On foot in The Canaries

Jack Montgomery, 08 November, 2022
Jack and Andy Montgomery know the Canary Islands inside out, having lived there for 14 years. Here, they give us the low-down on walking, making the tricky choice between islands that little bit easier...

Walking routes in the Canaries are like Daniel Craig’s Bond to mainland Europe’s Pierce Brosnan. On the islands, you won’t find many compacted gravel paths that are pristinely maintained and signposted at every bend. The rough 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 transporting goods to trade or export, they largely consist of cobbled stones of varying size and chaotic shapes, as well as the occasional steep ascent and descent. Apart from the volcanic landscapes, these caminos reales (literally ‘royal ways’), are the one common theme between the islands.
Although arid and volcanic like its neighbour Lanzarote, Fuerteventura both looks and feels different. Its hills are softly curvaceous, their orange hues changing colour with the movement of the sun, while ravines conceal green oases. This is an island of windmills, goats, Barbary squirrels, and birds – ranging from Egyptian vultures to African Shelducks.
Terrain: Fuerteventura is ideal for walkers who don’t enjoy steep ascents and descents. Although the terrain may initially appear samey, it’s surprisingly diverse, offering coastal walks, green ravines, and Sahara-esque sand dunes, as well as Biblical landscapes. However, shade is at a premium.
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.
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.
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 route to the very top of Mount Teide, all well-waymarked and maintained.
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.
La Palma
La Palma is one of our favourite Canary Islands for walking, but volcanic activity in 2021 affected some hiking routes. The island is once again tranquil, and hopefully it won’t be long before we can take to its beautiful wildflower-strewn hillsides. If you haven’t yet discovered La Isla Bonita, it’s definitely one to look forward to.
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.
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 sabina (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.

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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