Yes, indeed – plural! Many people escape the cold winter weather in Europe and fly to one of the Canary Islands for a vacation and do some day hikes in fantastic weather. But we decided to escape the cold and miserable winter weather, especially in Germany, and hike the length of the GR131 hiking trail that covers almost all of the Canary Islands. Ever heard of these islands? They are a region of Spain, that politically and economically belongs to Europe but is only about 60 miles off the western coast of the African continent.
Furthermore, also a bunch of smaller islands is existent. The climate, in general, is mild. However, according to their position to the northwest trade winds, their microclimates can be temperate and wet or just very dry. Overall, it is a perfect destination to spend some weeks in the northern hemisphere winters. … and hiking is extraordinarily incredible!
The GR131 is a roughly 560 km trail and also part of the European long-distance trail number 7 that connects El Hierro in the west with the Black Sea in the east. Fun fact: At almost the utmost western point of El Hierro (and consequently of the Canaries) the monument for the former „Prime Meridian“ can be visited. Yes, centuries ago El Hierro was the end of the known world at that time.
We were very much looking forward to completing another thru-hike, mild weather, unique landscape, and spending time together on a trail. What we got to experience was among the most extraordinary landscape I ever saw: rugged mountains, plenty of volcanic cones, lava fields, ancient laurisilva cloud forests, endless sand dunes, amazing flora with aloe and cacti … and all surrounded by the vast Atlantic Ocean that was visible from many spots on the trail.
Even though this trail is an awesome one, I must not hide that it has been a real logistical challenge. Wild camping technically is not allowed on any of the islands. However, there are shelters along the way on Fuerteventura, some campgrounds on Tenerife, and a few Refugios (mountain huts) on La Palma. So we ended up doing a mixture of very rare stealth camping, sleeping in shelters on Fuerteventura, and mostly staying in guesthouses/hotels/apartments either along the way or in the vicinity, which made it necessary to juggle a lot with bus schedules. On top of that, you need to always have an eye on ferry schedules that bring you from one island to the other.
All the logistical challenges made it one of the most expensive thru-hikes we ever did, and all disruptions caused by ferry and bus schedules and having to go off trail for accommodation made it a thru-hike that felt the least thru-hike-y. So, I’d say that hiking the GR131 probably felt more like a vacation hike than an actual thru-hike, but it did not lessen the overall hiking experience. These islands are extremely beautiful (so beautiful, I had to cry more than once!) and have many more trails to offer than just the one we hiked. And were else on that planet does a thru-hike end at the end of the world?!