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On foot in The Canaries

Jack Montgomery, 26 July, 2017
Jack and Andy Montgomery know the Canary Islands inside out, having lived there for the past 14 years. Here, they give us the low-down on walking, making the tricky choice between islands that little bit easier...

Walking paths in the Canaries are like Daniel Craig’s Bond to mainland Europe’s Pierce Brosnan. Here, you won’t find compacted gravel pristinely maintained and signposted at every bend. The trails that criss-cross the islands date back centuries to when the first inhabitants moved their livestock between winter and summer grazing grounds.

Later adopted by merchants taking goods to trade or export, they largely consist of cobbled stones of varying size, chaotic shapes and erratic heights. Apart from the volcanic landscapes, these caminos reales (literally ‘royal ways’), are the one common theme between the islands.
La Gomera
The consummate walking island, La Gomera is lush and lovely. A tropical rainforest carpets her central region while pine forests, palm trees and dense vegetation abound. Deep barrancos (ravines) run from the centre to the coast, like spokes of a wheel, making La Gomera time-consuming to navigate at coastal level.

Terrain: well-signed and generally well-maintained paths set out straight from the door. All those barrancos mean lots of ups and downs on cobbled paths, so pack knee supports and walking poles. This is an island for vertigo sufferers to avoid.
El Hierro
The most off-the-beaten-track of all the islands: wild, sparsely populated, rugged and completely unspoiled – there’s something magical about El Hierro. Dense pine forests; volcanic cones; lava fields; moors grazed by long-haired sheep; and amazing Sabine (wild juniper) trees.

Terrain: possibly the best-waymarked in the archipelago, most paths either traverse the central ridge or rise and fall from the spine to the coast and some are decidedly vertiginous. Plenty of steep ascents and descents warrant knee supports and walking poles.
La Palma
Most beautiful of all the Canary Islands, La Palma is soft, green and festooned in wild flowers. Remarkably diverse landscapes range from gushing waterfalls in a dense rainforest, through pine forests and a central crater flanked by high mountains, to some of the youngest land in Europe on its volcanic southern tip.

Terrain: paths cover every variety of terrain from pine-needle-clad to black obsidian and of course, those cobbled caminos reales. Away from the most popular routes, waymarking can be sparse and confusing but the rewards are empty paths through stunning scenery.
With barely a mountain to prod rain from the clouds, Lanzarote’s green bits are conspicuous by their absence. In their place is an island of stark beauty and strong sustainability practices, where buildings are uniformly white, and tender green vines grow in black volcanic pits and produce some of the world’s finest Malvasia wines.

Terrain: you’ll find yourself walking on lava just about everywhere you go, on paths that are frequently sparsely waymarked. Leave the lava behind on the neighbouring paradise island of La Graciosa where the sand is white, roads are non-existent and shoes are optional.
Better known for sun, sand and five-star hotels, the walking on Tenerife is surprisingly diverse. Far from the busy resorts, there's a very different island to be discovered. Dominated by Spain’s highest mountain, Mount Teide, the centre is a vast volcanic crater surrounded by pine forests that morph into near-desert, volcanic terrain in the south, and lush sub-tropical greenery in the north.

Terrain: you’ll find it all on Tenerife – lava fields, forest paths, mountain trails, ridge walks and coastal paths, not to mention the path to the very top of Mount Teide, all well-waymarked and maintained.
Gran Canaria
Wander away from Gran Canaria’s tourist beaches and you'll find a stunning island with fabulous walking trails, sometimes described as a ‘continent in miniature'. Without a major summit to hog the limelight, this is BIG country with far-reaching views over multi-layered peaks and the occasional glistening reservoir, to mighty Mount Teide on its horizon.

Terrain: some of the best walking in the Canary Islands is to be found amongst the mountainous interior and alongside abyssal barrancos dotted with picturesque hamlets. Well-waymarked and mostly well-maintained (although some are in need of some TLC), paths are largely of the cobbled variety.

Further information

Spotlight on The Canaries
We offer walking holidays on most of the major Canary Islands (plus the opportunity to visit La Graciosa – recently recognised as the eighth Canary Island), so use Jack and Andy’s advice to pick the one that appeals most. Whichever you choose, you will experience a side to this amazing archipelago that the vast majority of visitors do not.
More about our walking holidays in The Canary Islands >
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