As the largest of the Canary Islands, and the third largest active volcano in the world, Tenerife has innumerable beautiful beaches, scenic hiking trails, and historic points of interest. In addition to all of these things, it also has one of the most picturesque and strange ruins in the whole Canary Island chain, the Levator Gordejuela, otherwise known as the Gordejuela Water Elevator, or the Casa del Agua de Gordejuela. Located on the North side of Tenerife, just outside the town of Los Realejos, the ruin looks like a phantasmagorical castle or an abandoned great house above the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
While it is not any of those things, the truth surrounding the ruin verges on being stranger than fiction. In fact, the ruin as it stands today is the only surviving remnants of a much larger industrial complex, and one that included at the time, the tallest building on the island – a fifty foot chimney. What now looks like something out of a fantasy novel was planned and constructed for a much more mundane purpose – moving freshwater from the Barranco de Gordejuela to nearby banana plantations by the Hamilton Company. As one can imagine, as a volcanic island, Tenerife has never had large reserves of fresh water. What fresh water that exists – and has existed on the island is in large part the result of hundreds of years of precipitation, collected in large aquifers. While such aquifers were sufficient for many years, fresh water use – and ownership became an issue with the advent of large scale agricultural operations and increased population growth.
In the Los Realejos area, it was the Hamilton Company’s plan to pump the water from the gorge up a steep grade through a series of hydraulic pumps. If this doesn’t sound convoluted enough, the whole operation was to be powered by a giant steam generator. While all of this was a complicated process, involving the transport of water by steam power over two kilometers, the Hamilton Company acquired the property necessary for the complex in the late nineteenth century, and opened the complex in 1903. For fifteen years, the complex operated, pumping water to nearby plantations, before eventually closing as the whole operation was not cost-efficient, nor with the advent of electricity, efficient from a practical standpoint either. After 1919, the complex, including a top building which had the fifty foot chimney fell into gradual ruin. Today, all that remains is the lower – and very picturesque four story lower station, along with its connecting steps to the foundation of the former top structure.
Directions: If you are in the Los Realejos region, the ruin is readily visible from many points along the coast, especially the San Pedro Lookout. There are also a number of running and walking trails in the area of the Rambla de Castro that pass close to, or nearby the ruin, and all of these options are the safe and legal ways to obtain a great photo of the ruin. If, however, you like urban exploration, and want to explore the ruin itself, I can provide some more concrete directions after some disclaimers.
When I was in Tenerife and saw the ruin first from a clearly legal and safe area, I noticed that there were a number of other people in the area looking for ways to get into the ruin for their own adventure. As a tourist, it appeared clear to me that the ruin is off limits as a general rule due to the fact that it is not maintained and is on a very steep cliff. Having said that, I am not clear whether those that want to explore the ruin are trespassing and can be prosecuted and or arrested by local authorities, or whether exploration of the ruin is at one’s own risk only. Speaking from personal experience based on my knowledge of Spanish, most of the signs that addressed these issues dealt more with the risk of death than the risk of prosecution, but I would note that this is not any sort of legal opinion or advice. Assuming one wants to proceed into the ruin, knowing that there are various potential legal issues of entering the property, and various personal safety issues about proceeding toward the ruin, the best place to start is to follow Calle San Agustin from Los Realejos North, under the TF-5 until the road comes to an end near the coast.
Like many of the roads on Tenerife, this road is both very narrow, and very steep; having said that, there is parking near the end of the road on both sides for most cars. For those who do not have a car on the island, the place to start is the Puerto Franco bus stop in Los Realejos, again along the Calle San Agustin. Once off the bus, one will want to walk north along the road for about a mile, where again, the road ends. Once at this spot, visitors will find themselves near a walking path which crosses a bridge below that passes by some very high and difficult locked gates. These gates, with their height, barbed wire, and other issues are not the best place to enter to see the ruin and are on the spot of the former top building of the complex.
Instead, visitors will want to stay on the road near the cliff where a loose chain link fence overlooks the entirety of the complex. While I am not encouraging or advocating for people to go under or through the fence, what I can say is that it is not secure, and it is clear to me that many people (including those I watched) use this as the easiest way to access the ruin. Assuming one passes through the fence, there is a very steep scramble down an unfenced cliff face that is not stable. A fall from any point along this cliff if not fatal, would lead to at a minimum, serious injury. Assuming one is interested in seeing the ruin – and many individuals I observed were – one will have to traverse this dangerous section for about fifty feet. While I don’t want to overdramatize the risk therein, it is worth noting again that any sort of fall from this zone would be extremely bad.
Once past this point, an individual would find themselves behind the aforementioned locked gates on top of a foundation that no longer supports the upper structure nor chimney. To the northwest, the stairs that connected the now destroyed upper building and lower visible ruin are readily visible, mostly intact and stable. While not as risky as the cliff face descent, the stairs are likely no longer structurally sound, and again, a fall would not be good for any parties who are traversing this area. At the bottom of the stairs, one finds themselves in the ruined – and unlocked bottom building of the complex, which has great photographic opportunities. For the last time, I would note that exploring a ruin on a cliff is inherently dangerous, especially as there are numerous holes, gaps, and other structural issues.
For those willing to take these risks, one will have one of a kind photographic opportunities and adventure opportunities not just on Tenerife, but probably anywhere in the world. Once done, one will want to return back the way one came – carefully. One final note as to the ruin as to personal safety – I provided all of the above directions based on my observation that the ruin was fairly commonly explored by locals and tourists alike. But, having traveled a lot, I realize that remote and off limits locations can change in character quickly. If you do visit, be aware that this is a remote spot that could be unsafe if the wrong people are there, and those same people may not take kindly to tourists being in “their” spot.
Tips: Although it’s a ruin of a water pumping plant, and not something exotic as one would think visually, visitors should still have respect for the remaining structure for historic and personal safety reasons alike.