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Our ultimate guide to walking in the Canary Islands

Walking in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are like the misunderstood, slightly wild and wayward member of the family who acts unexpectedly, dresses a bit rebelliously but always turns up with the coolest gifts at Christmas. Except that in the Canarian family, there are eight members all vying for attention and many worthy of it too. So, if you thought that the Canary Islands all just ticked the traditional tourism boxes of resorts and raucousness, look again. These volcanic islands, just 100km off the coast of Morocco, have a whole other side to them, bubbling with biodiversity, laden with a love of nature and wide open for exploration and adventure. And there is even a network of long-distance trails (GR131) running through all of them. If you haven’t been before, walking in the Canary Islands is simply a revelation, each offering its own slightly radical but utterly ethereal sides. 

Walking in Tenerife

The largest island of the archipelago, at just over 2,000km2, Tenerife is dominated by the often snow-capped Mount Teide, a dormant volcano which is also Spain’s highest peak, at 3,715m. On our Walking the highlights of Tenerife holiday, you get an opportunity to climb to the summit, but as it’s in Mount Teide National Park, you need a special permit to do so, which you need to book in advance

Even if you don’t manage to bag a permit, you can lose yourself in Tenerife’s wild, volcanic landscapes on a walking holiday here. Not literally, of course, as we give you detailed maps and guidance on how to navigate your way around this hiking haven. Such as through the otherworldly rock formations, also called ‘fairy chimneys’ along the Camino de Chasna, an ancient trade trail. Or to ​​the laurisilva forests in Anaga Rural Park which line the cliffs of the north-eastern corner of the island. In addition, you can take on another sublime summit of Guajara (2,730m), with superb views over Mount Teide, the caldera and some neighbouring islands. One of which is La Gomera, where there is more incredible walking to be had, and which you can hop over to on this holiday that combines both hiking havens in one trip. If you want to get an even greater perspective of Tenerife, trek a substantial section of the long-distance GR131 trail that traverses the island.

Trekking up Mount Teide on Tenerife takes you up to cloud nine.

Walking in La Gomera

La Gomera doesn’t have an airport, which has been its saving grace in terms of avoiding mass tourism. Accessible by ferry from Tenerife, this is the greenest member of the family, with a sub-tropical outlook and a commitment to protecting its biodiverse beauty with much of it designated as Garajonay National Park. Of all the country’s national parks, this is the hidden jewel right at the bottom of Spain’s protected pinãta on the island, a landscape of elevated, misty sub-tropical rainforest, made up of beech trees and ancient laurel trees covered in lichen. It’s one of southern Europe’s most luscious and stupendous hiking terrains and still so unknown. Get to know it on a week of self-guided walking in the national park and in other gorgeous spots on the island, including the terraced slopes of Vallehermoso, or combine it with hikes in Tenerife or as part of a three island idyll.

A hiking break in La Gomera’s Garajonay National Park to take in the view of Mount Teide on Tenerife.

Walking in La Palma

Otherwise known as La Isla Bonita, if walking trails through deep gorges, laurel forests and dramatic seascapes are your thing, then get your boots ready for walking in La Palma and, in particular, in Caldera de Taburiente National Park. Named after the massive volcanic crater at its heart, with a diameter of 9km and depths of 1.5km, the park is also rich in pine forests, streams and waterfalls. It competes with La Gomera for the greenest island title in the archipelago. On our walking holiday here you can trek to the crater’s ridge, explore the Ruta de Los Volcanes, climb up ancient lava flows, and cool down in a multicoloured waterfall or Cascada de los Colores. It gets its name from the vibrant colours visible on its rock face, created by a magical mix of minerals. Just one of many bewitching places on La Palma. You can also walk in La Palma as part of a trekking trio holiday that takes you not only to La Isla Bonita but to the beauties of Tenerife and La Gomera.

Hiking in Caldera de Taburiente National Park, La Palma.

Walking in Gran Canaria 

Gran Canaria is the most populated of the Canary Islands, but it also has some of the highest numbers of mountains, so there are plenty of exquisite escape routes. Gran Canaria is also big on biodiversity, as white sandy beaches are contrasted with pine-covered hills, laurel forests and volcanic craters. Walking here takes you along the island’s many donkey paths, or camino reales, which translates as royal paths because they were used as pilgrimage trails to holy sites, rather than royal ones, in ancient times.

Your natural pilgrimage on Gran Canaria starts on richly fertile terrain such as the banana and avocado plantations of the Agaete Valley, on the island’s north coast. You then explore more inland idylls such as Pinos de Galdar pine forest, the Tejeda Valley with its highland town of the same name, and a trek up to Roque Nublo, an iconic 67m tall volcanic rock at 1,813m, with views across the island’s jigsaw of ravines. You can also traverse much of the island on its GR131 trail, which combines all aspects of the island’s biodiversity over its 80km of tracks and trails.

Roque Nublo, a must see on a walking holiday in Gran Canaria, one of the most mountainous Canary Islands.

Walking in Lanzarote

If you want to understand Lanzarote, then read up on César Manrique, a Lanzarote artist and nature activist who successfully fought, in the 1960s, to protect much of the island from development. His eco-sensitive architecture can be seen throughout the island, and you won’t fail to share his passion for landscape when you go exploring there. You get to explore not only the northern and southern volcanic landscapes on this walking holiday, but also the nearby island of La Graciosa, a little-known wild walking spot. Or you can hike coast to coast on the island’s GR131 trail, starting in the traditional harbour town of Orzola and ending in Playa Blanca on the south coast.

The perfect lava light while hiking the GR131 trail in Lanzarote.

Walking in El Hierro 

If you want to explore one of the quietest Canary Islands, then walking in El Hierro ticks a lot of beautiful boxes. This is a mountainous, volcanic island, steeped in ancient and religious heritage, with sacred trees and remote chapels, laurisilva forests and clifftop caminos. When you spend a week walking here, you really feel as if you are in a liminal space between wilderness and water, as El Hierro is the westernmost and southernmost Canary Island. Even though the whole island has achieved UNESCO Global Geopark status, it avoided tourism for many years and it still really only attracts nature lovers. It’s a doorway to some of Spain’s most tranquil treks, and dramatic ones too so you will need a head for heights here. Such as at Las Playas Natural Monument, a natural amphitheatre of 1,000m cliffs that stretches for 9km. Or the cliffs at El Golfo, both created by landslides from centuries ago. El Hierro is both elemental and utterly exquisite.

Mirador de Jinama is just one of many spectacular viewpoints while hiking on El Hierro.

Walking in Fuerteventura 

Our walking holiday in Fuerteventura is along the island’s north to south nirvana, the GR131 long-distance trail, which covers approximately 170km of the island. On this itinerary, you cover around 100km of this, but also take in the islet of Los Lobos on the first day of hiking. The island’s trail is pretty wild and windy, exposed but still exquisite, so get yourself a good sunhat with chin straps for this one. This is why our version is a bit shorter, so that you can be comfortably accommodated en route, and have ease of luggage transfers too. After Los Lobos Island, the main route starts in Lajares, a village surrounded by volcanoes and lava flows in what feels like an oasis in the desert. 

Your journey continues through desert-like landscapes, past volcanic peaks and the sacred mountain of Tindaya, to ancient towns such as Villaverde-La Oliva and Betancuria, the latter being the former capital of the Canary Islands which still has some superb colonial architecture on the island. Then finally to the coast, where beaches such as Costa Calma and La Pared await, finishing on the white sands of Morro Jable. The GR131 in Fuerteventura is also called the Camino Natural de Fuerteventura, and nature certainly gives generously and wildly throughout.

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It doesn’t get much better than Betancuria on the GR131 in Fuerteventura.

Best time to go walking in the Canary Islands

Our Canary Islands walking holidays are available all year round, thanks to the archipelago’s annual average temperature of around 24C. As they all vary geographically, there are differences, of course. Such as on Tenerife where average temperatures on Mount Teide are 11C, with some fierce winds too. On the island as a whole, the temperatures are very warm, even in winter when temperatures can be 21C, although there is more risk of rainfall. The more sheltered side of Lanzarote, however, gets less rain in winter months than the more exposed northern side of Gran Canaria, but you are still unlikely to experience a whole day of rain. 

La Gomera enjoys year-round mild weather with average maximum temperatures ranging from 15-25C. Its topography means that you can get some foggy weather at elevations, but you also get the joys of cloud forest hikes. For swimmers, seawater temperatures hover around 19C off Tenerife and Gran Canaria in winter and spring months, going up to 23C between August and October. Visiting whales like these warm waters too, basking around the islands between March and November, with La Gomera being a favourite land sighting point for fin, sperm and Bryde’s whales. Given that they are some of the planet’s smartest mammals, you can trust that they know the right places to go. 

La Gomera is simply stunning all year round. One of the Canary Island’s least known hiking havens.

La Palma keeps you on your toes, not just walking-wise but temperatures-wise. The east tends to be cooler and shadier than the west, especially in winter. But on our walking holiday you cover bits of the whole island, so you can experience moments of all seasons depending on the trail. This also means that seawater is warmer in the west, reaching temperatures of as high as 22C even in winter. The other tip in La Palma is that temperatures lower by one degree for every 100m of elevation, so always layer up when crossing the natural mountain divide on the island. In general though, for rain-free and scorch-free holidays, hiking between May and June, or September and October on La Palma is perfect.

If islands are your thing, we have many more adventures on offer, as you can see in our blog Island walking holidays. And if Garajonay or Caldera de Taburiente National Parks were unknown to you, you may also be interested in our blog on Spain’s national parks, featuring holidays that you can enjoy there. For more archipelagic joy, check out our Ultimate guide to walking the Balearic Islands, and Reasons to go walking in Madeira. And to delve more deeply into the Canary Islands’ GR131 trails, see this blog.