This article was produced in association with Canary Islands
At the mention of the Canary Islands, most cyclists immediately think of Tenerife, the small island that is dominated by its active volcano, Mount Teide. However, most of those on two wheels are not thinking about the fact the volcano is still active – although it hasn’t erupted since 1901 – they’re thinking about Mount Teide being a 48.2-kilometre climb with an average gradient of 5.1 per cent, climbing well over 2,000 metres above sea level. Oh, and the fact you can spot a number of pros on the smooth, sun-baked roads to the summit. Many head to the island for their training camps throughout the year. And with 300 days of sun, averaging 20 degrees Celsius in the winter and 25 in the summer, you can see why cyclists love to head to this beautiful island in the archipelago.
But beyond Tenerife, the Canary Islands comprise seven more islands. Tenerife is the largest, then Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa, the smallest. In fact, La Graciosa is so small that it doesn’t even have any asphalt roads. All the islands are in close proximity to one another, in the Atlantic Ocean, but you’d think each island was worlds away from each other with their starkly different landscapes.
Lanzarote has an almost lunar landscape characterised by 300 volcanic cones and rugged lava fields. Gran Canaria is cactus-dotted with rolling sand dunes that lead to beaches, where emerald-green waves crash onto the shore. The greenest island of them all is La Palma, where nature is in abundance and Canary Island pines stand tall against the mountainous backdrop and black sand beaches. And the compact island of La Gomera boasts thick vegetation thanks to the sea of clouds covering the island. The diverse landscapes across these islands are truly spellbinding.
With so much on offer across each and every island, it’s a wonder why riders stick to just one when they make their way in search of warmer weather and smoothly tarmacked roads. This was what Pol Tarrés thought when he visited Gran Canaria earlier this year – he wanted to explore what was beyond the shore. And so the idea began. Eight islands, eight days, one big adventure.
A shock to the system
When Tarrés arrived in Santa Cruz de la Palma with Lina Bo, who he persuaded to complete the 900km ride with him, they were already in awe of the natural beauty that they found on this one island – let alone all eight – and while the first ride featured an arduous distance of 164km and more than 4,000 metres of climbing, the day was full of promise and excitement as they were ready and raring to get going on their epic adventure.
Starting at sea level, La Palma threw its first challenge at the pair not even a few kilometres into the day’s route. The climb to El Roque de Los Muchachos is punishing, climbing 2,406m above sea level and setting the tone for how the rest of their trip would go. “During the three hours it took us to ascend, we passed through changing landscapes as if they were levels in a video game,” said Tarrés. “We went from a small area of laurel forest to a zone with very tall pine trees, to finally reaching an area of shrubs near the summit, where we could see the yellow, red, and orange tones of volcanic formations.”
But despite the climb being the longest ascent either of them had ever ridden, they both enjoyed it. “When you see the numbers it’s like, ‘Whoa, it’s 32km and 2,400 metres.’ But, to be honest, it’s steady, not super steep, and we were fresh, luckily, because it was the first climb of the trip,” added Tarrés.
While La Palma’s landscape kept their minds from thinking about their legs too much, the clock was ticking and making the ferry the same day was a priority. But with so much beauty to take in, Bo and Tarrés admitted it was hard for them not to stop every few kilometres to take photos. “We almost missed our ferry every day,” laughed Bo. “Especially in the middle of the first island, we were really sure we weren’t going to make it because the island was so beautiful, and we were literally stopping every kilometre.”
Thankfully, the second half of the day featured long descents down winding roads, a well-deserved reward after the double-digit climbs they had already conquered. But these are the Canary Islands, and it wasn’t long before the road curved uphill again. However, they were always rewarded with a breathtaking view. When they arrived at the Time viewpoint, they recalled the lava river left by the Tajogaite volcano, which erupted in 2021 – the first eruption on the island since 1971. “We were left speechless,” said Tarrés.
Not stopping for long, they pushed hard to make sure they caught their ferry, making their way back to the seaside town of Santa Cruz de la Palma. “When we got on the ferry, we were all sweaty, and we just laid on the floor, like we made it,” said Tarrés recalling the relief they felt.
A place of contrasts
The following day saw them arrive on the island of La Gomera, in the capital of San Sebastián de La Gomera. Bo and Tarrés pedalled towards Las Poyatas and through the summit’s tunnel, which took them into the Hermigua Valley.
“We couldn’t believe the contrast from when we went into the tunnel to when we came out,” said Tarrés. What greeted them was a landscape covered in greenery, dense with laurel forest, featuring glossy, ever-green leaves. The road swept down and up again as they reached the heart of the Garajonay National Park, a dense forest that covers 11 per cent of the island, shrouded in mist and clouds. “It became evident that this place was truly magical,” said Tarrés. “Certain parts of the road were so dark that you’d forget you were cycling under the bright sun.”
On another planet
“As soon as we arrived, we could see that this island was very different from the others,” said Tarrés as he recalled the moment he saw El Hierro from the ferry. Bo agreed, saying that the second-smallest island of the Canaries was like “another planet”. Excited to see what the island had to offer, little did they know that the 115km route was about to completely win them over.
The youngest of the Canary Islands, El Hierro is an island described as tranquil, where one can disconnect from the stresses of modern life. And despite being one of the smaller islands, it packs a punch when it comes to striking landscapes. Tarrés and Bo climbed to the island’s capital, Villa de Valverde, as the sun rose over the sea. As they passed the El Golfo, an enormous bay that stretches for miles, they both noticed the vibrant shades of green giving way to the dark browns of the volcanic rock, with only small dots of greenery against the harsh landscape. “It felt like being on Mars,” said Bo.
As they made their way north from the south of the island, the crystal-clear emerald green sea made the hues of orange, brown and black pop in colour, and the only sign of civilisation was the occasional person stretched out on the rocks, basking in the warm sunshine. The island was peaceful. No cars, just wildlife and awe-inspiring scenery. The deserted road led them to Isora before they descended to Timijiraque on a road that “seemed to go straight into the sea”.
From the coastal road, they made their way to catch the ferry, ending their time on the small but mighty island. But that was the beauty of such a challenge, while their time exploring one island came to an end, another enigmatic island awaited their arrival. After their trip, Bo and Tarrés agreed that El Hierro was their favourite island. Bo even stated, with a smile spread across her face, “Everyone must go to El Hierro.”
Going with the flow
Bo and Tarrés arrived on the island of Tenerife on day four, nearing the halfway point of their journey. Despite the highlight of the island for cyclists being Mount Teide, Bo and Tarrés opted to complete a 96km route that skirted the edge of the volcano, after feeling the fatigue of the previous day’s efforts. But, by no means did it mean the route lacked steep ascents, and they faced some challenging climbs throughout the day.
They were able to catch glimpses of Teide standing tall in the distance as they cycled along, clocking up the kilometres as they headed to Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In the second half of the day, they left civilisation behind as they headed into the Anaga Rural Park – home to towering peaks, mysterious cloud forests and remote black sand beaches. The road wound dizzyingly around the mountains and provided Bo and Tarrés with an epic descent into San Andrés, finishing their time on the island in exhilarating fashion.
On day five, when Bo and Tarrés arrived in Gran Canaria, Bo was feeling the effects from four days of serious riding, struggling with a pounding headache and an urge to be sick. After arriving on the ferry from Tenerife the night before, she headed to bed early, missing dinner and suffering the consequences the next day. “I was even posting on Instagram, like, ‘I’m so tired and can’t do it any more.’ But I drank about three Coca Colas, and I started to feel amazing, actually, about 30km into the ride in Gran Canaria.”
This boded well for Bo as Gran Canaria is home to a number of challenging climbs, most notably the ascent to Pico de las Nieves, where the slopes can reach up to 23 per cent. But similar to their first testing climb in La Palma, they were distracted by the changing scenery as they climbed higher and higher. Upon reaching the summit, they could spot the end point, Las Palmas, and after a challenging start, the end was in sight. The descent from Pico de las Nieves led them down into Los Marteles Nature Reserve – a large volcanic crater surrounded by Canary pines, highland heather, sage, knapweed and bluewood. It is a place considered to be one of the great treasures of Gran Canaria, and serves as a reminder of the volcanic origins of the Canary Islands.
The rest of the day consisted of gentle, rolling hills, and Bo and Tarrés arrived at the ferry happy despite a challenging start to the day. “The funny thing is, at the end I felt super powerful and wanted to ride even more,” said Bo.
Maybe we will see cowboys soon?
Fuerteventura is a sandy paradise with more than 150km of beaches characterised by white sand and turquoise waters. However, with such exposed coastlines, the island is subject to some hard wind, and riding on the island was a challenge, said Bo. Thankfully, in comparison to the other islands, Fuerteventura does not have such hard climbs and the undulating terrain made up for the battle against the winds.
The route took them straight through the middle of the island, starting in Morro Jable and heading north to Corralejo. The landscape was a sea of browns, oranges and yellows, reminiscent of a Star Wars movie. They cycled through small villages and ascended Pico de la Muda and Morro de la Cruz, passing through expansive landscapes with rocky outcrops and rich coloured earth. “All the buildings and old houses are super authentic, and almost joking, I was like, ‘Maybe we will see cowboys soon?’” laughed Bo.
Near the end of the 133km route that took them across Fuerteventura, they cycled through the Dunes of Corralejo – a 10km stretch of untouched coastline made up of golden sand. The landscape resembles the Sahara desert, with its shimmering sand spanning for miles, reflecting light back from the midday sun. The black tarmacked road that cut through the sand led them to the next ferry port, ending their journey through Fuerteventura.
A moment to reflect
Lanzarote provided Bo and Tarrés a moment to reflect on the previous islands as the seventh island marked the last hard day on their road bikes. Thankfully, after many days spent climbing mountain passes and undertaking 100km-plus routes, Fuerteventura’s flatter terrain had given their legs a chance to recover.
Starting in Playa Blanca in the south, they pedalled towards Órzola, crossing the Timanfaya National Park and skirting the island’s coastline. Similar to Fuerteventura, Lazarote is an island characterised by its volcanic, lunar-like landscape, coloured in browns, reds, and ochres. “It was one of the most impressive landscapes of the entire challenge,” said Tarrés.
Closing their time on their road bikes was a 25km ascent to the highest point of the route, 569m above sea level – a full-circle moment from the first climb in La Palma. However, this time, there was no rush for the ferry, and they could enjoy a stop in the charming village of Haria, nestled in the Valley of 1,000 Palms, inhabited by fewer than a thousand people. Passing the summit, they were treated to a long descent through the island’s martian landscape, allowing them to look back on the immense effort they had put into the ride so far.
“It was one of the toughest rides I have ever done,” said Bo. “But because of this, I really wanted to push on and finish the challenge.”
Ending on a high
La Graciosa is one of the last places in Europe without any asphalted roads, so it was a challenge when Tarrés was making the route to cross all eight islands. They couldn’t leave out one island, but also they couldn’t easily ride on such terrain with their road bikes. Only 29 square kilometres in area, it was an easy island to complete, and Tarrés could think of only one solution – to hire mountain bikes.
“This day felt like the final day of a Grand Tour, where everyone is more relaxed, and no one really competes,” said Tarrés. And enjoy it they did. The route around the island was just 22km, a drop in the ocean compared to what they had to achieve on all seven of the other islands. Completely different to what had come before, La Graciosa provided Bo and Tarrés with the perfect end to their 900km challenge, summing up perfectly the vast differences between each island – the reason why they wanted to take on the challenge to see all eight.
Tarrés added that the impressive 21,600m of climbing across the eight islands back-to-back made the route very testing. But because of this, Bo and Tarrés admitted that it was the best ride they had done, and despite having completed the task, the experience still hasn’t sunk in.
Reflecting on their journey through the eight islands, they both agreed that the diverse landscapes were one of the things that made the Canary Islands unique. Bo mentioned that at the end of each day, you’d remember five different landscapes you had seen, just from that one island, and then they’d look at the photographs from that day and see even more.
One thing that did not change as they hopped across the islands was the crystal green water of the sea, tempting them every day to take a dip. Too focused on the challenge, they did not allow themselves the opportunity. But the waters in La Graciosa were too inviting, and they finally got to relish a moment they had longed for – a plunge into the refreshing Atlantic Ocean.