I hadn’t heard of the GR131 until recently. I had about three weeks of my sabbatical that I could dedicate to a long-distance hike, but I had some very specific criteria. Hiking is something I really enjoy – I find it really refreshing – but I have been known in the past to miss the whole point and turn it into a bit of an achievement-oriented activity, pushing myself to do more miles or complete a route. The whole point of this time off work was to rest and although I really wanted to do some outdoor adventuring, I also knew that I would need to refrain from getting too ambitious, or from planning an itinerary that left me spending most/all of each day hiking or setting up camp. I wanted to reserve some time for sitting around relaxing, journaling, reading books, or chatting to whomever I was with. In other words, I was looking to plan a relatively easy adventure, with lots of time for rest, relaxation and connection! I started looking for somewhere with the following criteria:
- warm in February/March
- affordable to get to, affordable while there
- somewhere beautiful
- somewhere I would feel safe traveling as a solo female hiker
- somewhere well within my capabilities in terms of environment (no winter skills or rock climbing skills required, for example)
- somewhere that would be accessible for Aaron and/or friends to join me for shorter periods of time – this also meant the hiking had to be within their capabilities too
- somewhere that I could wild camp (which would make the trip more affordable)
- ideally somewhere with a trail I could complete in three weeks
To be honest, the number of hiking destinations that are both “warm in February/March” and “affordable to get to from the UK” is pretty tiny. If I’m honest, I was resistant to landing on the Canary Islands – they had never really been a ‘dream’ hiking destination for me – but after looking into a LOT of options, from Greece to the Balkans to Southern Italy to Patagonia, I decided that sunshine was indeed a top priority for me, and the Canary Islands were the closest fit for what I was looking for, even if they didn’t fit all of my criteria.
By this point, I had left it all rather late, prices were rapidly climbing and time was running out. I actually got more interest from friends than I had thought I might, so I ended up with a travel companion for at least part of each of my three weeks, which was brilliant (though it did make the planning a bit more complicated). The itinerary therefore began to take shape around these travel buddies’ schedules and preferences, flight costs and availability, and in a couple of cases where this really mattered, accommodation availability. I would like to travel by plane a lot less, for environmental reasons (and because it’s more fun), so I looked into train+ferry options but it it was gonna take about 5 days each way – and be so much more expensive – so I caved, and booked plane tickets.
At first I planned to hike the GR131 on Tenerife, bikepack the Granguache route on Fuerteventura and maybe also Lanzarote, and hike the coast-to-coast-in-lieu-of-GR131 trail on Gran Canaria. What I actually ended up doing was:
- hike part of the GR131 on Tenerife (all but one stage, because flights were cheaper if we cut our holiday in Tenerife short by one day)
- hike part of the GR131 on Fuerteventura (because our car broke down, cutting into the sabbatical budget and making the cost of hiring two mountain bikes somewhat prohibitive, and also because bikepacking is a new sport to me and would have required additional logistics and gear…and the trip was starting to get out of hand!)
- hike part of the GR131 hiking on Gran Canaria (because although I had enough days to do the whole thing, by the time I got to Gran Canaria I wanted some rest time – not so much from hiking, but from all the logistics!!)
Despite this rather unsatisfying itinerary – i.e I didn’t actually complete anything and hiked even fewer days than I had originally intended – I had an absolute blast. The hiking was mostly really easy, the views were far, far more spectacular than I had imagined, and with all but two or three days’ exception, the weather was glorious. Because of other commitments, I hadn’t been able to dedicate the five or so weeks it would take to do the whole trail, but I was only about half a day in to hiking before I was wishing I could. I’m surprised this isn’t a better known trail – it’s fabulous!