Gran Canaria – Year Round Walking Paradise Blog

| January 3, 2016

Gran Canaria is often dismissed like some giant tourist aircraft carrier floating off the African coast. Fine for deep-fried Brits wanting to burn for a week on the beach, but not surely somewhere for a walking break? Look closer, though, and Gran Canaria emerges as an island oasis where you can descend into volcanic calderas, scramble along some of Europe’s highest cliffs and stroll through endorphin pumping forests, without so much as a British fry up in sight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGran Canaria – A Walking Continent in Miniature

The first time I ventured to the third largest of the Canary Islands a few years ago I had been sceptical too. I had feared the ‘Continent in Miniature’ epithet was just tourist office puff, but then surely UNESCO couldn’t be wrong either, having declared the entire island a Biosphere Reserve in 2005?

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I was not disappointed. Within hours of touching down I had left the Irish pubs behind and was clambering over some of the most impressive sand dunes in Europe, just on the fringes of the southern resorts in the Dunes of Maspalomas Special Nature Reserve. Behind the Atlantic beaches tempted a hinterland awash with thick forests and sky scratching mountains, with Pico de Las Nieves at 1,949m over 500m higher than Ben Nevis. This is a wildscape that is home to around 50 species of nesting bird and alive with 100 plant species endemic solely to the island.

Ramblers Worldwide Holidays on Gran Canaria

I spent a week wrapped in the cosseted charms of Ramblers Worldwide Holidays on a trip that eased out on the island’s myriad walking trails in the safety of a group. We dropped down into the volcanic Caldera de Bandama to discover a lush netherworld that looked more like a scene from Jurassic Park than a traditional Canarian beach.

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Another day we worked through the Guayadeque Valley, spying the cave dwellings shorn into the steep hillsides, and then another we descended through the clouds from the Mirador Pinos de Galdar and pushed on to the small town of Firgas, with wild flowers and the fresh aroma of eucalyptus forests filling the air.

Self-Guided Walking Holidays on Gran Canaria

Since then I have been back to Gran Canaria on a self-guided walking trip with Macs Adventure (www.macsadventure.com). Autumn and winter are the best times to come as the mercury dips a little with daytime temperatures sitting in the low 20Cs and the skies are often still clear. This was to prove a more testing week, as I embarked on tougher trails that really opened up the wildness of much of the island.

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On a self guided hike there is no idling at the back just admiring the scenery. Though there is plenty of scenery to admire. After breakfast on the hotel terrace gawping up at the improbably precipitous mountains it was time to get in amongst them. It was out with the map and route guide – mercifully unlike some walks I have tackled elsewhere in Spain they were accurate.

The Beauty of a Self-Guided Walking Holiday on Gran Canaria

This first day was typical of my week-long Macs Adventure trip. I eked my way up a barranco to the small village of San Pedro, stopping at a tiny bar for a café con leche. This is one of the joys of a self-guided trip as you get to pop into little bars and cafes without any other tourists in sight as you discover village after village untouched by mass tourism.

Soon it was time to seek higher ground, burning another 450m up narrow paths, using my hands and feet at one point, to reach a height of over 600m. Up here it was just me and the kestrels. They get ospreys in these parts too. On the descent the Atlantic unfurled ahead as I approached the famous cliffs south of the fishing village of Puerto de Las Nieves, which vault over 700m vertically from the ocean. Across the cobalt Atlantic the unmistakable peak of Mount Teide (at 3,718m Spain’s highest mountain) rose regally over a bank of clouds on neighbouring Tenerife. The hulk of Teide was to become a regular sight during the week.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day’s walk was a tough 16km hike from El Sao to Tejeda, with 1,300m of ascent and low cloud and mist. One of Gran Canaria’s charms is that the weather is wonderfully benign most of the time, but much of this day was spent alone in mountains higher than Scotland’s Cairngorm Plateau, so you still have to be prepared for a fairly rough day.

Mercifully there were no rough nights thanks to the trio of hotels I walked between. Each of these characterful oases had been picked with walkers in mind, quiet country retreats with owners who could rustle up a decent packed lunch. The last, Hotel Rural las Calas, boasted a swimming pool that proved very welcome after six days of bashing my way around the old caminos, hills and barrancos.

The Gran Canaria Walking Festival

I had found the island’s walking routes largely devoid of day-trippers and other hikers. Indeed I saw more goats than people. That may be about to change as 2012 saw the inaugural Gran Canaria Walking Festival, which is helping to finally put the island on the walking map with an array of guided walks at all levels. The festival was even bigger and better in 2013 and it looks set to grow so watch this space.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlying out of Gran Canaria the next day I had a quiet smile out the window. Unfurled below was an island fringed with some of Europe’s finest beaches, but also a hinterland blessed with vaulting mountains, rugged volcanoes and rich ravines, a wonderland unknown to anyone not willing to leave their hotel pool. I left behind an island that is still criminally underrated as a walking destination, though that may about to finally change so if you want to enjoy your own slice of balmy winter walking I would not wait too long.

Factfile

Ramblers Worldwide Holidays offer a week’s guided walking, including flights, B&B at hotels and evening meals from £899.

Macs Adventure offer 7 nights self-guided with B&B accommodation, dinner 2 nights, baggage transfer between hotels, taxi transfers, plus route information from £625 without flights.

– For more information on the Gran Canaria Walking Festival (held every autumn with a new winter variation introduced in 2014) see www.grancanariawalkingfestival.es.

– ‘Walking on Gran Canaria’ is published by Cicerone and details almost 50 Gran Canaria walking routes.

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