The Canaries are a series of volcanic islands west of Morocco in the Atlantic- and a popular tourist destination for Europeans due partly to the consistent warm climate throughout the year. They also provide surprisingly good hiking including the long distance trail the GR131 which crosses the 7 main islands.
Brian visited Gran Canaria and Tenerife in late March 2023 for a 8 day backpack including a ferry between islands in the middle. I was armed with a guidebook, Cicerone’s Trekking in the Canary Islands as a kindle app.
Gran Canaria GR131 I hiked about 52 miles in 3 days (guidebook route is 46 miles)
Tenerife GR131 I hiked about 67 miles in 5 days (guidebook route is 58 miles)
I arrived at Gran Canaria’s main town of Las Palmas and went on a search for a gas cannister for my stove. I got the screw on cannister for my gas stove at one of the two Decathlon stores outside town and a small scale map from a bookshop and was set to go.
On March 21st – equinox!- I took a bus down to the southern tip of the island and the tourist beach resort of Maspalomes with its distinctive area of sand dunes.
It was hot as I headed off hiking north – maybe 28 to 30C. The start is alongside a messy dry riverbed, with litter and graffiti but I soon left this tourist coastal strip to climb slowly into the hills and more natural scenery.
The Cicerone guide’s follows a road for its first day to the small town of Ayagaures. Being keen to avoid the road I saw a line to the east on the map which followed jeep tracks up Barranco de Los Vicentes. This worked well for me providing a quiet wander up through an arid valley with cactus and palm trees lining the hillsides. I climbed up at the head of the barranco on a good trail to a viewful dirt road that zig zagged down to Ayagaures to rejoin the guide book route.
The attractive looking café/bar in town was closed unfortunately but I was able to collect some water from a nearby house and climb out past two reservoirs into pleasant sweet smelling pine. These looked a little like the ponderosa pine that grows in the US in high desert areas and provided some welcome shade in the still hot late afternoon. I found a good viewful campsite at a col at 950m after 15 sweaty miles!
I should say that camping is technically not allowed but I didn’t have any problem ‘bivouacking’ – that is setting the tent up discreetly at dusk and heading off in the morning soon after dawn. Of course you need to keep a clean camp if doing this and follow leave no trace principles. One thing to be particularly mindful of is not to light any fires and be very careful if using a stove as the ground was extremely dry and packed with pine needles that looked very combustible.
Next day I followed a really good trail into the mountain village of Nunte (full name -San Bartolome de Tirajana) by mid morning and stopped off for coffee and cake at one of the cafes and stocked up on some more food at the shop. I met some other hikers here, a lovely spot to hang out or I guess you could overnight too.
The trail I had hiked to here looked like it is used a lot by mountain bikers – although I didn’t see any – and wound its way through some rugged hillsides. Unfortunately, although the weather was hot and stable, there was a constant dusty haze which reduced the visibility a bit. Someone said to me that it was a wind bringing sand over from West Africa but I wasn’t sure if that was the reason!
More really nice trail followed for the rest of the day, staying high and weaving round the sides of mountains and then through upland plateau. The distinctive pinnacle of Roque Nublo stuck out like a thumb from the surrounding hills.
Later I reached a road at the col of Cruz de Tejeda which also had a café and a toilet block where I could collect water. It was 4pm and the café had stopped selling food so I cooked an early dinner and washed myself and my clothes as best I could. I didn’t see any running water on the trail in Gran Canaria so I relied on cafés, toilet blocks and buying bottled water at grocery stores along the way.
I hiked out beyond the pass in the evening with slightly cooler air and found a good camp in the woods perched above a cliffside. 18 miles today with lots of up and down.
In the morning I met another hiker, Nikoli from Belarus and we had a chat at Artenara, a picturesque village overlooking the steep sided valley to the south. The way ahead was mellow, wandering through pine clad hills with views out west down to the sea. I stopped off at the recreational area of Tamadaba for lunch in the trees then headed north to plunge downwards towards the sea at Agaete.
Jeez it was hot down there, maybe 35+C I would guess but the trail was superb finding a way down a steep band of cliffs and finishing right in town. About 20 miles today and I booked a room in a hostel ready for a ferry trip the next day over to Tenerife!
Thoughts on Gran Canaria GR131
I enjoyed the hike, it was scenic with great trails and enough town or café stops to make it easy to resupply. It was hot though and perhaps November – early March might be the best time to hike.
The island also looks good for road cycling and mountain biking if you are into that.
One downside was the amount of toilet paper along the trail. This is the most I remember seeing on any hiking trip and is a bit disgusting to be honest- carry it out with you folks!!
Guide book for GR131 – Cicerone’s Trekking in the Canary Islands
Mapping app I used – Outdooractive
Stingy Nomads guide to – Camino de Santiago de Gran Canaria (a similar route to GR131)