Trekking across the Canary Islands – Part 1 – Lanzarote & Fuerteventura

The Canary Islands had interested me from the impressive landscapes from the pictures I saw when zooming over google maps – a regular hobby of mine. I was intrigued to go, so I suddenly and spontaneously booked myself a ticket to Lanzarote, when I planned to quit my job in England’s Lake District after living there for a year.

Lanzarote was the first to interest me, both logistically and by natural beauty. I was attracted to volcanic landscape, somewhere totally different from what I’m used to. After living in England’s beautiful Lake District, I was hooked on living the walker’s life, following in the famous lifestyle of Alfred Wainwright, who dedicated his life to walking and exploring the English fells.

The idea was, when I got to the Canary Islands, I would plan a walk across each of them, going by the GR 131 route, which crosses all seven islands, and I would be starting my trek from east to west. This was going to be a new way of travelling for me, at a slow pace, getting to appreciate the wild landscapes and transitions into local towns and villages, giving me an interesting perspective of the place. All the islands are incredible and diverse, with spectacular scenery that are just out of this world.

I’ve decided to write this post as a three part series, detailing my adventures as I walk across the islands in the following order: Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro.

So to start with…

LANZAROTE

A beautiful place to start. A pristine island, with volcanic and desert like landscape. Contrasts of red, black and yellow sands. As different as it can get. I remember being pulled to the place by photos I had seen on both Google Maps and Instagram.

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The beach at Caleta de Famara, popular with surfing.

As there is a shortage of hostels on the island, which is my main means of accommodation wherever I travel, the only one I could find was in Caleta de Famara. I decided that first, I would get the feel for this local town, get my bearings, and then decide whether to trek north or south first. I decided on the route north towards Orzola, a walking distance of 37 kilometres. Being the first leg of what would be a lengthy continued trail, I learned what supplies to take with me, how to assess my route, times I expect to arrive in each town or village and possible locations to sleep. I heavily rely on google map satellite imagery to scope out the best possible spots, and one of my priorities is to keep the phone charged at any opportunity. As there was no shortage of wilderness on Lanzarote, and plentiful places to hide, I had no problems in my 6 days of total camping nights, including one on the island of La Graciosa.

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View from the GR 131 between Teguise and Haria.

I should mention that wild camping is generally not permitted on the Canary Islands, especially the smaller ones such as La Graciosa. However, you will not have a problem if you are smart and discreet about it. It’s risky, but the payoff to be at one with nature and feeling self sufficient is amazing. When you feel like you can sleep anywhere, and realising you can save the money which would otherwise be spent on accommodation, it brings a higher feeling of freedom and the ability to last much longer on the road. That is, if you don’t get tempted by indulgences. Don’t get me wrong – I have a weakness towards food. The less I spend on accommodation, the more tempted I am to spend higher on food, and usually, I have to anyway. It’s an uncomfortable lifestyle, and you WILL need to book some nights of accommodation just to relax and refresh, and soak in all the experiences. It especially makes it a good story to tell among other people who you meet in hostels.

My first day was done successfully. By dinner time, I got to a village called Haría, and sat down in a very local restaurant. I got myself something to eat and asked the waiter if I could recharge my electronics (it’s very important to keep the smartphone running while on the trek). Then I was out, not too long before dark, to look for a place to pitch. Luckily, I found one about a kilometre from the restaurant. It was a field of hills on the side of a mountain, with low areas between hills that I could hide in and be blocked from view of civilisation. I waited until it was dark and that nobody would come to disturb. I laid out my mat, grabbed my sleeping bag and bivvy bag, and just slept under the stars. The ground was soft gravel so I was able to get a comfortable sleep. Keep in mind that “sleeping” can mean just lying down with your eyes closed.

The next morning, I was up and on my way to continue the rest of the trek to Orzola. First I got breakfast at the same restaurant that I had dinner at last night. Then a 12 kilometre hike. I had reached Orzola by lunch time, and planned to get to the island of La Graciosa and camp there. After quickly having lunch and making it onto the boat, I was awestruck by the beauty as we sailed around the north coast of Lanzarote and it’s impressive cliffs, and La Graciosa as we arrived.

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Sailing around Lanzarote’s north coast.

I wanted to spend some time on La Graciosa, and I wished I didn’t have to lug around a big heavy backpack the whole way. If you want to go and jump into the beach, it would be an effort, and you would have to keep an eye on your belongings. Doable, but nothing beats the comfort of being able to leave stuff at a hostel. Still, it’s a lifestyle that teaches you self sufficiency, you soon learn what you can and can’t do with such ease. If you really want to go jump in that water, go for it, you can always find even a secluded beach where no one will disturb you. Quite easy to find on La Graciosa.

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Looking back towards Lanzarote from the beautiful and pristine island La Graciosa.

I camped here for one night on the sand dunes, and enjoyed the natural environment under the stars and contemplated existence. My plan was to try and enjoy the island tomorrow, and camp for one more night. During the day, as I was walking around with my backpack, I encountered a park ranger, who had asked me if I was planning to camp. I quickly said yes, at the campsite (which is allowed with previous permission, on the one and only campsite on the island). As I didn’t have permission, I decided that this was a cue for me to get back to Lanzarote tonight and find a place to camp there instead. So I just carried on leisurely with the rest of my day and planned to be back on the 5pm boat. I explored the village of Caleta del Sebo, no paved roads – just dirt.

Back on Lanzarote, I found a beach at Caletón Blanco, where there were other people with tents. On some beaches, people may not seem to mind, so I found a spot for myself up the beach in an enclosed stone wall and crashed there.

The next morning, it was time for a little bit of luxury. I travelled by bus back to Caleta de Famara, my starting point, from where I would continue the trek south to Playa Blanca via El Golfo, a distance of 54 kilometres.

I camped somewhere in the volcanic, desert landscape that night, by a volcano, in view of a distant small settlement. The sand is uncomfortable to sleep on, as it gets into the sleeping bag, plus the number of flying bugs and mosquitoes that swarm and buzz around your ears at night, make it a frustrating experience, and you can’t fully cover yourself with the sleeping bag either because it was too warm and I was sweating.

As I continued on the next morning, I strolled through the most impressive national park Lanzarote has to offer. Timanfaya. The lava fields. Made for the most out of this world scenery I had ever seen, and to be able to admire at it at such a slow pace, I was very happy. I took my time. It was worth every step, and the walking became bearable, even though I was feeling some pain in my legs, the rush of endorphins from seeing such a beautiful place made me quickly forget about it.

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Exotic landscape of Timanfaya National Park.

After walking for miles and miles through this wonderland, I found myself a stunning camping spot. On the black fields, out of view, and totally isolated. The full moon lit the lava fields that night, and there were no insects whatsoever. It was also comfortably warm. I slept well, and by morning I smelled like volcanic elements. It made for an interesting experience.

I continued on to El Golfo the next day, by this time each further footstep became more painful, and my feet were blistered. I took a swim after a lot of time contemplating and feeling too lazy to put my backpack down and get my swim wear on – I was tempted to keep walking, but I told myself I deserved a swim, if I don’t swim in this beautiful location I’ll regret it. Not a bad way to get cleaned up as well.

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Beautiful colours at El Golfo beach.

I camped one more night on some landscape between a highway and the ocean. I then finished my final 7 or 8 kilometre hike along the highway at Playa Blanca. Here, I decided to ditch my tent and send it back home by post – for one thing, I never used it once, and it was a burden to carry. Tents make you more obvious, and also being the lazy person that I am, I don’t like having to put my tent up all the time. I fared perfectly well in my sleeping bag and bivvy bag.

After refreshments, it was time to move onto the next island…

FUERTEVENTURA

I arrived in Corralejo and it was time to wind down and relax at Surf Riders hostel. I settled in, got comfortable, and relaxed over the next 4 days. I got back into the social atmosphere that I loved about hostels, and Corralejo seemed more promising than Caleta de Famara. I was right. I met some amazing people here. The staff were incredible and I felt very much at home. If you ever visit Corralejo, you must stay at this hostel. I wish I had spent more than 4 days!

During my time in Corralejo, I got to visit Flag Beach as well as the tiny island of Lobos, which has a small section of the GR 131 trail. I walked an 8-kilometre loop around the island.

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Pristine environment on Isla de Lobos.
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Moonish type landscape.
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Punta Martino lighthouse.

After having an overall great time at the hostel and seeing a small part of Corralejo’s nightlife, it was time to move on and continue my treks. This was the longest path ahead of me, that I would do out of all the islands. 135 kilometres, from Corralejo to Morro Jable, and it took 6 days. I had to walk farther each day than I did on Lanzarote.

Fuerteventura is something else! The scenery was out of this world. I slept in the middle of the desert on my first night, by a rocky embankment. I spent another in the completely dry mountain riverbed. Some further spots along the trail, I had struggled to find more comfortable places. I ended up sleeping on rocks some of the time. Other places were a short distance from the road, where I had to quickly scurry and hide behind a bush so that I wouldn’t be seen by passing cars. It all worked out without an issue.

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The marked GR 131 trail between Corralejo and Lajares.
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The GR 131 near Pajara.

At the highest point of the trail, I faced very strong winds. This is where the island gets its name from, as “Fuerteventura” literally translates to “strong winds” in Spanish. It made the trek across the top of the mountain ridge a little bit more difficult, as I was constantly being blown to the side. I actually struggled to come down from the mountain and find a place to sleep, my legs were so sore from walking against those winds. Before I crashed, I slipped on a rock and almost badly injured myself. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Breaking a leg is not advisable.

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The GR 131 between Pajara and Tesejerague.
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Beautiful landscape.
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And mountains…

I was walking on average about 20-25 kilometres a day. I soon got to the coastline close to the southern end of the island, where I started to see incredible beaches and the sand dunes of Jandía. I even decided to go for a swim. The water was perfect, and I needed it very much.

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A beach near Costa Calma.

I spent one night sleeping on the top of one of the biggest sand dunes near Costa Calma, where I had problems with mosquitoes and sweat, and then the next day I walked all the way across the Jandía peninsula to Morro Jable. I spent my last night here hidden in the bed of a valley by the side of the mountains, and it drizzled a little bit. But I was so tired that I didn’t even want to bother getting out my bivvy bag. It was only a light sprinkle and I felt like it wouldn’t last the whole night.

The next morning, I woke up with a sore back, from lugging around that backpack for the last 135km. There were 20 kilometres left to go to complete the rest of the trail to the lighthouse, however, I lost the motivation to do it, and since I was right at the port, I decided to just get on the ship to Gran Canaria and have my much needed rest. Otherwise I would have had to walk to the lighthouse and back, which would have made for a 40 kilometre round trip. I had no energy to do it.

It’s been an interesting, mentally and physically challenging adventure up to this point. I was hoping not to lose the motivation to continue the rest of the islands. I can come back later to finish Fuerteventura, or just call it that. The longest trail was out of the way. It was time to settle back into hostel life, recover, and share my experiences.

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