Who were the Guanches?
The Guanches were the native inhabitants of the Canary Islands. They were a group of light skinned people who most likely arrived by sea from North Africa long before the Spanish made their way over to these shores. Researchers think that the Guanches were closely related to the Berber tribes who had been inhabiting mainland North Africa for thousands of years.
The Guanches had a very simple lifestyle. They took shelter mostly in cave dwellings or simple huts and lived off herding livestock, basic farming and foraging. They also created pottery and mummified their dead using embalming techniques very similar to the ancient Egyptians.
What happened to them?
In the 15th century the Spanish conquered Tenerife along with the other Canary Islands. The Guanches put up a great fight, but one by one the islands fell to the conquistadors. After colonisation the Guanches gradually disappeared. Many died of diseases that were introduced by the arrivals from mainland Europe. Some were sent to mainland Spain as slaves and the remaining ones adopted the lifestyle of their new rulers and blended into the Spanish population through intermarriage.The Guanche culture and language quickly disappeared, although some traces still remain. In fact, many famous place names have Guanche origins, such as Teide, Tacoronte, Adeje and Orotava. Many rock paintings, inscriptions and carvings attributed to the Guanches can also still be found all across the island.
Did the Guanches build the pyramids on Tenerife?
Did you know that there are pyramids on Tenerife? The mystery pyramids are located in the region of Guimar in the eastern part of Tenerife. No one really knows who built them, but one theory is that it could have been the Guanches. It has been argued that since the ancient Berber tribes had knowledge of building geometrical structures, the Guanches could have possessed this knowledge too.
Hiking in the footsteps of the Guanches
Today you can witness the history of the Guanches first hand by walking or hiking along ancient Guanche trails across the island.
The Guanches thrived in Anaga mountains. The deep mountain caves provided them with shelter while their livestock fed off the lush grassland in the valleys below. The Guanches were semi-nomadic, moving their cattle around and creating numerous paths that today form a network of superb hiking trails around the area.
See how the Guanches lived by following the ancient hiking trail that starts in Cruz del Carmen, taking you to the hamlet of Chinamada where inhabitants still live in cave houses carved into the mountains. You can explore this route as part of our Anaga Hike & Dine tour.
With its fertile soil and plenty of clean water, La Orotava valley was highly valuable to the Guanches. At that time Tenerife was divided into nine small kingdoms, each ruled by its own king, and here is where the “King of Kings” lived. The gathering place for the kings’ meetings was Taoro, where the famous Taoro park is now located.
A wonderful local hiking route known as the Guanche Way also bears testament to this. At 15 km long, this hike is perhaps better suited towards more intermediate hikers, but the scenery is definitely worth it. Starting in La Caldera, the trail winds through unspoilt countryside and green pine forests, leading to the village of Aguamansa and then back to La Caldera. You can read more about it here.
Then there’s, of course, the volcano Teide, which played a tremendous role in ancient Guanche mythology. The Guanches regarded Teide as a sacred mountain, much the same way the ancient Greeks thought of Mount Olympus. Guanche legend had it that the devil himself was trapped inside and would light bonfires to try and scare him away. They also crafted artefacts such as pottery, possibly as offerings to him.
The Museum of Nature and Man in Santa Cruz has a permanent exhibition featuring examples of Guanche mummies as well as pottery and other artefacts. And of course, no trip to Tenerife is complete without a visit to Teide! If you’d like to join us, we offer a Teide cable car tour.