Tag Archives: canary islands


Total Guide to the Canaries: for Sunday Times Travel magazine

Since my first visit as a teenager I’ve never been able to understand why the Canary Islands get such a bad press. Why are they so often dismissed as just fly and flop when they are home to smouldering volcanoes, dripping rainforests, vast black sand beaches and some of the best seafood I’ve tasted anywhere?

Here’s hoping that the Sunday Times Travel magazine’s very first Total Guide to the Canaries will get more people onto planes and out to these fabulous islands.

Check out the guide, which I contributed to, in the current issue of the magazine or read a small taster online.


Tenerife: the island’s secret side

Tenerife is one of my favourite islands, but it is a destination that is greatly misunderstood. Yes, you can just fly here and flop, or party hard in the clubs of Playa de las Americas, but that it not the island I know and love.

Mine is one of verdant rainforest and lunar landscapes, of black sand beaches, volcanic rock pools and gorgeous ancient towns. And now thanks to a new direct flight into the north of the island from Heathrow you could even see all this on a weekend break.

Read my piece on Tenerife’s northern side for the Times to find out how.


Walking on La Gomera

I’ve always had a thing about islands. Something about the ability to explore a place more or less in its entirety in one go has always appealed to me and when I received my maps for my trip to La Gomera with Macs Adventure I was pleased to see how much of the island was covered by the brown lines that marked our routes.

We arrived by ferry from Tenerife, crossing from Los Cristianos to San Sebastián in just under an hour. On the crossing we spotted whales and talked excitedly of Garajonay national park, which covers much of La Gomera and would be our first destination.

This vast area of jungle is one of the last vestiges of the ancestral laurel forests that once covered the entire Mediterranean region. On our first walk from El Cedro to Chipude we reach the national park’s highest point, Alto de Garajonay. It is a gradual ascent through pleasant, misty woodland to the summit, passing laurel trees and lichens, and the reasons for its lushness are all too apparent – from the peak we can see almost nothing.

We fare better the following day on the route from Chipude IMG_5812to Vallehermoso. On this walk we cross Barranco de Valle Gran Rey, full of palm trees and marked out by man into regimented terraces. It is astoundingly green, with every shade from emerald to olive represented underneath a clear blue sky, the route marked by giant cactus and swaying palm trees. It is beautiful.


As you would expect this close to the sea, the weather iIMG_5823s very changeable and over the next few days our walks vary hugely. We walk along ridges cloaked in cloud, cross streams that look just days old and pass through dripping forests, before emerging onto dusty paths lit by the sun and rounding corners to find sudden sun-soaked valleys.

La Gomera is known for its dramatic geology and no walk is complete without a steep ascent IMG_5831followed by an even steeper descent to undo all the ground gained. On our walk into Hermigua we arrive via Santa Catalina after a total descent of 1,140 metres – the steepest I have ever done. The path here appears to dive off a cliff and I am astonished at every turn to find it winding on ever downwards, across terraces and down stony slopes.  It is easy to see why the Gomerans developed a whistling language, silbo, which could travel easily across valleys so that they did not have to.


After several days walking on the island we have covered some 50 kilometres, and a large chunk of this volcanic rock. And yet we feel as though we have only scratched the surface.IMG_5860 All too quickly we are back on the island’s eastern side, turning a corner to find Teide suddenly just a short hop across the water. It beckons us back towards Tenerife, and our final stop back in the capital San Sebastián.

This diminutive town had seemed so tiny on arrival but after a few days walking in the island’s interior it seems a vast metropolis. We escape its centre through a tunnel at the harbour and find El Charcon, a seafood restaurant on the quaysiIMG_5883de serving fresh fish platters in the sunshine. We order a platter of local cherne and other white meaty fish, topped with huge, sweet prawns and served with salty papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes) and mojo sauce. Washed down with a Canarian white wine it is the perfect end to a week’s walking. But I have to admit that I was wrong about one thing – you can’t discover a whole island in one visit. So I will just have to come back.



Macs Adventure offer seven-night walking holidays on La Gomera, with six days walking, from £455 per person, including all accommodation, breakfasts, baggage transfer from hotel to hotel or taxi transfer between walking locations, and a detailed info pack and guidebook. Flights/rail to and from starting point are not included, but Macs Adventure’s team can advise best value travel options at the time of booking. Macs Adventure has more than 200 walking trips around the UK & Europe, which can be tailormade according to your level of fitness.

More details of the trip are available here or by calling 0141 530 1950.

For more information on Tenerife visit the tourist board’s website here. I also found the “Lonely Planet Canary Islands (Travel Guide)” very useful on this trip.


Climbing Teide on Tenerife

I used to be the sort of person who would set out on a hike in flip flops. I have been known to climb Cat Bells with a handbag and must admit to going off piste at Salisbury Crags wearing pumps.

But no longer. Today I am all about the right gear – and when it came to climbing Teide I couldn’t have been more relieved.

Because Spain’s highest mountain and the world’s third tallest volcano seems all too accessible. If you take the easy route, an eight-minute cable car journey and a short one-hour path to the summit is all it takes to reach the roof of Tenerife, and those sunny beaches just a few miles away make it seem like even the weather is on your side.

But climbing Teide is far more serious than its accessibility implies. My ascent – taking the full route up, no cable car – was scheduled for early March and for days beforehand it looked unlikely, with snow falling on the peak and the trails closed due to ice.


Undettered I set out with Felix de la Rosa of Oditen, starting at Montaña Blanca, where a small car park marks the trailhead for La Rambleta and the Refugio de Altavista.

From here the eight-kilometre hike to the refuge takes about four hours, following a wide path that is at first accessible to 4WD vehicles. The ascent is gentle and this first section would have been easy had it not been for the snow. The patches of unmelted powder became more and more common as we rounded the base of the mountain and my boots were quickly damp. The right gear was already essential – in this case my SealSkinz waterproof socks.

After a couple of kilometres the path narrows and we are suddenly above the clouds, looking down on their tufty tops, with nothing but the odd mountain ridge poking through.

IMG_5915Over the last few kilometres the path becomes snow-bound and instead of following it religiously we must pick our way over rocks, clambering ever steeper. I start to feel the burn as Felix points out the radio mast at the refuge, egging me on for the final kilometre, up to 3,260 metres above sea level.


Reaching the refuge feels like what arriving at a five-star hotel feels like under other circumstances. The facilities here are very simple but exhausted by the climb and ready for my bed I am delighted with first the heating and later the bunk beds with their cosy duvets. I am tempted to climb straight into bed but Felix calls me outside for sunset – and one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen.

As the sun dips behind Teide, the volcano casts a shadow across the landscape, dominating the pinkening skyline like a giant, dark pyramid. It lasts for just a minute or two but it will remain in my mind forever – I’ve never seen anything like it.


After a restless almost-night of not-quite-sleeping (altitude makes slumber difficult and gave me a headache) we wake at 5am to get up to the peak for sunrise. I am not normally a morning person but this morning it is easy to leave my bed and within minutes we are dressed and striding out into the snow once again.

I can focus only on the ground, picking my way through the snow and between the rocks in the endless darkness. And yet it is not endless. About one hour into our walk (more a trudge at this point, if I’m honest) the sky begins to lighten around us and I realise sunrise is fast approaching – time to speed up.

It is tricky to find the path beneath the snow (and, after a cold night, the ice) but after a while of picking our way across rocky ridges we spot the cable car’s upper station off to the left.


Many people take the hike from here at La Rambleta to the summit but the cable car is not running yet and so only those who stayed at the refuge are on the trail. Consequently we have the landscape almost to ourselves and as we finally reach the last few metres of ascent and find the ground levelling out, the sun pops above the horizon, seemingly just for us.

I am wearing seven layers of clothing, my hands are numb with cold and my legs are wobbling like jelly, but reaching 3,718 metres just in time for sunrise makes it all worthwhile. Standing tall on the highest rock I can find I stretch out every limb and take it all in.



A sea of clouds cloaks Tenerife and the Atlantic Ocean surrounding it. Peaking their heads cheekily above it are the neighbouring islands of Gran Canaria, La Palma and La Gomera. The day’s young sun reaches out its rays to light up Teide’s sulphurous rocks in rosy pink. And that triangular shadow from last night, which I thought I would never be lucky enough to see again, once again dominates the view.



You must have a permit to climb Teide. Apply online here as far in advance as possible as numbers are limited.

A night in the refuge costs 24 euros and should be booked in advance.  There is space for 54 hikers so get in early to reserve your place. There are three dormitories and beds and bedding are allocated on arrival. Rooms are heated and there are toilets and sinks but no showers. Drinks can be bought from a machine but you will need small change. There is wifi (also payable at a machine requiring change) and good 3G coverage. You will need to bring all your own food.

The cable car runs from 2,356 metres above sea level on the main road to 3,555 metres above sea level at La Rambleta. It runs daily from 9am to 4pm (last descent 4.50pm) and takes just eight minutes. It cost 25 euros return and 12.50 euros one-way for adults.

For more information on Tenerife visit the tourist board’s website here. I also found the “Lonely Planet Canary Islands (Travel Guide)” very useful on this trip.


Hiking in Gran Canaria: my piece for the Express

Think the Canaries are no more than just another fly and flop
destination? Let me convince you otherwise with my article for the
Express on hiking in Gran Canaria. Mountains, volcanoes and
tropical valleys await…. Read it here.

Thanks to the fabulous Macs Adventure for hosting this trip. Check out the itinerary I joined, Island of Contrasts, here.