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.
|Las Palmas – Puerto las Nieves||88km||2,376m||Medium||
|Las Palmas – Artenara||105km||2,710m||Hard||
|Las Palmas – Pico de las Nieves||91km||2,855m||V hard||
|Las Palmas – Bandama – San Mateo – Teror||88km||2,696m||Hard||
|Las Palmas – Arucas – Valleseco – Teror||73km||2,228n||Medium||
Free 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
5½ – Playa del Ingles
3½ – Las Palmas