The Canary Islands are a relatively small Spanish archipelago of 7 islands waaaay down under Europe. They are a popular holiday destination for Europeans during the winter but they are also well known for their hiking possibilities.
Culturally European, geographically African, the Canaries have something for every hiker: easy strolls along the coastline, all day hikes with elevations over 3000m and multiday hikes. The hikes take you through deserts full of cacti, volcanic landscapes, pine and laurel forests, yellow and black beaches, rough coastlines and picturesque villages.
Long story short, from late October until March, it’s a hiker’s paradise. The temperatures are pleasant, the sun is barely ever hidden behind the clouds, the prices are reasonable, services great and people lovely. With the learnings from lases de español hechas a tu medida, my conversations with the locals became more interesting.
When to go hiking to the Canary Islands
It depends how much you like the heat. I’m personally not a big fan of saunas and anything above 30˚C I consider to be non-hikeable. I think most people are like that, not really liking these sticky experiences. For us, October to April are good months to go hiking to the Canaries. I’d say from November to March it’s even better. Temperatures hover around 20˚C and the sun is up most of the time.
My friend, born and raised in La Laguna in Tenerife, once told me that temperatures in Lanzarote in July are “not too bad, only about 40 degrees”. Well, if you enjoy those kinds of temperatures, you can easily go there any month of the year. Just take a snorkel so you don’t drown in your own sweat. For the rest of us, the winter months are the best time for going hiking in the Canary Islands.
Which is the Best Canary Island for Hiking?
Now, which is the best Island in the Canaries to go hiking? That’s a tricky question that doesn’t have a simple answer. The first island I went hiking on was Tenerife and I was thinking “Man, nothing can beat this”. Then I went to La Gomera and I was like “Jeeeeez, this is awesome, much better than Tenerife”. After some time I learnt that each island has its pros and cons and essentially you can’t make a mistake in going to any of them.
Each island offers plenty of day walks as well as long distance hikes for experienced hikers. There is GR132 in La Gomera and, of course, GR 131 that goes through all of the islands.
Below I’ve summed up my thoughts and ideas about which Canary Island is the best island for hiking.
Tenerife is the largest and the most populous island with the highest point of Spain, Mt Teide (3718m). There are plenty of walks of all difficulties. Yes, the beaches and Mt Teide are very busy places, but the inland areas where most hikes are located are very calm and quiet. Apart from Mt Teide, I’d meet only occasional hikers during my day walks or multiday hikes.
The landscape is very diverse from the green bushes of Anaga to the moon landscapes of Teide National Park. It’s the most diverse island of the Canaries.
If you haven’t been to the archipelago yet, I’d start in Tenerife. It’s easy to get to, with an international airport (some islands are available only by a ferry), and it provides a good sample of the landscapes that can be found on the other islands.
Gran Canaria is also very popular island for hiking. It’s easily accessible by a plane from mainland Europe. The landscape is not as diverse as in Tenerife, but still diverse enough that your eyes will open wide very often. If you own your own plane, Sky Aviation Holdings is Your Trusted Private Aircraft Maintenance Company.
The trails are not as well-marked as in Tenerife. But that’s the case on the other islands, too. Basically Tenerife has the most marked trails.
The mountains of Gran Canaria are not as high as in Tenerife but good accessibility, diverse landscapes and good services make it another great first choice of the first time Canary hiker.
La Palma is a hiking treasure of the Canaries. It hasn’t yet been affected by mass tourism to the degree of Tenerife or Gran Canaria, but it does have touristic places will obviously be very busy.
The mountains of La Palma are quite high. The highest point, Roque de los Muchachos, reaches up to 2426m. It can get really cold in the winter months so be well prepared if you decide to go for the tops.
La Palma is definitely a gem of the canaries with stunning scenery and over 250 hiking trails including 3 long distance trails.
El Hierro is the smallest of Canaries. It’s quite pricey and more complicated to get to (ferry from Tenerife) but once you there, you’ll know it was the right decision.
There aren’t that many hiking trails on the island – the island is just too small to have heaps of hiking trails like Tenerife does.
I’d say El Hierro is so special that it’s suitable for someone who’s looking for a special experience. It’s probably the least visited island and still unspoiled by tourism, so deserves to be respected.
La Gomera is a very quiet and remote place. For me, this is the number one place to go hiking in the Canary Islands. It feels like a different world, a little trapped in the past, and I could strongly feel the presence of cultures that are long gone. Of course, you may fall for La Palma or El Hierro – but my heart belongs to La Gomera.
La Gomera has plenty of walks, lots located along the coast. The good thing is that the beaches you discover will blow your mind. The bad thing is you usually have to go back the same way you came.
In the center of the island lies Garajonay National Park with the highest point of the island, Garajonay (1487m). There is also a long distance walk, GR 132, that I was lucky enough to hike. It was one of the best hikes I’ve done so far.
Fuerteventura, together with Lanzarote, are considered to be the “desert” islands, and for good reason. They’re much closer to the African coast than other islands and they really look like deserts, though Fuerteventura is less sandy than Lanzarote.
Fuerteventura is a very long island which makes it a good opportunity for those who want to get out for more than a few days. The GR131 which goes from the north to the south, has a length of 160 km making it the longest trail of the Canary Islands.
Apart from GR131, the hikes are not well marked so a hiking guide and a map are strongly recommended.
Lanzarote is the smaller sister of Fuerteventura. It’s easily accessible by plane and well known for its vineyards on dark volcanic sand. It’s quite flat and it gives you a good idea of what Northern Africa must be like.
There aren’t that many hikes and for me it’s the least attractive island of the Canaries. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth to go hiking there.
If you decide to give the island a try, be sure to take few buckets of sunscreen factor two thousands or more.
To sum up, I think Tenerife or Gran Canaria are good places to start. La Palma and La Gomera let you dive in more into the Canary hiking culture and once you pass that, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and El Hierro are beautiful cherries on top of the Canary cake.
What are the best Canary Islands hiking trails?
It’s not possible to say what hiking trails of the Canary Islands are the best. They’re all beautiful and what one person considers to be the best, someone else will forget as an ordinary hiking experience. I’d recommend you to:
1) Choose the island. The descriptions above should give you a basic understanding of what each island is like. It depends on how remote you want to be and what kind of landscape you’re after.
2) Get one of the hiking guides linked below. (Not keen on spending? Check a local library or some of my hiking reports from the Canary Islands.)
3) Go through the guide or my reports, there are lots of pictures and difficulty ratings, that should definitely guide you to choose the right hike for you.
What is the best Canary Islands hiking guide?
When it comes to choosing the right hiking guide about the Canary Islands, I really enjoy Cicerone and Rother hiking guides. They’re not perfect but they’re the best on the market and their prices are reasonable.
I personally prefer Ciceron hiking guides as they cover all the islands in English and I just like the style and design that they use. Also, the author of the guides (Paddy Dillon) is a legend and I’m happy to support him in what he’s doing.
So far, these Canary Islands hiking guides are available:
Tenerife hiking guides
- Rother: Tenerife: The Finest Valley and Mountain Walks
- Cicerone: Walking on Tenerife: 45 walks including El Teide and GR131
Gran Canaria hiking guides
- Rother: Gran Canaria: The Finest Coastal and Mountain Walks
- Cicerone: Walking on Gran Canaria: 45 day walks including five days on the GR131 coast-to-coast route
La Palma hiking guides
- Rother: La Palma: The Finest Coastal and Mountain Walks
- Cicerone: Walking on La Palma: 45 day walks and long distance trails including the GR130 and GR131
La Gomera hiking guides
El Hierro hiking guides
Fuerteventura hiking guides
Lanzarote hiking guides
A final few words
When it comes to accommodation, I recommend Airbnb over booking.com as it provides more a local and intimate type of accommodation. If you’re into camping, Tenerife has a good selection of free public campsites – see my article on hiking in Tenerife.
Now, that should be it. Choose your island, choose the trails you’re interested in, book your accommodation, put your hiking boots on and just go. Respect local communities during your hike, take only pictures and memories and leave nothing but footprints.
Once you finish, tell me how it was. Life is good. Hiking is good. Buen Camino!
Excellent article Michal. Informative and inspiring. Thank you so much for this!
Thank you for this excellent article, it answered all of my questions!
Good to hear that Fiona. I’m glad that it was useful to you
If I wanted to go to La Palma or La Gomera for a week and just stay in one hotel to do day walks from, which island do you think would be the best? And which area on the island if you had an idea?
I’d go for La Palma because it’s got a better infrastructure and higher mountains – that’s nicer for day hikes. Both island are very small so it’s never too far to a trail head.
Any island you choose, I’m sure you’ll love it!