Andy's EPIC Hikes in Europe Canary Islands
The Canaries: 8 Islands, 7 Climbs
Day 1 and 2: Lanzarote: Peñas del Chache (670 m) Day 3 and 4: Fuerteventura: Pico de la Zarza (817 m) Day 5: Gran Canaria: Pico de las Nieves (1,965m) Day 6 and 7: El Hierro: Malpaso (1,501 m) Day 8 and 9: La Gomera: Alto de Garajonay (1,487 m) Day 10 and 11: La Palma: Roque de los Muchachos (2,426 m) Day 12 to 14: Tenerife: Pico del Teide (3,715 m)
And there are plenty of tourist hotspots. The Canaries are home to just over 2 million people, yet annual visitors pre-Covid comfortably outnumber locals by a factor of 6. Most of the population live either on Tenerife (960,000) or on Gran Canaria (860,000), leaving only a handful of year-round residents on the remaining islands. Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are the only sizeable cities, and amicably share the title of capital of the Canaries. The islands rose to prominence some 500 years ago as the main stopover during the Spanish colonisation of Latin America when ships sailed south from the mainland by catching the prevailing north-easterly winds. In more modern times, scientists started to appreciate the islands’ high mountains as an ideal terrain for astronomical observations. And even more recently the spectacular 2021 eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano on La Palma hit international news headlines.
I always wanted to return driven by an admittedly peculiar ambition to pursue a ferry-hopping trip that takes in all seven islands whilst hiking up to each of the islands’ highest peaks. Okay, in 2018, La Graciosa, a tiny speck of rock off Lanzarote populated by a mere 700 people, was officially declared Canary Island #8, but I am conveniently discarding that option given that the highest elevation there is a mere 200 m hill. I laid out my plan to my friend Carlos. To my surprise he did not need much convincing. Born and raised in Spain, educated to the highest academic standard in Germany and the UK, whilst conveniently picking up the odd Brexit-defying passport along the way, the man is an IT and Math genius by trade, but also annoyingly fit, and I am anticipating cheerful introductions to quantum physics while breathlessly trying to keep pace with him. His true asset though might just be his linguistic skill set and I am looking forward to sampling dishes that I have never tasted before, let alone be able to pronounce.
What lie ahead of us were some rather serious hikes, in particular the climb up Mount Teide on Tenerife, at 3,715 m the highest peak in all of Spain, which would take a good 5 hours up and 3 hours down. At a more manageable level, 5 hour round trips would take us up to and down from Peñas del Chache on Lanzarote (670 m) and from Pico de la Zarza on Fuerteventura (817 m)). Mercifully, on the remaining islands we could take advantage of paved roads that would lead us up to (or at least near to) the top of Pico de las Nieves on Gran Canaria (1,965 m), of Malpaso on El Hierro (1,501 m), and of Pico de Garajonay on La Gomera (1,487 m). On those occasions, our plan was to hire a car, drive as high as possible and explore the area by doing some circular hikes. I was particularly looking forward to the magical road leading up to the mighty Roque de los Muchachos (2,426 m) on La Palma, with the lava-spewing Cumbre Vieja surely providing an exquisite backdrop.
Day One and Two: Lanzarote
Last Volcanic Eruption: 1824
Peñas del Chache (670 m)
At least our transfer from Lanzarote airport to our hotel in Arecife was seamless. Bus #22 (1.40€) deposited us right in the centre of town. We went for an evening stroll around the picturesque inner harbour and had dinner at an inauspicious-looking restaurant called Leito de Proa that seemed to cater only for locals. My travel companion got to work on the tapas menu. As I had hoped for, I sampled things that I have never eaten before, all delicious. Carlos, man of science but also food connoisseur: Who knew?
Unperturbed we set off towards Teguise in the centre of the island. What’s 20k? We should be there within one hour, then another 30 minutes descent to Caleta, a 3 – 4 hour hike, then back on our bikes to return to Arecife before sunset at 6.00. Easy. It took us two hours along a steadily climbing, newly paved road (with separate cycle lanes no less) just to get to Teguise in the centre of the island. Surprisingly exhausted we rested at a café in the very pretty church square of this atmospheric town when it dawned on us that our plan might just be a tad ambitious. What we had just climbed on our lady bikes, we needed to climb once more when returning from Caleta, and we would be in the saddle for at least another three hours before the day is out. Not enough to squeeze in a hike, so we decided on a different course of action. The top of Peñas del Chache is also accessible by road (with a stretch of dirt track at the end). We could just about spot the peak in the distance, and since we were already quite high up, surely the road would not have too many more climbs.
Five hours up, a mere one hour down through a desert-like landscape where nothing grows unless assisted by human intervention. Newly built suburbs and holiday homes the closer you get to the coast and to Arecife. The island is not yet over-developed but is not far from saturation. But at least all houses are whitewashed which offers an aesthetically pleasing contrast when set against the black volcanic sand. One down, six more climbs to go.
Day 3 and 4: Fuerteventura
Last Volcanic Eruption: 4000 – 5000 years ago
Pico de la Zarza (817 m)
Day 5: Gran Canaria
Last Volcanic Eruption: less than 1000 years ago
Pico de las Nieves (1,965m)
The temperature dropped by a good ten degrees as we drove up to nearly 2,000 m to our final destination, the Pico de las Nieves. It received its name from a local tradition whereas farmers stored compacted snow in deep manmade shafts as an ingenious form of storing water for dryer summer months. Unfortunately, fog and clouds had descended on the mountain range, so we really could not see that much, but at least we found a trailhead right on top of the mountain that offered a 90 minute loop down and back up through dense pine woods whilst bypassing a picknick area called Lanos de la Pez, which was heavily frequented by locals on a weekend outing. Carlos had barely spoken a word today and now I realised why: We were both knackered from the previous days and in particular the early morning rises. After four hours up in the forest, we made our way back to the airport to drop off the car to a puzzled attendant who kept assuring us that we can keep the runner for another 20 hours or so. But instead, we took #60 back into town.
Away from the beach, the town is a rather uninspiring mix of bottom-of-the-league architecture. Early on our next day, I took a Sunday morning stroll along the seafront. The first bathers were setting up their patches on the beach, and joggers of all ages were doing their thing. By mid-day the place was heaving with volleyballers, footballers, and racket ballers. Children were enjoying their first ice creams of the day. Older folks were trading gossip over a cup of cortado. The atmosphere was lively, friendly, even exuberant, and I was getting a much appreciated dose of sunshine while friends and colleagues back home were shivering in the wet cold. Who cares about the architecture? I could have easily spent many more days here.
Ferry: Fred Olsen: Morro Jable (Fuerteventura) to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: 2 hours (57€)
Hotel Ciudad del Mar, Las Palmas Restaurant: O Sole Mio, la Casa Roja
Day 6 and 7: El Hierro:
Last Volcanic Eruption: 2011-12 (below sea level, just offshore)
Malpaso (1,501 m)
Back in the car, I made my way through this surprisingly varied landscape, encountering grass land (with sheep), followed by fields of cacti, past desolate villages and down the southern slopes and on to La Restinga on the southernmost tip of the island, which has a proper end of the world feel: a couple of unappealing (and often run-down) dwellings, some slightly better looking apartment houses in amongst black volcanic rock, lending the whole setting a rather apocalyptic feel. I ambled across a board walk built on lava rock with ladders drilled into it to provide access to the sea. Spooky, yet impossibly photogenic at the same time. Further west lies Playa de Tacoron, just a run-down beach bar really that emanated a distinct hippy vibe: lots of camper vans most of them with German license, who had endured the 36 hour crossing from the Spanish mainland, many of them looking rather wrinkled in a clear sign that the 60s generation has approached pension age.
Back to the sunny south coast. The wind did not abide unfortunately, and I ended up in a lovely spot called Caleta: again, just a small collection of houses perched on a steep cliff complemented by the odd basic convenience store; not much else. And then on to the ferry. I dozed off almost instantly, only to wake up to the lady in front of me vomiting her lunch onto a much abused carpet (this being the third time on the trip when someone introduced themselves to me in such a fashion). When we took off, she had tried to capture a number of selfie images, with her right arm stretched out and her face positioned at impossible angles. I had tried to stay out of her background. But now I was tempted to do my own selfie with her (and the contents of her lunch) in the background as the ultimate exercise in photo-bombing. My manners got the better of me. To my amazement, the ferry arrived on time. As I disembarked Carlos was waiting for me, and the two of us climbed straight up the gang way for the connecting ferry to La Gomera.
Ferry 1: Naviera Armas: Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) – Santa Cruz (Tenerife): 1h 40 min: (57€) Ferry 2: Naviera Armas: Los Cristianos (Tenerife) – Port de Valverde (El Hierro): 2h 30 min (47€) Bus #110: Santa Cruz de Tenerife – Los Cristianos: 10€ (around 1 hour) Hotel Boomerang, Valverde Restaurant la Zabagu, Valverde
Day 8 and 9: La Gomera.
Last Volcanic Eruption: three million years ago
Alto de Garajonay (1,487 m)
Ferry 1: Naviera Armas: Port de Valverde (El Hierro) - Los Cristianos (Tenerife): 2h 30 min (47€) Ferry 2: Fred Olsen: Los Cristianos (Tenerife) – San Sebastian (La Gomera): 50 minutes (30€)
Hotel Torre, San Sebastian Restaurant Breñusca, San Sebastian
Day 10 and 11: La Palma.
Last Volcanic Eruption: 2021-22.
Roque de los Muchachos (2,426 m)
This time we had better luck with dinner since we followed a recommendation from our trusted receptionist. Tasca Luis was just around the corner from our hotel: local, authentic, traditional, and quite cheap. As a bonus, the waiter kept providing us with anecdotes and historical facts. He had a thankful audience: we were his only guests.
Hotel Hotelito 27, Santa Cruz Restaurant Tasca Luis, Santa Cruz
Day 12 to 15: Tenerife
Last Volcanic Eruption: 1909
Pico del Teide (3,715 m)
'Sign? What sign?' ‘Do you think I’m stupid? There are three big signs along the way which you ignored’‘Honestly, Madam, we did not see them, as we had to keep our eyes fixed on the path’‘Eff off, or I fine you’
Ferry: Fred Olsen: Santa Cruz de la Palma – Los Cristianos: 2h 30 min (44€)
Hotel Somberito, Vilaflor Restaurant Tasca el Rincon de Roberto, Vilaflor