Caldera Blanca

Lanzarote 1 : Volcanoes of Timanfaya
Lanzarote 2 : Diving Puerto del Carmen
Lanzarote 3 : Hiking Caldera Blanca
Caldera Blanca

Timanfaya National Park (Spanish: Parque nacional de Timanfaya) imposes strict regulations on visitors and does not allow them to wander around freely through the lava fields. This is done in order to reduce potential erosion from footfall to the vulnerable volcanic terrain. There is however, another protected area that surrounds Timanfaya National Park, which functions as a buffer zone of sorts, that is called Los Volcanes Natural Park (Spanish: Parque natural de Los Volcanes).

The Natural Park encompasses large portions of the massive fields of Timanfaya lava as well as a trio of volcanoes that contrast dramatically with the vast black sea of lava that surrounds them. The trio consists of (from east to west) Montaña Caldereta (elevation : 324 m), Caldera Blanca (elevation : 458 m), and Risco Quebrado (elevation : 312 m). The most prominent structure of the three is the massive Caldera Blanca, its actual name being 'Caldera de Montana Blanca' (English: Caldera of White Mountain). Despite the peak of this caldera being much lower than Lanzarote's highest peak, Peñas del Chache (elevation : 670 m), Caldera Blanca is not only one of the best preserved craters on the island, but also the widest, measuring 1.15 kilometres across. To get there, however, you first have to walk through a field of lava.

Difficulty Rating : 1.8 / 10.0 (Class 1 - Extremely Straightforward)
*Click here to learn more about the difficulty rating.

Getting There

From Puerto del Carmen, you need to take the LZ-504 northwards towards the town of Macher. Continue north from there along the LZ-502 via La Asomada for approximately 4 kilometres, through the wine-growing region of the valley of La Geria (Geosite LZ36), until you reach the junction of the LZ-30. Turn right here and head eastward until you get to the next junction. Turn left here and head northwards once again.

Continuing north from there will bring you past the collapsed Los Cuervos caldera on the left (Geosite LZ28) and the distinctly red volcano of La Montaña Colorada (Geosite LZ43) on the right. You will need to either go through the town of Mancha Blanca and turn left from there, or turn left at a small junction to follow a road that bypasses the town. Just to the west of the town lies an intersection where the west turnoff leads to the parking lot for the trail head. The entire journey from Puerto del Carmen should take you about 20 minutes.

Getting to the Caldera Blanca trail head from Puerto del Carmen

Timanfaya Lava Fields

The lava fields of Timanfaya are very dramatic and consist of a variety of formations that range from lava channels, tubes, and lava terraces, to accretionary lava balls and ejected pyroclasts. The area is so unusual that some planetary biologists have even drawn striking similarities between the lava fields and the volcanic planet of Mars. These planetary biologists use Timanfaya as a model to study the relationship between volcanism and water, as well as to observe the evolution of volcanic structures over time, to further their understanding of the red planet.

The lava fields predominantly consist of a'a type lava, which is when the viscosity of the lava is high, either due to gas bubbles or relatively low temperatures. When a'a lava starts to cool, it breaks up and begins to fragment, which releases gases from the lava in the process. This creates fragments that are sharp, irregular in shape, and are covered with a large number of holes, that are referred to as 'scoria'. Terrain that is made up of scoria is rough and blocky and is very hard to walk on, and is known as 'malpaís' (English: Badlands) by residents of the Canary Islands.

"From one side to another extends 'el malpais', as the lava fields are known to the Canarians.. if you climb the rough slope of loose and unsafe fragments you can see that the surface at the top has a similar appearance.. Frequently, twisted fragments can be seen or marks on the lava. It is very difficult to make progress on these (lava) streams because in such a heap there is almost no safe place to firmly put your feet down.

Naturalist, Eduardo Hernández-Pacheco (1907)

The Caldera Blanca trail, covered with scoria

Hike to the Caldereta

We began the hike fairly late, around 17:30. The entire area is extremely exposed and we wanted to do whatever we could to escape the brunt of the searing afternoon sun. Leaving late also meant that we would not only be able to enjoy the magnificent Lanzarote sunset, but that it would be dark by the time we descended from the caldera, which meant that we would be able to squeeze in some stargazing before having to head back to town for dinner. The path was wide from the start, but the ubiquitous scoria, albeit already having being flattened to some degree by hundreds, if not thousands, of footsteps before us, still made the path quite unstable. Lichens of various colours were splashed around on the volcanic rocks, and the occasional shrub could sometimes be seen trying to squeeze its way through narrow gaps in the rocks.

Looking west towards Montaña Caldereta (Geosite LZ19), Caldera Blanca lies just behind it

The first part of the trail was a 1.5 kilometre walk westward from the carpark towards a junction at the base of Montaña Caldereta (Geosite LZ19). The trail was wide and conspicuous enough to always be easy to follow, and the only real danger was the chance of one of us losing our footing. We passed all manner of volcanic formations, and the sheer size of some of the pyroclastic boulders left me in awe of violent forces that would be required to launch such masses over such large distances. On the horizon over to our right was the conical Montaña Tinache (Geosite LZ18) and straight ahead of us the vibrant blue of the Atlantic Ocean seamlessly blended into the sky. We would occasionally hear the sounds of lizards scampering away as we approached, but try as I may, there seemed to be nothing that I could do to dampen my crunching footsteps over the uneven scoria.

From the east flank of Montaña Caldereta (Geosite LZ19) looking south east; behind the
small mound just to the right of the centre of the image lies Montaña los Rostros,
whereas Montaña Tinache (Geosite LZ18) is on the far left of the image

We reached the junction at the base of Montaña Caldereta after half an hour of walking with a fairly slow pace. From here, we could either continue straight on towards the much larger Caldera Blanca, or take a slight detour and circle the base of the caldereta. We decided to do the latter, and so turned left instead. Montaña Caldereta is one of the many geosites that make up the UNESCO Global Geopark of Lanzarote. Although this volcano was formed long ago in the Pleistocene (the epoch that is often colloquially referred to as the 'Ice Age'), its eruption almost 300 years ago was responsible for a large area of the Timanfaya lava field. The previous existence of the trio of volcanoes, of which the caldereta is a part of, were obstacles to the flow of the lava that ensued, which was ultimately forced to flow around their bases. The calderas and other areas that were left uncovered by lava like this were known as 'islotes' (Volcanic terminology: Kipukas).

The volcanic complex of Pico Partido-Montaña Señalo (Geosite LZ26) looking south
from the base of Montaña Caldereta. The white-lined lava channel that was created
when pressure built up and broke through the side of the lake can be seen

Next: Caldera Blanca (Part 2) - Flora & Fauna