, because she not only told us the obvious things about the Canyon  but also the details that she has discovered in her four years as an El Cardón guide.

Rosalía our amazing El Cardon guide

When we reached the village of Masca at about 9:45am, the taxi driver left us and we walked to where there is a bust in honour of a former mayor, D. José Pérez González, who led the construction of the road connecting Santiago del Teide with Masca. Before then, Masca had been a totally isolated village. Rosalía then explained a bit about the programme for the day.

The Masca Ravine with El Cardón - an introduction alongside the bust of D. José Pérez González

Tenerife Travel Secret

A little secret which Rosalía revealed for me to share with our readers is that, if hikers decide to make the descent into the Barranco de Masca by themselves, they should do so with extreme caution and before 10am. This is so that they avoid the many organised groups that might take away from the charm of the tour.

And so Begins the Adventure at Barranco de Masca...

The difficulty of the Barranco de Masca is medium to high, and especially high in the winter when it rains a lot, as it had in the week before my trip. In those cases you have to be extremely careful, as the stones can be really slippery and the water around the canyon means that you will inevitably get wet at some point. There may also have been landslides in the ravine, which increases the danger. You should therefore always be extremely cautious.

The route started with an explanation about the great mountain which dominates the landscape: Tarucho, which in Berber means ‘breaking’.

Tenerife Travel Secret

The Guanches (ancient inhabitants of the Canary Islands) considered Tarucho a sacred mountain, and for that reason it was forbidden to climb it. They also prayed to avoid a rupture in the mountain, due to the shape of the crack in the centre of it.

The sacred mountain of Tarucho

Later as we walked down the ravine, Rosalía "presented" Guergues, the mountain located on the left-hand side, and the Fortaleza de Masca (Masca Fortress) on the right-hand side.  Both reach heights of more than 800 metres in places.

The imposing view of Fortaleza de Masca (Fortress of Masca)

Enjoying the Local Flora

Along the Barranco de Masca trail, we found several species of plants which are native to Tenerife and the Canary Islands, such as ‘Euphorbia atropurpurea’ (Tabaiba Roja), the ‘Euphorbia canariensis’ (typically known as Cardón), the ‘Plocama pendula’ (known as Balo) which releases a somewhat unpleasant scent when its leaves are broken off, or ‘Vieraea laevigata’ (Amargosa), which is exclusive to the Teno mountain range and the name of which is dedicated to the Canary Island writer José Viera y Clavijo. We also found other imported species, like Tuneras which come from Mexico. Cochineals (small insects which produce an intense red colour when crushed) come from Tuneras, and that colouring used to be used as a cosmetic base and to dye fabrics, among other things.

Euphorbia atropurpurea, also known as Tabaiba roja in Tenerife
Cochineal - a small insect that lives in Tuneras
This is the colored liquid which comes from cochineals

We stopped for a few minutes (waiting for some of the other hikers who were admiring the views) on a small stone bench located around some palm trees. This bench is in a place which is referred to as "mentidero" (talking shop). In local culture the "mentideros" are so called because the men from the island tend to exaggerate the stories they tell. They are also meeting points for women, as is the case at Masca and Los Gigantes, as in another era they were in charge of trading (mainly the exchange of vegetables and fish) and here they would discuss the latest gossip and news from the area.

One of the Mentideros on the island

Tenerife Travel Secret

You should carry something warm (in winter), a backpack with water, some food, a good pair of boots to prevent slipping, hiking poles, a hat and sunscreen (summer). That way you will have everything you need to enjoy the trail the whole time.

Enjoy the Surroundings, but Always with Extra Care

As I previously mentioned, during the week before our trip it rained a lot in Tenerife which resulted in some landslides in the canyon.  Rosalía also told us that the force with which the water had come down had to be spectacular, as the cane areas were destroyed or had simply disappeared. In these special circumstances she recommended even more caution during the tour, as the danger of landslides was greater.

Following the path there is a small waterfall, and the water is carried along a channel down all the cliffs to Los Gigantes to irrigate banana plantations in the south.

Barranco Masca - Some difficulties in the way
Barranco Masca - Some difficulties in the way
Little river formed during winter

Tenerife Travel Secret

As an interesting fact, in Tenerife there are more than 1,000 underground water galleries.

A little further down, we could see some kids walking past one of the empty waterways on the edge of the mountain and a mother helping her two small children to climb a rocky area away from the path where it was obviously unsafe, simply to take a picture with them.  We remind that you should not leave the path or climb unfamiliar areas, especially if you aren’t experience or don’t have the right equipment. Rosalía told us that there are many more accidents in this area than we could imagine, and in case of a problem it is only possible to be rescued by helicopter (and sometimes not even that way).

Tenerife Travel Secret

If you have an accident at Barranco de Masca there are 56 different marks along the way that will help you to be located. Remember that, as Masca Ravine is located in a mountainous area, you don’t always have signal on your mobile phone. In case of a mishap try to find a more open space and hopefully you will be able to communicate by mobile.

Halfway we stopped at one of the larger areas of Barranco de Masca to eat some fruit, sandwiches (as two of our German colleagues had come well prepared) and water for re-hydration. It is really important to start this kind of excursion well prepared, with appropriate clothes and enough healthy food and water.

Point of the ravine where most hikers take a break to eat

We ask all hikers and visitors not to leave any rubbish lying around, even if it is biological and the intention is to feed the animals. This is a very sought-after place and we need to avoid transforming it into a dump.

The fauna found in the area of Barranco de Masca is diverse, but there are no dangerous animals. One of the special cases is the "Cyanistes teneriffae" or Herrerillo Canario (Canary Blue Tit), an endemic species in Tenerife, and which I was lucky enough to see and hear while eating my apple on the excursion.  Another species that once inhabited the canyon was the "Guirres" (kind of Canary Island vulture also known as "Neophron percnopterus"). They are now extinct in Tenerife and most of the Canary Islands because of the absence of flocks and dead bodies in the area (one of the main sources of food for these birds) and the constant environmental changes, which resulted in the disappearance of the "Guirres".

Geologically the canyon at Barranco de Masca is also very interesting, as you are able to easily see the several dikes that have been formed by the different types of lava solidification that have also formed the island.  There are also areas with "almagres" (red ocher), considered damp proof, under which you can even find water produced by a period of volcanic inactivity.  In the middle of the trail, about 400 metres above sea level, you can find the Morro de los Dragos, which is a beautiful geological formation riddled with small dragon trees. Considering our position in the ravine, that put us next to the wall of Guergues with a drop of 300 metres. We could also see the stone arches located over the half-way point of the trail, the rock with ET’s face on it or the rock of immense proportions that obviously at some point in history fell from the top of the mountain and beneath which we must go through to get to the beach at end of the journey.

Barranco Masca - diques
Barranco Masca - Rosalía (the guide) and me
Barranco de Masca and its famous arc
Morro los Dragos and Guergues in the back

Tenerife Travel Secret

I promise this wasn’t just to produce another story, but my boots made sure that Rosalía was prepared for any eventuality. The boots I wore for the Barranco de Masca excursion were not mine and were several years old, which is not recommended. The held up for most of the five hour walk, but when we only had about 15 minutes left they gave up and one of the soles came off. Fortunately Rosalía had a survival kit and patched the boot, and I was able to finish the excursion.

What happens when you use an old pair of boots
Luckily our guide was well prepared...

At the end of the road you can see a pipe that goes in the direction of the beach. This pipe comes from Masca and ends in a private home located near the beach. 

The End of a Perfect Day at Barranco de Masca and the Journey Back

The Masca Beach is simply beautiful during the summer, with very fine black sand and clean water. However, if you want to bathe in the water, you should do so with extreme caution, because as is the case on the whole island, the sea currents can be very strong.

Rosalía told me that the tour through the Barranco de Masca can take as little as 3 hours (including some stops to recharge) if the group has good experience of this kind of trail. However, the normal duration is between 3 ½ hours and 4 ½. Our tour was particularly slow – it took almost five hours – as one member of the group had no prior experience of mountains. We at Tenerife Travel Secrets advise you to always take your time, enjoy the views and the guide’s explanations and relax. It is totally worth it. If there are other group members who are somewhat slower or have less experience, take advantage of the knowledge of your guide to learn a bit more about the surroundings, history, etc. It is not every day that you have the chance to be in such a beautiful and interesting ravine as the Barranco de Masca. 

Tenerife Travel Secret Tip

Do a self-critical evaluation before booking any type of tour and see if your physical capabilities are sufficient for the activity or adventure. 

On the beach you can take the water taxi back to Los Gigantes, but we recommend that you check the schedule and book your place in advance, as sometimes the boat can be very busy. Of course, you can always walk up the Barranco de Masca back to the village, but it can be a problem if it’s getting dark.

The boat ride - with a sea breeze caressing my face, amazing views of the cliffs, and the lunch that was offered on the boat - was the perfect end to a marvellous day.  I was also glad to meet a Catalan couple who enjoyed the boat trip as well. They only had one day left on the island and I felt compelled to indicate few places to visit in Tenerife. They promised to return to the Canary Islands soon and try to discover a few more of the hidden secrets and beauties.

In the Los Gigantes harbour some of us stopped for a coffee, while others opted for ice cream, and at about 4:30pm Rosalía and I started the journey back with another friendly taxi driver with whom we had a nice conversation.

Last section before the beach
Playa de Masca

This was the end to a lovely day in which I had discovered a beautiful, well-known place in Tenerife, and it gave me a desire to try another new experience with the El Cardón team as soon as possible. Thank you very much Rosalía and the team for giving me a great memory of that day at Barranco de Masca.

Barranco de Masca and one little arc

Booking the Excursion to Barranco de Masca with El Cardón

Currently (2015) this trip can be done with El Cardón for €45 and this includes: transfer from your hotel or any other main location in Los Silos and Buenavista del Norte to Masca, professional guide, insurance (which increase the price of the excursion a bit in comparison with others – but that’s definitely necessary), transfer by boat from the beach to Los Gigantes, lunch and transfer back to the hotel or meeting point in Los Silos or Buenavista. There has to be at least five people signed up for the excursion, or the tour will be postponed.

Reserving your place

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