Canary Islands map & highlights
Sometimes it is hard to convince people that the Canary Islands have anything more to offer than charter flights, cheap beer and chips. But once you have walked the cloud forests of La Gomera, surfed at sunset on Lanzarote’s Famara Beach, trekked through the volcanic voluptuousness of El Hierro or the rich, subtropical laurisilva forests of Tenerife, you will start to see why people keep coming back here again and again. As do the whales. And people have been listening to their songs for generations, so we should trust their wisdom in such matters.
1. El Hierro
The baby of the islands, it would win a Beautiful Baby competition if there still were such things. The capital, Valverde, overlooks the magnificent landscape like an eagle protecting her nest. With volcanic landscapes stretching up to 1,500m, there are cattle and sheep filled meadows, banana plantations and ancient pine forest to shade you from the near Saharan heat. And always the Atlantic to cool down in.
Only 20 percent of this island has been developed, leaving 13 protected natural areas, such as the galloping, gorgeous dunes at Corralejo with the backdrop of Montana Roja, or the volcanic landscape of Malpais Grande. Fuerteventura feels like another planet, outer space even, especially if you star gaze. The island has been awarded Starlight Reserve status, for its constellations, clarity and being generally out of this world.
3. Gran Canaria
The island with the largest population, it also has some of the highest number of mountains, so you can easily find solitude and solace hiking here. Las Palmas is a big capital, but los pinos, or pines, are what dominate hikes in the hills, as you follow ancient mountain trails past inhabited cave villages such as Artenara, up to spectacular rocky ridges and down through green valleys such Tejeda and Las Tirajanas.
4. La Gomera
A green and luscious Canary, it is also quiet as it’s only accessible by ferry. With superb walking from sea level up to mountains crafted into terraced farmland, hike through banana plantations, rocky valleys and cloud forest. Top views from highest peak, Alto de Garajonay National Park, bring binoculars to look out for whales and dolphins; La Gomera is superb for whale watching trips, too.
5. La Palma
La Palma takes the crown as the greenest island in the Canaries. The whole island is an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, so you can hike through pristine tropical forests that plaster the peaks and troughs of the north. Down south, meanwhile, it’s cinematic views along the Route of the Lost Volcanoes. Fair warning: La Palma is also the steepest island in the Canaries, so pack your grippiest hiking shoes.
With the exception of a couple of overdeveloped resorts, the rest of this volcanic island is hiking, cycling and surfing paradise. The north was home to César de Manrique, an artist who fought until his death in 1992 for his beloved island to be sustainable, from architecture to agriculture. His ethos has inspired many local tourism businesses, with fishermen’s cottages or yurts overlooking quiet beaches.
A maze of hiking routes spreads out from the iconic, snow capped summit of Mount Teide, such as through the Anaga Mountains, where subtropical 'laurisilva' forest and vine covered terraces proffer beyond pretty perambulations. Or the heady heights of the La Caldera to Los Órganos circuit where dusty, cliff clinging trails awaken the senses. The highlight for many is hiking up into the mar de nubes or sea of clouds.
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