top of page

Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, and thoughts on bikepacking in the Canary Islands



I've spent around five months living and bikepacking in the Canary Islands over the last two winters, and it's no secret that I have a lot of love for the archipelago. Aside from being remarkably beautiful and varied, the Canaries are the perfect winter escape from Europe, blessed with a climate that's good all-year-around, and with cheap and easy flight connections from most major European cities. I spent a fair amount of my time in the Canaries working remotely, but I also found time for plenty of exploration on two wheels, and after two winters I feel I now have a pretty good handle on the islands and how they are for bikepacking.


If you've been following along you'll know that Gran Canaria is by far my favourite island in the region; it was the first of the islands I bikepacked, and I quickly grew to love its spectacular mountains, valleys, rocks, and forests. I'd originally intended to spend a lot more time on the other islands than I actually did, but Gran Canaria kept drawing me back, eventually leading to the creation of a new route, the Gran Canaria Grande, and a feature-length documentary film to accompany it. If you want to know more about Gran Canaria I'd suggest having a look at the route and the film, as together they'll tell you most of what you need to know. Gran Canaria has become one of my favourite places in the world and I would massively recommend it, albeit only to someone comfortable with a lot of climbing.



What I haven't really talked about as much are the other islands. Owing in part to the popularity of the fantastic GranGuanche routes, one of the most popular ways of bikepacking the Canaries is to start at one end of the island chain, and, using a combination of cycling and ferries, to island-hop across. Most commonly, riders will start on the eastern side, in Lanzarote, and finish in La Palma or El Hierro in the west, as doing it this way means that the prevailing winds will usually be behind you, rather than blasting you in the face. The Canaries can often be very windy, so paying attention to direction will make for a much better experience.


If you have time, cycling the full island chain would make for an amazing ride. Each of the islands is unique and worth exploring, and overall I think the Canaries make for a pretty good bikepacking destination. That said, there are some caveats, so I don't think the Canaries will be what everyone is looking for. In my experience, there are three main downsides to bikepacking in the Canaries.


Tourism

There's no getting away from the fact that large parts of the Canary Islands can be very touristy, and with the islands being relatively small, it can sometimes be difficult to get away from this. It's possible to mitigate the tourism aspect to some extent with good route selection, but, in the Canaries, it's always just a matter of time before you re-emerge back into a tourist hotspot and have to deal with the swathes of sunburned European holidaymakers. This will bother some more than others, but personally, I did find it frustrating. The general 'vibe' in much of the Canaries is undeniably touristy, so you have to be ready to deal with that, and it's not very often that you get a feeling of genuine remoteness. Due to the tourism, I also wouldn't recommend the islands if you're looking for a genuine cultural experience. Compared to mainland Spain, especially somewhere like Andalusia, I rarely felt like the Canaries had a great deal of individual identity.


Terrain

Cycling in the Canary Islands usually involves a lot of climbing, so bikepacking the islands will require strong legs and low gears, you'll want to pack light, and if you don't enjoy climbing then I would probably suggest staying away in general. Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are a lot less mountainous than the others, but even on those islands, you'll be surprised at how much elevation gain you'll rack up. Personally, I love climbing and spending time in the mountains, so this aspect was something I appreciated, but I know this definitely won't be for everyone.


Cost

Prices in the Canaries are usually about on par with most of northern Europe, but accommodation is usually slightly more expensive. When I mention cost as an issue, however, I'm primarily referring to the price of the ferries which are required to transport you from island to island. If you wanted to cycle all seven of the major islands, you'd need to take a minimum of seven ferries, and likely an eighth to take you back from the final island to Tenerife if you needed to fly out afterwards. With ferries generally costing around €50-60 each, you're looking at over €400 just in ferry tickets, which is quite a lot considering you'll probably only spend a few days on each individual island. Flights to the Canaries from Europe may be cheap, but you'll be more than making up for it in ferry costs.


Flying domestically between the islands usually costs about the same as one ferry, around €50-60, but this also comes with the faff of having to pack up your bike into a box, whereas with the ferry you can just roll straight onto the boat. Some cyclists have reported being able to take their bikes on domestic flights without a box, but when I tried this on my flight from Gran Canaria to Lanzarote, they refused to take it. The whole thing turned into a huge headache, and in the end, I had to pay to wrap my bike up in plastic before they would let me on. I suppose it therefore probably depends on the luck of the draw; some baggage handlers may allow it while others apparently do not.



Despite these issues, however, I still hold the Canaries in high regard, and I've had some incredible experiences bikepacking there. With respect to the specific islands, here are a few of my thoughts, as well as photo galleries of some of my favourite shots from each.


Lanzarote

The island with the black sand. Lanzarote has some really spectacular scenery, and, although the high point is only 670 metres, it's far less flat than I'd expected. I more or less followed the Granguanche Trail route, with a few modifications, and found it to be excellent. I had some wonderful wild camping spots in Lanzarote, and the riding, in general, was great. Although the tourist hot spots were very busy, it generally felt like there was quite a bit of empty space on the island, so the tourism aspect wasn't too bad.



Fuerteventura

The island with the strongest wind. Fuerteventura is a haven for surfers in particular, but it was also a fun place to bikepack through. Once again I mostly followed the Granguanche Trail route, and once again I liked it very much. I didn't find Fuerteventura to be as scenic or impressive as the other islands, but, on the other hand, it also felt the least touristic. Fuerteventura felt wilder, more remote, and more rugged. Tourism was less of an issue, although it was still there. Most of the way around the northwest coast, starting in Corralejo, there were large numbers of camper vans and surfers just about everywhere. And fair play to them, it's a great place for it, but it did contribute to the general 'tourist' vibe which can be so hard to escape from in the Canaries. My favourite part of the island by far was Cofete, so if you're in Fuerteventura I'd highly recommend having a look.



Gran Canaria

My favourite island. In my opinion, Gran Canaria is by far the most scenic and interesting island to visit. If you haven't already, go watch my film to find out why.




Tenerife

The island everyone's heard of. Being the largest and most famous island, I had high expectations for Tenerife, but although it has some incredibly beautiful places, I actually think it's a pretty bad place for bikepacking, so this is the one island I visited that I probably wouldn't recommend for this. The spectacular Mount Teide, standing at 3715 metres, makes up the centre of the island, and it is largely surrounded by a halo of thick pine forest as the landscape tapers off steeply down to the coast. The issue is where to cycle. The coastlines in Tenerife are generally very busy and developed, so they are best avoided. But higher up and away from the urban sprawl you get into the pine forests; these are nice for a day or so, but you don't tend to get very good views as you usually can't see out of the trees, so I didn't find it very rewarding. And resupply is tricky higher up; you'll often have to drop down to much lower elevations to reach towns to buy food, and this also means a lot more climbing to get back up again. The forests are mostly more than 2000 metres above sea level, so Tenerife felt to me like an awful lot of climbing without much reward for my efforts. Overall, I think Tenerife is much better suited to day rides; I think it would be a decent place to take a road bike, but for bikepacking, I don't think it really works.





La Gomera, El Hierro, La Palma

The islands I haven't cycled yet. I still haven't 'completed' the Canary Islands, as I haven't yet gotten around to visiting the three small westernmost islands. The main reason for this was simply inconvenient timing and the price of the ferries. Because I was always based in Gran Canaria, visiting these three islands would have meant flying across, taking the two separate ferries between those islands, and then flying back, which would have amounted to over €200 and the added hassle of boxing up my bike twice for the two flights. The only alternative would have been first going through Tenerife, which would have added extra ferries, and having already cycled there (at a point when I didn't have time to continue on), I didn't want to go back. As I said, I really don't love Tenerife for bikepacking.


At any rate, I decided to save the western three islands for later, as it seemed a lot of effort when I'd probably only get a few days of cycling on each island. From what I've heard, as well, these islands are probably better explored on foot, so I may well return to visit them with a backpack over the winter next year.



Summary

I've had an amazing time bikepacking the Canaries over the last couple of winters so I can certainly recommend them. If you just have a week or so to visit, I would strongly recommend looking at my GCG route in Gran Canaria, but if you have a bit more time then island hopping could be a great option. I don't think that doing the full island chain is necessarily the best value for money when you factor in the price of ferries, and the Canaries, in general, aren't where you should go if you want a remote wilderness experience, but as long as you're aware of the caveats and comfortable with a lot of climbing, I definitely think the Canaries are worth exploring. The scenery is incredible, and there's plenty of adventure to be had in the region!




Comments


bottom of page