With average temperatures of 19C in April, springtime in the Canary Islands offers the perfect antidote to Britain’s grey skies. But there’s more to the islands than plentiful sunshine – if walking takes your fancy, paradise lies no further than here. Erica Bush puts a spring in her step and heads for the hills
Barranco de Fañabé & Roque del Conde © Michael Bolognesi
Since Columbus’ infamous stay in La Gomera before departing for the Americas in 1492, the Canaries have been a key trading point for the New World, bringing a wealth of fauna, riches and exotic influences that are still prevalent today. And with a plethora of spectacular scenery spanning all of the islands, including black-sand beaches, steep-sided valleys bursting with hardy Alpine vegetation, prehistoric volcanoes and sleepy traditional farming hamlets, it will be hard to find something that doesn’t catch your eye. Each island certainly has its own allure, but for hiking, there are two front-runners.
The largest (at 1275 square miles) and by far the most popular island is Tenerife with a million and a half tourists flocking there each year. But if you move away from the plastic souvenir shops and giant mass-market resorts of the South Coast, you will find walking in Tenerife hugely varied and immensely rewarding. The constant presence of Mount Teide in the centre of the island is Spain’s highest mountain and the third tallest volcano in the world. Often regarded as the ‘Island of Eternal Spring’ due to its temperate climes, the old-style quaint villages and dramatic coastline, coupled with plunging valleys and green-pine forests, supply a fascinating contrast of landscapes to explore.
Some of the best walking trails can be found at the UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the ‘12 Treasures of Spain’, Teide National Park. Here, you will find an extensive network of guided trail tours and non-guided routes ranging from 30 minutes to five hours. However, these are not for the faint-hearted and only the most experienced of walkers stray from the marked routes.
The sub-tropical ‘laurisilva’ forest of the Anaga Rural Park also offers stunning, more remote, hiking trails that lend to the ‘real Tenerife’, with high vantage points offering amazing views of lush forestry, rugged ravines and old-world villages. The circular route between Cruz del Carmen to Chinamada is one of the best, encompassing almost 12kms (around 4 hours) in total.
If it’s a coastal walk you’re after, the Rambla del Castro route offers one of the most exciting trails – it’s unique and exotic, yet still surprisingly untouched by tourists. With banana trees that stretch as far as the eye can see, colonial haciendas with bright orange tiles, and the endless view of clear blue waters, this trail is one you cannot miss. And all the while, the only people you might bump into are banana plantation workers who will smile kindly and say hello. While a little steep in places, most could manage this walk and be able to enjoy the wonderful views. Paths start from just outside Puerta de la Cruz.
For a much easier hike, take the Buenavista del Norte, which is located in the western corner of the island. Considerably easier than trails found at Teide or the Anaga mountains, this coastal route promises views of the glittering ocean with a breathtaking mountain backdrop. This marked trail is dotted with rock pools and local men catching fish that even the kids would enjoy, provided you bring a picnic!
If you are looking for somewhere to stay, the 4-star Hotel San Roque located in the heart of Garachico, an unspoiled traditional town with pebbled streets, a vibrant fishing port and grand houses, is one of Tenerife’s gems. Although quite unassuming from the outside, inside lie plush bedrooms, two central courtyards, an outdoor heated pool and a sauna.
A smaller, less popular but equally as enthralling hiking destination in the Canaries is La Gomera, a 45-minute ferry ride west of Tenerife. Arguably the prettiest of the smaller islands but only 15 miles in diameter, La Gomera offers varied and dramatic scenery including sheer valleys, sleepy villages and the luxuriant forest of Garajonay National Park. La Gomera is a plant and bird lover’s paradise due to its temperate climes, offering a wide variety of plants and flowers both widespread and rare, as well as 200 species of birds. It has been said that you can walk for two weeks on this island and never retrace your steps, so it is no wonder that the island possesses a strong feeling of undiscovered beauty. With several hundred kilometres of marked Caminos and old donkey paths, La Gomera is well and truly a walkers paradise.
The misty evergreen forest that is the Garajonay National Park lies in the centre of the island surrounding the Garajonay Mountain (1487m) and is an absolutely fascinating hiking area. Almost constantly shrouded in mist and fog, the mysterious and enchanting forest will supply you with endless trails, taking you deep into thick laurel vegetation of a type that is now rare in North American and Southern Europe. The Park also has 2000 species of plants, the vast majority of which are endemic to La Gomera, making for extremely interesting walking. One trail you can’t miss is the route of Contadedro-Caserio, which includes the unique Forest of El Cedro and its stream – the main ravine that is always running with water in the Park.
If you’re up for a lengthier, more hardcore hike, take the trail to the summit of Mount Garajonay to enjoy spectacular views of four other Canary Islands: El Hierro, La Palma, Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Also be sure to check out Los Roques, the three most impressive volcanic rock towers on the island. Standing very close to Garajonay, they stand out above the main road, which connects the East of La Gomera to the West, the Carretera del Centro. Due to the beautiful backdrop of Tenerife’s Teide, this landmark is the most photographed on La Gomera, so do not miss out on this scenic viewpoint. Unfortunately, since becoming natural monuments, climbing on the three rocks is strictly prohibited.
Another trail that promises incredible panoramic views and picnic spots are the circular roundtrips through the valley of Vallehermoso, in the north of the island. The trail starts and ends in the sun-blushed centre of the town and takes you up 540 meters in height in just one hour and 15 minutes to high mountain ridges where Tenerife (including Mount Teide), La Palma and Lanzarote are all visible. In total the walk will take you around 5 hours but, although slightly steeper in places, is fairly easy for most.
One of the best hotels on the island is the gorgeous 4-star Paradores in the charming capital of San Sebastián. Perched on a high cliff known as the Lomo de la Horca (Gallows Ridge) above the port of San Sebastián, the hotel and grounds are surrounded by exotic gardens planted with hibiscus, bougainvillaea and palms looking out over the cobalt-blue ocean and lively harbour below.
For a range of guided and self-guided package hiking holidays in the Canaries, visit www.headwater.com/list/by-country/spain/walking.htm
And for more information on the Canaries, visit www.turismodecanarias.com/canary-islands-spain/index.html
After all, the world’s more beautiful on foot.