In search of more than just sun, sea and sand, Rough Guides writer Helen Ochyra takes a hike in Gran Canaria.
You know a place sees a lot of sun when the slightest whiff of rain brings the locals out in joyous dance. On this first morning in Gran Canaria we woke to a cloudy sky and by the time I wandered out onto the terrace for breakfast, that cloud had turned to rain. It was warm rain, but rain nonetheless.
While the locals call out to each other in sweet relief at this first rain in months, we chomp on omelettes and look out disconsolately at the drizzle. Today is our first day of walking in the island’s interior and we are due to reach 1715m. Normally, this would yield spectacular volcanic views, but today we will be walking in a cloud.
Our itinerary has been put together by Macs Adventure and the scheduled transfer to El Sao – quite literally the end of the road and where we will begin walking – will take our luggage on to the next hotel in Tejeda, a remote village clinging to the volcanic slopes that surround it, some 16km away. We are told it will take over seven hours to hike and so we waste no time in setting off, waterproofs at the ready.
This turns out to be a good move; the route is tough, with steep ascents on rocky slopes and near-vertical paths covered in lava grit. We walk across barrancos (ravines), through ancient evergreen forests and along grassy plateaus before reaching a gigantic lava field at some sixteen hundred metres. The black gravel beneath my walking boots reminds me of the black sand beaches the Canaries are perhaps best known for, but we couldn’t be further from those tourist hotspots, not just miles away at the island’s coast but seemingly worlds away in an entirely different destination.
As the mists swirl around us we walk on across the lava flow guided by well-placed stone markers. These are some of the very few visible signs of human contact with the landscape and they bring home how unspoiled this volcanic island really is. There are some dry-stone walls and fences that nod to the island’s agricultural economy, but all else around us is wild. That is, until we reach Tejeda.
Arriving in this tourist town comes as something of a shock after hours of wilderness but it is not an unpleasant one. The white towers of the traditional Canarian church poke their heads above the terracotta roofs of diminutive buildings, made to appear all the smaller by the soaring volcanic cliffs that rise above them.
This pre-Hispanic town is to be our base for the next three nights, and we settle in to our apartment at Hotel Fonda de la Tea to plan our next few walks. Tejeda is ideally located for walking up to Roque Nublo, the island’s most famous peak. This chunky monolith can be seen from most places on the island – but not today. I peer through the clouds in vain from the apartment balcony and wonder what else I have missed seeing today. What have those clouds been hiding?
The next morning the island hides from me no more – the scenery rushes to meet me as soon as I open my eyes. A brilliant blue sky has pushed the clouds aside and I am surrounded by volcanic splendour. I cannot wait to get out there and am on the trail within minutes, starting the ascent up to Roque Nublo with a spring in my step.
The climb is tough but the path is well-maintained, running through grassland and later woodland, with views back over Tejeda. The scenery is unlike any I have ever seen before. Bowl-like valleys thick with armies of pine trees run between craggy peaks that retain the violent beauty of the eruption that formed them. Beneath our feet are petrified lava flows, above our heads soaring eagles and in the distance a cloud-cloaked Atlantic Ocean with the peak of Tenerife’s Teide floating above it.
Squint and you might make out a coastal resort but from Roque Nublo most of the island’s mass-market infrastructure is hidden – and it remains hidden to us for the rest of our week. We pick our way along the Altavista ridge on an extinct volcanic caldera and compare the island’s barren south to its fertile north with a walk along the ridge between Tejeda and Pico de las Nieves, the island’s watershed. We see Roque Nublo from every angle, lose ourselves in vast pine forests and stand on what feels like the roof of the world, with craggy slopes running down from our feet to the ocean in all directions.
At the end of our week we will make it to that ocean. But we will look back at the peaks up which we have walked and smile at the memories of our discovery – that the Canary Islands are so much more than beaches and bars.
Macs Adventure offer seven-night walking trips to Gran Canaria from £625 per person, including accommodation, breakfasts, two dinners, baggage transfers and a detailed info pack.
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Top image: Mountains and valleys of Gran Canaria island © Patryk kosmider/Shutterstock