Three Points of the Compass does like to disappear off to one of the Canary Islands once in a while. Not only are they all a fantastic place for a holiday, be it alone or with family, the hiking is often superb. If I get round to it I’ll try and write a little on this in a future blog. One aspect of the Natural Parks in Gran Canaria that I have yet to experience however are any of the official campsites.
Anyone visiting Gran Canaria soon, possibly to hike part or all of the GR 131, the 560 km (348 mile) that crosses the seven islands, may not have heard of the state run campsites to be found in its heart. You may come across one or two if driving across the mountainous interior but there is surprisingly little to be found on these. Ask in most tourist information centres and they will look at you blankly.
This is a bit of a shame as these are invariably welcome and shaded camp sites for hikers, protected from strong sun and occasional strong winds. And they are free to use.
Investigating the procedure, it took me a while to hunt down the municipal offices in Las Palmas where permits are obtained. Once found, everyone was very polite and efficient. Handily pointing out the ticket machine from which a very necessary ‘queue’ ticket is obtained. The official at her desk however was very different- curt and dismissive, there was no way that any permits were being issued for camping, fair enough, I had heard of the fires, but she seemed cross that I would even consider hiking in such areas, as to tie-ing her down to when sites might re-open, no way! The best I got was probably by December 2020. But I can see that some sites have already re-opened.
While free, a permit has to be obtained to use the camping sites. You are not permitted to simply rock up and use the sites without a permit though sites can be reserved for up to three days. There are wardens and they do visit the sites on a frequent basis. Permits can be ordered online, and picked up in person from the Office of Information and Citizen Services (Oficina de Informacion y attencion Ciudadana) Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria. This is found, with a bit of searching, in Las Palmas.
When I last visited (autumn 2019) all Gran Canaria campsites had been closed following recent severe fires. There was also a blanket ban on any fires at all even in the roadside picnic areas. This is not surprising considering the widespread devastation that had resulted. However I note that a handful are beginning to be reopened. If you are planning on using any of the campsites, up to date information can be found online.
Trails mostly remain open following a fire but it can be pretty horrible walking through ash and charred pine and cacti. It is remarkable how one side of a hill will be burnt out while across the valley or over the brow, it hasn’t been touched. In 2019 over 9000 inhabitants were evacuated from more than fifty villages. Edges or more of villages were burnt out and I am sure that some towns and villages will have seen heart wrenching loss of livelihood and possession. However building work springs up, and life, largely, goes on. The tourist pound is important and visitors are encouraged, so long as respectful.
Most sites segregate hikers camping from those arriving in cars and vans. Large boards situated near the entrances explain where you may, and where you may not, camp. There are few officials on site, if any, and arrivals are expected to position themselves on trust. This needless to say leads to some people camping or parking just about wherever they want. Though not usually the locals, they respect the rules.
There a number of paths that loop out or pass each of the campsites on Gran Canaria, maps are shown on large boards at each site, or simply pick up a copy of David Brawn’s Gran Canaria Tour and Trail map. Paddy Dillon has also written a series of island guides detailing walks. Most recently he has completed a Cicerone guide to the entire GR 131.
Note that wild camping is illegal, though you can camp on land with the owners permission. But try and track down the relevant owner of a rocky, tree covered slope, just off a path, as evening draws in! By all accounts, wild camping without permission does occur. Just note that it is frowned upon.
Gran Canaria is a great place to hike and Three Points of the Compass looks forward to his next visit to this island. Hopefully the recent fire damage will have been overgrown. It is remarkable how the natural flora bounces back, as do the villagers in their fire damaged abodes. If you do visit, please take care with any fires, it is a dry island and carelessness leads inevitably to further devastation.