Cycling in Gran Canaria: North vs South

Gran Canaria is a mecca for winter cycling, on the road and off-road MTB. For years I’ve spent a week around Christmas riding through the valleys and climbs on the southern coast, based out of Free Motion in Playa del Ingles. This year I explored the north of the island, based out of Las Palmas. Here are my thoughts on how the two options compare for road cycling.

Route Distance Altitude +/- Difficulty Highlights
Las Palmas – Puerto las Nieves 88km 2,376m Medium
  • Coastal road GC-200 after Agaete
  • Coffee in Puerto las Nieves
  • 4km fast descent with tunnels
Las Palmas – Artenara 105km 2,710m Hard
  • Views of valleys below Artenara
  • Almond tart in Artenara
Las Palmas – Pico de las Nieves 91km 2,855m V hard
  • Feeling when you get to the top
  • Change in climate & landscape
  • Hairy, fast, twisty descent
  • Looking up at the Pico from the beach
Las Palmas – Bandama – San Mateo – Teror 88km 2,696m Hard
  • Volcanic crater (caldera) at Bandama
  • Steep climb at Cueva Grande
  • Cafe con leche in Teror
Las Palmas – Arucas – Valleseco – Teror 73km 2,228n Medium
  • Nasty climb to Firgas
  • Really quiet roads up high
  • Fast descent on the motorways

Bike Rental

free motionFree Motion is world class in terms of quality of service, new bikes, helpful staff, good information and reliable service. They now have several stores across Gran Canaria (and other islands) – but the store in Las Palmas is new. It’s not as easy to rent a bike there – you must book for 5 days minimum, as they transport the bikes from Playa del Ingles. Plus, the opening hours are shorter, but not a big deal. Winner: Playa del Ingles

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All smiles at the summit – Tenerife is hidden behind the clouds. It was cold – about 6C

The Climbs

The northern side of the island is definitely steeper. The climbs start immediately and are long and constant, whereas in the south you can warm up on a flat coastal route before climbing through one of the valleys. It’s hard to find flat routes in the north – it’s all hilly. Winner: Las Palmas

The Variety of Routes

The south probably has more variety, as you can do nice easy coastal routes towards Mogan or Aguimes and build up some speed on nice smooth roads. The south also has lots of different valleys to climb or descent, meaning you can mix it up over a week and not get bored. On the north, I found two main climbs via Santa Brigada and Teror – after that you need to go further south or west. I did like the western route from Agaete and would explore more, if I didn’t have to use the autopista. Winner: Playa del Ingles

The Roads

Spain has good roads in general, nice smooth tarmac where your bike just spins along as you peddle, not like the rougher roads at home, that seem to suck the forward momentum out of the wheels. However, the south definitely has nicer road surfaces all round. In the north they are good for the most part as you climb but I found some of the descents hairy, especially between Valleseco and Teror, it was really rough.

Another aspect is how busy the roads are – Las Palmas is a big city, so lots of traffic in and out, with several autopistas. Where’s the south can be quieter once you get into the valleys. Winner: Playa del Ingles

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Coffee & cake in Teror in the sun – so nice

Coffee Stops

The north’s a clear winner for me here – the towns are less touristy and more tranquilo. Sitting in the square in Teror was lovely, as were the amazing views down into the valleys from Artenara where you can see Teide in Tenerife in the distance. Plus, the coffee and almond cake was really good. In the south, Santa Lucia is nice and there’s a good juice bar somewhere over by Mogan. Winner: Las Palmas

Scenery

No matter where you go on the island, I don’t think you can be disappointed. Every route you take will offer you views you’d never see at home. In the south, you’ve got the huge valley of Fataga and the stunning Risco Blanco behind. Further west, the coastal route to Mogan is fun as you hug the winding cliff road. Up near the Pico, the pine forests are so different to the beaches far below. In the north, looking down on the peninsula that is Las Palmas is always spectacular. Being able to see Tenerife out west is also a joy. Winner: a draw

Weather

The south of the island does get more sun, as the clouds can form on the northern side due to prevailing winds pushing the air up, where it cools and picks up moisture. However, the north still gets nice weather in winter, 20C during the day in December in Las Palmas, but up at 1,000m that could be 13C in the shade or even 6C at 2,000m at el Pico. Either way it’s a pleasure to be in short sleeves at Christmas! Winner: Playa del Ingles

Groups

Beginners will definitely prefer Playa del Ingles as there are easier routes to start off with, and the logistics of finding them are easier. Plus Free Motion organises daily group rides for all levels, so if you’re on your own you can join a group, with a leader to show you the route and bring you to a nice coffee stop. In Las Palmas, you’re on your own, so someone in the group would need to be experienced, or else good at map reading or Garmin route programming. Triathletes or runners will like either base, as you have great beaches and running options in both places. Winner: Playa del Ingles

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View from Pico Las Nieves, looking west over Roque Nublo, with Tenerife in the distance

Food & Drink

Personally, I think Playa de las Canteras in Las Palmas is paradise for swimmers and runners, so I’d definitely base myself there. Plus the food, drinks and nightlife is way more authentic in Las Palmas – you’ll rarely hear English or German being spoken and you definitely will like the prices for food and drinks – it’s more like a proper glimpse of Spanish life, rather than an artificial northern European enclave in the sun.

There’s way more culture, history and things to do in Las Palmas. Explore the old areas of Triana & Vegueta or stroll around the streets of the Puerto. Visit of the local markets. Eat in some amazing bars and restaurants – try La Bodega Extremena or El Bodegon de Roberto y Yeni for a start. The local brewery, Vida, has some nice drinks – even a stout called Happiness! Winner: Las Palmas

Overall Scores

5½ – Playa del Ingles

3½ – Las Palmas

 

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