Earlier this month we spent a week on holiday in Gran Canaria. One of Spain’s Canary Islands located off north-western Africa, Gran Canaria is hugely popular with British and German tourists thanks to its all-year-round warm weather and sprawling beach front resort hotels. Not being the biggest fan of the big resort hotels (you won’t be surprised to learn, I’m sure), we based ourselves in a small hotel in the mountains close to Fataga, and hired a car to allow us to get around the island and explore some of the less populated areas.
Thankfully, once you get away from Gran Canaria’s built-up south-coast beach resorts, there is a beautiful and vast landscape that provided me with everything I love about being in the countryside. There are miles of desert, barren outcrops, cool pine forests, huge craters, and far-reaching ocean views – pretty much everything you could ever need from a place. Naturally, on our week-long break, we wanted to fit in a little bit of hiking, the best way to explore a new place if you ask me. We chose to go and find Roque Nublo, one of the biggest natural crags in the world.
Of special significance to native islanders, the butte is of volcanic origin – as is much of the island landscape – standing 80 metres into the sky. I absolutely love an empty landscape, I find them incredibly humbling, and so I knew I was going to love it here. The mountain itself is 1,813 metres above sea level and, I’m told, is situated bang in the centre of Gran Canaria. It’s been a popular spot for centuries; an ancient place of worship for the aborigines, it was declared a protected natural space in 1987 and a rural park in the mid-90s. It towers over everything in the vicinity, although isn’t quite the highest peak of Gran Canaria, that accolade goes to Pico de las Nieves (Snow Peaks) which is 1,949 metres high.
We took the mountain road from our little hotel further into the mountains for our short 5km there-and-back hike up to the monument. We made use of the car park at La Goleta, which is on the GC600 road in between San Bartolome de Tirajana and Tejeda. Everything I’d read prior to arriving in Gran Canaria suggested that the hike should be considered rather strenuous, especially in the heat, so we went prepared with hiking boots and water just as we would if we were doing any hike at home. Our information also suggested we needed to allow at least two hours for the hike.
We knew within just a few steps that we were in for a real treat. The path began as a well made and reasonably flat affair, turning rocky underfoot and getting steeper after about half a kilometre. There were a couple of particularly steep sections that required the use of my hands (I have short legs, I often need to use my hands when others can step up a little easier), but nothing that was particularly technical or difficult. Everything underfoot felt solid and even though the hike is all about going up hill, I didn’t even pant that much! Being mid-morning in February meant we didn’t struggle with the heat at all, if anything it was quite cool in the section through the forest; I can imagine that it gets very tough in the high season. The views were hidden from view thanks to the trees for a while, but as soon as we made it above the treeline we were spoilt with remarkable scenery all the way around.
The views from the plateau atop the mountain, where Roque Nublo and it’s baby brother Roque de la Rana stand, are simply amazing. It was a little hazy in the distance but we could still see for miles and miles around, it was just stunning. After spending a bit of time at the summit enjoying the uninterrupted view and taking some photographs, we turned around and retraced our steps back to our little Nissan waiting in the car park below. Our round trip took just shy of two hours, after which we sat in the sunshine overlooking the valley to eat our sandwiches feeling very pleased we found the hike and got up early enough to enjoy it before the crowds arrived.
Roque Nublo is hugely popular. It is one of those places that is a massive tourist attraction, but for good reason – a bit like Horseshoe Bend over in the US. I wondered how many people who turned up at the trail head and started the tramp up the mountain quite realised the nature of the walk, many were in flip flops and didn’t appear to be carrying anything other than their phone. But however prepared or unprepared people seemed to be, it is a busy location, and I can see why. We arrived just after 10am and got a parking spot in one of the road-side parking areas with ease, but when we returned to our car after completing the hike at lunchtime it was nothing short of heaving, with some appalling parking on the site of the road making it difficult to drive through the area. We walked up to the butte with just a handful of other people around, but returned back watching a steady stream of walkers make their way up towards the promised views. I’m all for the touristy places, and Roque Nublo deserves its popularity without a doubt, but if you want to enjoy the hike without the crowds then get up and go early to avoid the tour groups and big numbers – I bet it’s a beauty at sunrise.
Going prepared with hiking boots was definitely the right thing to do, and I would highly suggest that you wear at least a pair of trainers if you’re heading up onto the mountain. I would also recommend taking a long-sleeved layer as it can be chilly and windy at the top, and carrying at least a bottle of water if nothing else. The path itself is easy to find and follow, and there are bound to be other people around too, but the path can be found marked on Google Maps if you need a confidence boost (sadly Ordnance Survey don’t make maps of Spain!). When we visited there was a market stall type refreshment stand at the trail head selling freshly squeezed orange juice and cakes amongst other things; we had a massive meringue for a couple of Euro which was SO good after the walk. Note that there are no toilets at the trail head, you’ll need to stop at a cafe on the drive to/from La Goleta or find a discrete spot in the wild if you need to go.
I would absolutely recommend a hike to see Roque Nublo up close to anyone and everyone heading to Gran Canaria for a holiday. As long as you are reasonably walking fit and wear something good on your feet it is completely doable. If you are driving from the Maspalomas area you’re looking at just over an hour along the GC60 and GC600, so it’s completely doable to get a day away from the monotony of the beach. Apparently there are even tour buses that do that mountain road so you don’t even have to drive if you don’t want to.