Anaga: An Exceptional Biosphere Reserve in the Canary Islands, Overflowing with Visitors Post-Lockdown

Amidst discussions about the Canary Islands’ development model, regarding overcrowding, the distribution of tourism and the sustainable capacity of the Islands, there lies a biosphere reserve that has transformed into a prime example of overcrowding and the resultant negative impact due to its tourist popularity. The Anaga massif, spanning Santa Cruz de Tenerife, La Laguna, and Tegueste, is not only a significant laurisilva and monteverde area in Europe, similar to the Garajonay National Park in La Gomera, which are mystical remnants of the tertiary period. It also boasts numerous picturesque villages, hidden corners, and idyllic beaches (although fewer now) that truly encapsulate the essence of Tenerife.

However, these undeniable and breathtaking attractions have a detrimental side: Weekends see almost no free parking spots (including tourist buses and RVs), queues to access Taganana and the beaches of Roque de Las Bodegas or Benijo test the patience of locals even on weekdays, securing a table at their eateries without a prior reservation is a daunting task, and the repercussions of overcrowding are evident through increased littering in the mountains, on hiking trails, and the growing trend of illegal campers setting up makeshift shelters.

These issues are brought to light, anonymously, by individuals well-versed in the daily affairs of this mesmerising locale, its existing service standards, and protection measures. Beyond that, a local resident, almost acting as the village head, confirms the same. She resides in the closest hamlet to the renowned Anaga lighthouse, the oldest in the Canary Islands (constructed in 1863).

At the age of 65, affectionately known as Guaita, Doña Juana has overseen the Álvaro bar for 35 years, now with minimal assistance, except on Sundays when one of her daughters lends a helping hand. This establishment almost serves as a local meeting spot. She inherited it from her uncle and it stands as the sole dining option in the vicinity, marking the end of the road where multiple trails lead towards the coast, making it a crucial first-aid spot (having tended to numerous accident victims) and a pivotal point for any emergencies or information.

Some of their signature dishes, such as meat-stuffed potatoes or chickpea stews, are highly acclaimed, often leading to days where the staff work over twelve-hour shifts. As highlighted by her, “Everything changed post-lockdown. Following the pandemic, the influx of visitors has surged like never before, with an increasing number of tourists arriving, be they international visitors or domestic tourists from the mainland or other islands. The footfall from local Tenerife hikers, who used to frequent the place, has significantly diminished. The issue lies in the aftermath, evident through traffic congestions, burgeoning litter, a rise in illegal camping, ultimately culminating in complete saturation. Many a time, I’ve had to randomly set up cones to streamline parking areas and prevent further chaos, a responsibility that shouldn’t fall on me, but there’s no one else to do it.”I’m constantly on alert, monitoring everything.”

“In Anaga,” she adds, “there’s a pressing need for heightened police surveillance due to the overcrowding and the mountains, exacerbated by the soaring temperatures and decreased rainfall, are increasingly at risk of fires. Moreover, we are isolated, taking an hour to reach San Andrés and Las Teresitas, with infrequent bus services, necessitating revised schedules (one at 5 a.m. departing from Santa Cruz and another at 3 p.m.), as the current timings benefit neither incoming nor outgoing travellers.”

“The Blessing of No Connectivity”

He highlights the significant advantage of Chamorga (home to 19 residents): the relief that comes from the absence of internet connection, which sets it apart from the rest of Anaga. “There is no internet here, nor do I ever desire for it to be available,” he explains. This lack of connectivity leads many visitors to reconsider staying, as they struggle to find coverage. After trekking for hours through the trails, they arrive exhausted and anxious at the bar, eager to depart due to the absence of internet. While he has ADSL at home for a dataphone in his business, they still rely on a station (located next to the refrigerators) for emergencies. He often ponders how he manages to endure. Undoubtedly, tourism sustains Anaga’s businesses. Interestingly, the locals of Chamorga rarely spend at his bar, which has become a concerning trend.”

“The visitors nowadays are a different breed,” he remarks. We live in a society that is reluctant to adapt. Many individuals act as they please. They camp wherever they want, and it’s common to witness people passing by with stalls; some leave the area tidy, while many do not. They park their cars indiscriminately, paying no heed to restrictions, which inadvertently blocks exits for the locals. Previously, there was a more visible police and forest guard presence. Nowadays, they are deployed to the beaches, with Chamorga deserted both day and night. The blame does not lie with the workers but with those who deploy them. It’s a situation beyond our control.”

He believes that, due to the reduction in car laybys, parking areas, and limited options for expanding them, “things have worsened since Anaga was designated as a Biosphere Reserve.” While this designation aims to enhance protection, he argues that there is a glaring lack of surveillance and control, leading to a surge in visitors “since the lockdown, as if people have rediscovered nature more than ever.” He holds up the Garajonay National Park as a model and admires the management he witnessed following a recent eight-month trip. “It sets the benchmark for striking a balance, whereas in Anaga, the situation is the opposite.”

Amidst debates surrounding development models and the overtourism in the Canary Islands, the daily encounters in Anaga experienced by one of its, essentially, “caretaker mayors” serve as a compelling case study on whether the region is thriving or suffocating from tourism success.

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