The Canary Islands have a subtropical climate granting them comfortably-warm winters. Temperatures are mild and stable year-round within the range of 18° to 24°C (64° to 75°F). What North Americans consider extreme cold or oppressive heat never occur.
The islands we’ll be visiting—La Gomera, La Palma, and Tenerife—are so steeply and deeply pleated that the weather can vary markedly within a short distance. Dense cloud and rain might linger in one place, while not far away the sun prevails in a blue sky.
Canarian palms are a ubiquitous, happy reminder that shovelling snowy walkways and scraping icy windshields are unheard of here.
Winter in the Canaries is rainier than summer, but Santa Cruz de Tenerife, for example, averages only 214 mm (8.4 inches) of rain per year. Winter in the Canaries also tends to be windier than summer. Occasionally, a strong, hot, dusty, African- born wind called “la calima” will persist for several days in winter.
Our first winter in the Canaries, it was much windier and rainier than normal, yet we hiked nearly every day. From our perspective, the weather was usually agreeable for hiking, and often ideal. Occasionally, we shifted our plans after studying pinpoint forecasts. We hiked wherever a particular micro-climate was most favorable.
The North Atlantic Ocean is often visible while hiking the Canary Islands. Some trails follow the coastline for long distances and occasionally swoop within earshot of the crashing surf. Great swells—row upon row of tidal infantry assaulting the islands’ rampart shores—are an enthralling sight.
On clear days, several of the islands are visible from each other. Their proximity is startling. Their verticality is astounding. In particular, the often snow-capped, 3,718-m (12,198-ft) Pico del Teide is a gripping sight no matter how many times you’ve glimpsed it. Teide is a volcano. Essentially, it is the island of Tenerife. No mountain in all of Spain is higher. No point on any Atlantic Ocean island is higher. If measured from the ocean floor, Teide is 7,500 m (24,600 ft) from base to summit. That makes it the world’s highest volcano outside the Hawaiian Islands.
The Canaries’ micro-climates, ranging from arid to lush, foster eye-popping botanical diversity. Dragon trees are grand, girthy-limbed, umbrella-like marvels that live hundreds of years. A few individual “Dragos” are so ancient and enormous they’re tourist attractions. Canary pines are stout giants that tower 60 m (197 ft) high. The canopies of laurel forests are so thick they cause wind-driven mist to condense in such volume it’s a significant water source. Canarian palms are a ubiquitous, happy reminder that shovelling snowy walkways and scraping icy windshields are unheard of here.
As for blossoms, a hot-house profusion of brilliant colors keeps winter visitors entranced. And, as you’d expect on islands rife with rain shadows and whose nearest neighbors are Morocco and the Western Sahara, cacti and succulents flourish here. In short, the Canary Islands are to botany what the Galapagos Islands are to zoology.
Unlike most of Europe, architecture doesn’t rank high on the Canaries’ list of spectacles. But what this culture lacks in design-and-construction flair, it occasionally makes up for with a paint palette so varied and bold that a stroll through some neighborhoods could cure a bout of depression. In contrast, other Canarian villages remain white washed. They do it for the practical reason that white paint reflects sunlight. But it appears to be an intentional, soothing counterpoint to their neighbors’ unrestrained, polychromatic explosions.
The Canary islands are small. They’ve been inhabited for more than 1,000 years. They now have teeming cities. And their dreamy climate and dramatic scenery make them a prized holiday destination for northern Europeans, many of whom come to hike. So there’s no wilderness on the Canary Islands. Appreciating the Canaries requires North American hikers to shift their paradigm and embrace contradiction.
The Canaries’ neolithic aboriginals, the Guanches, bequeathed to their conquerers a network of footpaths that the Spanish then renovated and expanded. The endless, excruciating toil required to construct these trails is unimaginable to us today. Meticulously engineered, laid with immense, stone blocks, these aren’t just trails. They’re world wonders. They cross mountains, traverse cliffs, wind in and out of canyons, and link otherwise isolated, seaside villages by piercing terrain so sheer and unstable it’s not economically feasible to build and service roads. But without the Canaries’ recent population surge, tourism boom, and subsequent wealth, these wondrous trails would have been lost to entropy. They could not be maintained as they are now. Today, Canarians fully grasp that visiting hikers, hence world-class trails, are critical to their prosperity.
"I’d lop off a year of my life to have the first three months Kathy and I spent hiking in the Canaries." — Craig
Yes, you’ll be staying in towns and cities, and you’ll be driving highways. But the Canaries’ tumultuous topography ensures you’ll be immersed in nature when hiking. Yes, Canarian trails occasionally nip through villages—some abandoned, others vital—but this adds a piquant, cultural spice to hiking that we never taste in North America. Yes, you’ll see a few other hikers on Canarian trails. You’ll meet primarily Germans, Dutch, and Scandanavians. But these momentary encounters are cheerful, and the compelling scenery keeps everyone blissed-out, unconcerned when passing others.
Of course, solitude is sustenance to serious hikers. So you’ll be glad to know our group will sometimes be alone. Overall, Canarian trails will grant us serenity comparable to what you can expect when dayhiking the more popular trails in the Canadian Rockies.
The “no evidence of humanity” standard, against which North American hikers tend to gauge the quality of a hike, does not apply in the Canaries or elsewhere in Europe. But the advantages of this non- wilderness hiking are myriad: a bountiful trail network, light daypacks, comfy beds, hot showers, apartment kitchens, fresh groceries, fine restaurants, cold beer, excellent wine, cross-cultural insight, live music, art, and the joy of people-watching among international company.
We’ll be together for sixteen days. Eight of those days we intend to do a significant hike: approximately five to eight hours on the trail, gaining 700 m (2297 ft) to 1100 m (3609 ft) of elevation over the course of perhaps 13 km (8 mi) to 24 km (15 mi). Five of our sixteen days together we’ll hike three to four hours on shorter trails requiring less elevation gain. So you’ll need a high level of fitness to fully participate in this trip. Inclement weather, however, could require us to scale back or abort our plans on a few days. Moreover, everything we’ve scheduled for our group is optional. If you want a rest day while the others go hiking, that’s fine. Or we might be able to suggest a shorter version of the hike the others in our group are doing.
In our guidebooks, we sift out all the inferior options, ushering you onto the most scenically-rewarding trails. When planning this trip for you, our intent was the same. You could call this the Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canary Islands hiking- focused vacation. Our Canadian Rockies guidebook is—as stated on the cover—opinionated. If you’ve used it much, you’ve probably come to trust our discernment. This is your assurance that our Canaries trip will fulfill your expectations.
Your group leaders will be a couple you know through their writing.
Typically, when you join other hikers on such a venture, you know little about the group leader. Yet that person’s outlook and personality influence every aspect of the trip. Join us in the Canaries, and your group leaders will be the couple who’ve been your virtual hiking companions many times before.
When flying from North America, the most affordable and convenient mainland-Spain flight destination is Madrid. From there, it’s only a three-hour flight to the north airport on the island of Tenerife. This is in the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. It’s a ten-minute taxi ride from the airport to San Cristóbal de La Laguna, where we recommend you spend the night. Next morning, you’ll return to the airport and fly to the island of La Gomera, where our group will convene.
On La Gomera, as well as the other two islands on our itinerary, we’ll each drive our own rental cars—in caravan—to/from the trailheads. When planning the trip, we eliminated overly-long drives as best we could. Substantial driving, however, is necessary to stay in optimal locations, hike the most compelling trails, and witness the most impressive scenery. Driving in the Canaries poses no more risk or diffculty than does driving in North America. But it’s essential that you or your partner be confident and capable at the wheel of a manual-shift car, on sinuous mountain roads.
When travelling between the Canary Islands, you have a choice of flying or catching a ferry. We’re urging everyone in our group to fly. While the airline and ferry are comparable in cost, flying is easier and more efficient. If you compare time in the air vs. time on the sea, flying is much quicker. And flying eliminates any concern about sea sickness. Binter Airlines, the local, inter-island carrier, has consistently provided us with excellent service.
Our goal is to muster nine people whose enthusiasm for hiking and whose on-trail compatibility enable them to gel into a cohesive, congenial group. That’s obviously a goal we cannot assure you we’ll achieve, however, which is why this trip allows lots of independence.
How could these islands—with their astonishing scenery, sensational trails, and welcoming people—remain off the radar of Canadian and American hikers? — Kathy
For example, we might suggest the group go to a particular restaurant for dinner. You’ll be as welcome to dine elsewhere on your own as you are to join the group that evening. Our previous groups, however, found they looked forward to the lively conversations they had while dining together.
Having your own rental car also grants you a large measure of independence. During our group trip, a car assures you of flexibility that most tours—“Everyone into the van! We’re leaving now!—cannot offer. You can opt for a sightseeing day instead of the hike we’ve planned for the group. Or you might choose to hike an abbreviated, out-and-back version of a loop the rest of the group is undertaking.
You’ll find sublime scenery and superlative hiking on most of the Canary Islands. But La Gomera is the hiker’s island. Relatively small, it’s less populated, less developed, and less touristed than the bigger islands. A high percentage of Gomera visitors are hikers.
Our group will be on La Gomera for eight of our sixteen days together. We’ll base ourselves in Valle Gran Rey. The name refers generally to a spectacular, cliff-bound valley, and specifically to the town at the mouth of the valley. Originally a tiny harbor, the town is now a lively resort. Hotels and restaurants cluster around three, sandy beaches.
Due to its diminutive size and European fame, Gran Rey’s optimal accommodations are booked a year or more in advance. Not to worry. We hold reservations for our group at the premier, seaside hotel. It has a rooftop swimming pool and sundeck, where the 360° view extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the valley’s seaside cliffs. Your spacious room has a kitchenette, and there’s a grocery store a few steps away. But the room rate includes a lavish, buffet breakfast, and you’ll be spoiled for choice by an array of nearby restaurants.
Most mornings, we’ll drive from Gran Rey to trailheads ranging from 15 to 45 minutes inland. The roads are excellent, the driving fun, the en-route scenery absorbing, and the hiking—as we’ve described—is extraordinary. But our ambitious hiking schedule allows a couple days off, so you can savor Gran Rey’s multinational atmosphere, probe its eclectic shops, swim at the beach next to our hotel, or lounge poolside on our rooftop deck.
Bigger than La Gomera and more populated, the island of La Palma feels more a part of the present-day world. Yet it’s much less developed, commercial, and touristed than most of the Canary Islands. And La Palma has greater geographic diversity than La Gomera thus offers more varied hiking. Plus it’s easier here to
immerse yourself in Canarian culture. So our group will be on La Palma four of our sixteen days together.
We’ll base ourselves in the island’s small, charming, historic capital: Santa Cruz de la Palma. We’ve reserved apartments for our group at a hotel overlooking the port. We’ll be a short walk from the city’s colorful, spirited, pedestrian-only boulevard. Strolling, observing, mingling, and photographing is a joy here, even if you don’t actually “shop.” Choosing from the many enticing restaurants, however, is a challenge.
We consider one of La Palma’s trails to be the most compelling in all the Canaries. It’s a full-day coastal traverse weaving through numerous, sharp-walled canyons that plunge into the North Atlantic. The canyons, with their bizarre, luxuriant vegetation, have a primeval vibe. The proximity of the turbulent sea is exhilarating. And the ancient-but-well-preserved trail follows an implausible, virtuoso route. It all adds up to an incomparable hiking experience.
Another trail we’ll hike on La Palma climbs to, then follows, the rim of Caldera de Taburiente. Once thought to be a volcanic crater, the caldera is actually a massive, curiously arch-shaped mountain. The walls rise 2000 m (6562 ft) above the caldera floor and are 10 km (6.2 mi) apart. If cloud free, the crest of the rim will grant us
jaw-dropping views into the caldera, across La Palma’s northwest skirt, and over the North Atlantic.
The archipelago’s largest and most populated island is Tenerife. Much of it is metropolitan. Yet some of it remains so little developed it seems primitive. Sampling the best of these contradictory aspects of Tenerife is essential for travellers who want to grok the Canaries and for hikers intent on sampling the islands’ most intriguing trails. That’s why our group will spend four of our sixteen days on Tenerife.
Our home here will be a sophisticated hotel in San Cristóbal de La Laguna. The city, known as “La Laguna,” served as the Canaries’ capital in ancient times. Its historical center is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But this old-world scene pulses with youthful energy and creativity, because the University of La Laguna enrolls 30,000 students. Thus the city’s pedestrian-only avenues invite you to walk a balance beam between the Canarian past and the islands’ contemporary culture. While observing an eclectic mix of the antique, artistic, and commercial, you’ll feel the electricity and optimism of an imminently influential generation.
We’ll divide our hiking time between Tenerife’s northeast and southwest coasts. Though not far from La Laguna, the island’s northeast tip is a peaky, ravine riddled, blazing green, lost world. We’ll hike trails to unsettled shores where it feels we’re beholding the island’s prehistoric purity. Visiting the southwest coast requires a long drive from La Laguna, but it’s worth it—not to cue-up for the over-hyped trails, but to instead slip away and hike back in time. We’ll follow a nearly forgotten route that daringly traverses a canyon wall and deftly slithers out to a phenomenal, clifftop vantage.