As Gran Canaria was one of my favourite islands, I’ve decided to do something different than just writing a diary-type-blog of all five stages of the GR131.
Whereas I did that for Lanzarote (here) and Fuerteventura (here and here), I decided here I’d write about my highlights of the island as a whole. Apologies if you were looking for tips/route guidance.
I fell in love with Gran Canaria and ended up spending almost 3 weeks on the island (instead of the 5 days it should’ve taken me to cross). I could’ve spent much longer too. I was not only fortunate enough to be there during some stunning 30 degree days, but also during Carnival, one of the biggest fiestas in the world. I managed to walk the five stages of the GR131, add in several other day walks, spend a couple of days on the beach or on the streets of Las Palmas, eat fantastically cheap and delicious food and spend a few days driving around the island as well. I even did a spot of gardening and got dressed up in drag too. I learnt that Gran Canaria is so much more than the tourist resorts in the south of the island and I thoroughly recommend a visit for anyone interested in the untapped Jurassic Park-esque wilderness the center of the island has to offer. Without further ado, here are my highlights of the island of Gran Canaria…
My highlights of Gran Canaria:
1. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
The capital of Gran Canaria and joint-capital of the Canary Islands, Las Palmas is a fantastic, vibrant, livable city. With a backdrop reminiscent of something out of South America, I spent around two weeks based in the city and could’ve easily spent longer. With an interesting historic cultural center, pedestrianized shopping streets and miles of protected coastline (golden and black sand beaches), this city is worth a few days/weeks of anyone’s time. Escaping the masses of tourists that flock to the south of the island, it still feels very local and the prices reflect that. The public transportation all starts and ends in LPDGC so you can get anywhere easily and cheaply too.
While you could visit Las Palmas at anytime of year, you can’t go wrong by rocking up during February and experiencing Carnival in full flow. Days and nights filled with music, dancing, costumes, drag, parades and fireworks – what more could you want?
2. Roque Nublo
Roque Nublo (Rock in the Clouds), is undoubtedly one of the most iconic places to visit for anyone willing to drag themselves away from the sun loungers. This 67 meter tall rock is over 1,800 meters above sea level and a great destination for several day hikes in the area (alternatively, you can park a couple of kilometers away and walk in – if you’re feeling lazy). While I was there the cloud rolled in turning everything below the rock perfectly white.
Yeah, this is tourist central – but it’s still worth a visit for one very good reason – the dunes. While you’ll find hundreds (thousands) of tourists laid out on the dunes closest to the tacky tourist restaurants, it isn’t too hard to find a bit of solitude if you’re willing to walk for it. The dunes are definitely worth a shout.
4. Puerto de Mogan
Sticking to the south of the island, Puerto de Morgan is one of the places I didn’t hate. While this is undoubtedly still a destination for tourists on the island, it has a much better vibe than that found in Maspalamos, Puerto Rico or Playa del Ingles. A charming port, beautiful stretch of beach and fascinating array of colored houses make this small town worth an afternoon visit.
5. Teror (specifically Teror Market)
Teror is not nearly as terrifying as it sounds. A beautiful little town with stunning architecture, Teror is situated in the mountains in the northern part of Gran Canaria. Quiet throughout most of the week, Sunday sees the town come to life as it hosts a traditional Spanish market. With chorizo and olives in abundance – I can’t think of a better place to spend a few hours, especially when you can pick up some lunch for a couple of euros.
6. Tejeda, Artenera, etc.
The villages in the center of the island are awesome. Small, but very beautiful and almost always providing incredible views across the mountainous landscape of Gran Canaria. Great little towns to drive (or get the bus) to, spend an afternoon and grab some delicious food or a couple of glasses of wine. When I visited the region, there was some sort of rally going on – so I spent the day playing cat and mouse (and being overtaken by) rally cars along the mountain roads.
Since I spent most of my time on the island on the trails, I suppose I should discuss my top 3 day hikes too…
7. Cruz de Tejeda – Pico de las Nieves – San Mateo
This was a roughly 30km walk up from the mountain pass at Cruz de Tejeda (1580 meters), following the S50/S51 to the highest point of the island, Pico de las Nieves (1949 meters), before following the S20 down to the town of San Mateo (900 meters). The first half of the walk provided fantastic views across to Roque Bentayga and Roque Nublo, before reaching the well maintained tracks around Llanos de la Pez. The final climb to Pico de las Nieves is quite steep, but the views you’re awarded with from the top make it well worth it. It’s only slightly ruined by the fact that the majority of people at the top will have driven up.
8. Artenera – Tamadaba – Agaete
A number of diversions (read: getting lost and voluntarily climbing higher) led to this route being about 35km long (almost 15km longer than anticipated). Starting in Artenera (1307 meters) I initially descended almost 500 meters on the S97 down to the small villages of Coruna, Las Hoyas and Lugarejos. It was then that I (arbitrarily) decided that I wanted to be on the S90 instead, which, after walking circles around the villages looking for the S96, led me to a 400 meter climb into the Pinar de Tamadaba. With temperatures reaching 30 degrees during this climb I was not loving life.
Once I emerged from the trees and onto the GC-216 road, I decided to continue climbing to the summit of Mount Tamadaba (1444 meters), before descending on the S90 down towards Agaete. It was just before I started the steep (and magnificent) descent that an elderly German couple warned me off trying to make it to Agaete, instead suggesting I settled for San Pedro. Ignoring there warnings that it was a further 3.5 hours to Agaete, I decided to pick up the pace and continue on my way. It took me about 1.5 hours to complete the 1,000 meter plus descent into Agaete, the whole time being rewarded with some incredible views across the northern coast of Gran Canaria. This was my favourite day walk and it does form part of the GR131.
9. Teror – Cruz de Tejeda – Tejeda
The final section of walk to discuss is the 25km walk between Teror and Tejeda, going via the mountain pass at Cruz de Tejeda too. Starting out in Teror (about 850 meters), I followed the S15 out of the town (I had intended to be on the S14), before somehow getting lost and winding up on the S14 after all. The route climbed to Cruz de Tejeda (1580 meters) before descending to Tejeda (982 meters). While I walked almost the entire route in a downpour, high winds and very low visibility, I would still recommend it. Having driven across the area previously, I know that the landscape and views in the area are incredible. And even if it does rain… I guess that made for more of an adventure.
In all honestly I did feel like giving up at one point. I was about a kilometer or so short of Cruz de Tejeda and the rain was really coming down. The high wind and low temperatures were making my hands uncomfortably cold and I was sheltering in what I believe was a disused bus shelter. I had been in the shelter for about 30 minutes and with no sign of the rain subsiding I was about to call it a day and wander down the road to where I was sure a bus would await. It was then that a Danish mountain biker asked if he could share my shelter – we spoke for about 10 minutes before he said he was going to continue up. There’s something very inspirational about meeting someone in the same situation as you and hearing them talk about pushing on. I followed shortly afterwards and within 10 minutes the rain had subsided. Moral of the story: just keep moving.
That’s pretty much it for my time on Gran Canaria. While I could probably recommend many more things to do on the island, for now I’ll stick to these highlights. Gran Canaria is a beautiful island that has so much to offer anyone who loves mountains, wilderness and hiking and it’s a tragic shame that so many leave the island having never really seen it. Until next time.