Pyramids are something most people tend to expect on a visit to Egypt, rather than on their holidays to Tenerife. However, the largest of the Canary Islands has its very own, in the form of the unique Pyramids of Gmar. There's some mystery surrounding their origins, but today they're one of the island's most popular attractions. With the beach at El Socorro just 15 minutes' drive away and a beautiful, cultural park surrounding the site, it's a great day out for all the family.
History of the pyramidsThe pyramids look more like something out of ancient Mesopotamia than the last resting-places of mummified pharaohs. There are six in total, each made from lava stone and covered in gravel. The platforms have stairways built into their western sides, which has led many historians to conclude that they originally served a ceremonial purpose. In 1990, the Norwegian scientist Thor Heyerdahl heard about the pyramids and decided to move to the Canary Islands to study them. His theory is the structures were built in ancient times, possibly between 600BC and 1000BC. He discovered that their position lines the pyramids with the stars and the sun during the summer solstice. If you decide to visit during this event, which normally takes place in June, you can also witness a ”double sunset'. This is when the sun appears to slip over the horizon behind one mountain, only to reappear behind another and then set all over again. Heyerdahl's theories were supported by the discovery of a volcanic chamber beneath the pyramids, containing artefacts that dated back to around the 6th century. However, other scientists believe that they aren't as ancient as Heyerdahl might think. There's no mention of them in any records of the time until the 19th century, which has led some to the conclusion that they are simply where peasants would pile up stones while clearing their fields. Despite the continuing controversy, the onsite museum has an exhibition of Heyerdahl's excavations, housing photos and discoveries from the digs.
What to expectThe park's larger than you might expect, and you can easily spend a whole day taking in the sights. The Casa Chacona Museum will give you plenty of information about the Pyramids of Gmar and the various theories on their construction and purpose. You'll learn about how ancient civilisations were able to exchange ideas and inspirations long before they'd set sail to other countries. There's also an auditorium where you can watch a film about Thor Heyerdahl's various adventures across the world. The gardens that surround the pyramids are packed with plants from across the island. You can expect to see dragon trees, different palms, and even native pines. Be sure to leave some time to explore the ”Poison Garden'. Here, you'll find more than 70 poisonous plants from across the globe. You'll discover which of the plant world's natural toxins are used in medicines, debunk a few myths, and learn which shrubs, berries, and bushes you should avoid at all costs. Despite the scary skull that marks the entrance to this part of the garden, it's a family attraction and one that's sure to be talked about for the rest of your Tenerife holidays. The walking routes lead around the pyramids themselves, giving you the chance to get up close to these extraordinary monuments. There's wheelchair hire for those with mobility issues, and an onsite café for refuelling. If you'd rather bring your own food, there's a dedicated picnic area, with an outdoor playground for children.
How to get thereYou'll find the pyramids on the northwest tip of the island, about half an hour's drive from Santa Cruz. It's open from 9.30am until 6pm, seven days a week, and throughout the year except for Christmas Day and New Year's Day. As one of Tenerife's most popular attractions, it's well supported by tour operators and public transport. There's a direct bus from Santa Cruz, which leaves on the hour and takes around 50 minutes to get to the pyramids. If you're driving, it's merely a matter of hopping on the TF-1 motorway towards Candelaria. Come off at Junction 20 and follow the TF-281, before turning left onto the TF-28, which will take you straight to the pyramids. There's plenty of signs and the journey should take less than half an hour. The Pyramids of Gmar are well worth visiting on your holidays to Tenerife. With the small town of Gmar nearby, there's plenty of opportunity for some post-pyramid shopping, or a leisurely meal in an authentic Canarian restaurant.