Free holiday accommodation on top of a mountain with spellbinding views of the Atlantic Ocean. There must be a catch, right? Well, only a minor one.
Spain’s Canary Islands have long been Europe’s year-round holiday playground. But venture beyond the heavily developed beachside resorts into the nearby mountainous interiors and you could be worlds away from the block-rocking beats of Playa del Ingles and Los Cristianos. We decided to do just that.
Our trip covered three of the seven islands – Gran Canaria, Tenerife and La Gomera. Partly for the adventure and partly to save money, we decided to balance the hotel and airbnb nights with bouts of camping.
WILD CAMPING IS PROHIBITED BUT…
We quickly realised that our initial idea of wild camping in the Canary Islands wasn’t a completely viable option. La Gomera and Tenerife prohibit it, while Gran Canaria allows limited wild camping in the forest subject to obtaining a permit (which only allows you to camp up to 24hrs at any one location).
However, the enforcement of the wild camping ban appears to be somewhat lax and, while not common, people do camp in the wild on the islands. One of these spots can be found along the ragged hills surrounding Playa Diego Hernandez, the rocky stretch between La Caleta and El Puertito in Tenerife. This hippie haven has a beautiful seaview and the (nudist) beach is great for swimming but finding even terrain for your tent can be a challenge.
Next we trawled the web for private campsites and, while a few of them do exist, they seemed pretty uninspiring on the whole. Undeterred, we continued our research and came across campsites set up by the local governments in Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
Zonas de acampada – State-run CampSITES
State-run campsites in the Canary Islands can be used free of charge but require an online registration. The permit in Tenerife needs to be ordered at least a week in advance, while the Gran Canarian officials require at least three days to process the permit and this needs to be collected in person.
The government websites for the permits come only in Spanish but we used Google Chrome’s nifty auto-translate tool to get over that hurdle with ease. As non-locals we couldn’t use the online login process for Tenerife, so we emailed the booking form instead and received our permit within days.
CAMPING IN THE CANARY ISLANDS – NEXT TO A VOLCANO
Tenerife has a total of 13 state-run campsites. We stayed at El Lagar, which is situated on the north side of the island close to Teide, the island’s iconic volcano. The facilities in all of the state-run campsites are fairly basic and El Lagar had toilets (very clean), cold-water showers and fire pits.
The drive to the campsite snaked up a long gravel road through pine forest. Along the way we passed a pair of hikers and a lone mountain cyclist but by the time we arrived at the campsite, we were surprised to discover that we had the whole place to ourselves.
The campsite was nestled between two wooded ridges and behind these was Mount Teide, looming majestically in the setting sun. As the light was already swiftly fading, we picked a spot for our tent and set up camp.
we had the whole campsite to ourselves
Camping alone in a remote campsite tends to evoke both a sense of exhilaration – a joy of being away from it all – as well as slight spookiness…at being away from it all!
As we sat by the campfire admiring the star-lit skies, we suddenly heard the barking of a wild dog – first in the distance, then creeping closer. Nervous that it might have caught scent of our dinner and be frustrated to discover it eaten, we armed ourselves with flashlights and sticks. By this point we could hear the dog in the hollow right below us and thought it would only be a moment before it would appear from the darkness. For a while the creature was circling us in the cover of the treeline, but in the end it lost interest.
In spite of this curious close encounter, we slept remarkably soundly. In the morning, as we munched on our breakfast cereal, our nighttime visitor returned. Instead of being the Hound of the Baskervilles with glowing red eyes, it turned out to be a very friendly, if feral, Podenco Canario – a type of hound native to the islands.
mountain camping in gran canaria
In Gran Canaria we stayed at the Tamadaba National Park near Agaete, one of the 14 camp and recreational sites on offer. While Tamadaba only has toilets (once again, very clean) and no shower facilities, it redeems itself with one of the most spectacular views we’ve ever experienced while camping.
The campsite is perched on top of a 1400 metre high mountain with unobstructed views of the ocean below and volcanic Tenerife across the water. As with El Lagar, the campsite spreads across a large area and although we technically shared it with a few other campers, we barely saw anyone during our stay.
camping in the clouds… literally
The high altitude means that on occasion the campsite becomes enveloped by a cloud and the temperature takes a sudden dip. This happened on our first night as we got ready to have our dinner.
We could see as the cloud rolled over the mountainside like a giant wall of candy cotton swallowing up trees, bushes – anything – in its path. Within minutes we were right in the middle of it, pulling on long sleeves and hoodies. After a fruitless stake-out for the clouds to pass, we called it a night, grateful that the sleeping bags which had felt a bit of an overkill earlier, were good up to -3 Celsius.
the million dollar view
The second night, after a day’s hike through the various trails nearby, we returned to catch the sunset from our camp by the cliff edge.
As the night set in and we sat before the breathtaking view enjoying a bottle of local red wine, cheese and bread from the farmers market, the atmosphere was nothing short of magical. Sometimes a little slice of paradise needn’t cost a dime.
It can be a bit tricky finding detailed information about camping in the Canary Islands as well as locating the actual camping permits. To make your life easier, we’ve collated the links for these below:
- Camping permit for Tenerife
- More information about camping in Tenerife
- More information about the state-run campsites in Tenerife including directions
- Camping permit for Gran Canaria