Friday 21 February 2020

Lanzarote: Haría to Teguise

This walk crosses over the Famara massif in the north-eastern corner of the island and connects the charming village of Haría with the historic town of Teguise. We'd travelled between the two in a hire car on our previous holiday here in 2019 and since then I'd been pondering how I could turn that road journey with its spectacular views into a hike. Happily, a little research before we returned to Lanzarote this year revealed that all the work of planning a route had already been done for me: Haria and Teguise are linked by stage two of the long distance walking trail GR-131 so all we had to do was follow that.

Village square in Haría.
As we were doing the walk on a Saturday, when bus services were less frequent, we decided to get the public transport out of the way at the start. We drove to Teguise and took the first bus to Haría, arriving there shortly before 9 am. There's no reason why you couldn't do the route the opposite way, though: the valley in which Haría sits is one of the most fertile parts of the island and you'd be rewarded with superb views as you descended to the village.

We made our way through the gleaming white buildings onto Calle Elvira Sanchez, where the César Manrique Museum is situated. Passing this, we followed the street south west and continued along it out of the village. It became more of a farm track as we proceeded and rougher underfoot. We were already getting fine views of the hills that surround this valley - and an idea of the climb we had ahead of us to reach the Famara plateau.

The track brought us to the LZ-10, which climbs the hillside gradually via a series of hairpin bends. Our route was more direct and this wouldn't be the first time we'd cross the winding road before we reached the top. The track became a path from now on but it was still well-marked and easy to follow - there were only two ways you could go really, either back down or ever-upwards.

The area around Haría is known as the "Valley of a Thousand Palms" and the Canary Islands' indigenous species - Phoenix canariensis - flourishes here. Unsurprisingly, this lush region is also heavily farmed and we could see row upon row of terraces clinging to the steep slopes. There were plenty of shrubs and wildflowers lining the path too.

The ascent was a steady one but not nearly as strenuous as we'd expected when we got our first daunting views up the valley. Although it was a warm morning, the hillside we were on sheltered us from the sun much of the time, which helped; and stopping to look back at how far we'd come was undoubtedly a morale boost - even if it was a little difficult to then tear yourself away from those beautiful views and return to the climb.

We soon reached the edge of the plateau and from this vantage point we had new views to take our breath away. A huge valley dropped away below us to the dark plain on the east coast of the island, where the white-painted villages of Arrieta and Punta Mujeres were shining in the sun. We crossed the main road one final time here to join a short, rocky path that was the last climb of the day. At the top of this we joined a lane and from now on the walk was to be pretty much on the flat and then downhill.

Punta Mujeres (l) and Arrieta (r).
The lane was quiet, surrounded by farmland and brightened by more wildflowers and shrubs along its edges. The neatly tilled plots were covered in pícon, tiny granules of porous volcanic rock that not only form a barrier to evaporation but also collect and retain moisture from the air. This ingenious form of "dry farming", called enarenado, was devised on Lanzarote following the extensive volcanic eruptions of 1730-36, which destroyed huge swathes of the island's agricultural land.

Because we were walking across the middle of a broad plateau, our views were mostly limited to the fields around us, the tops of various volcanic peaks to the east, and the ocean across the horizon. Larks were singing in the sky above us - an unexpected but very welcome surprise - and I'm not sure I've ever felt quite so relaxed in the middle of a hike. Ahead of us, we could see one of the next points of interest on our walk, the chapel of Ermita de las Nieves, but for now we decided to sit here and have our lunch at some rocks by the side of the road.

Carrying on towards the hermitage after our break, we found the vistas opening up around us again. Arrecife came into sight to the south and, beyond the church, the volcanoes in the south west of the island. I think along this stretch of road we only encountered one car, when we first joined the lane, and one cyclist a little later on. In the distance, paragliders were drifting around in the sky and their views must have been incredible.

Caldera Blanca (centre) and Risco Quebrado (right), which we hiked last year.
A paraglider passing in front of Montaña Tamia.
Just before we reached the hermitage, we came to a large open area by the side of the road, where a ranger was standing by his parked car. He gestured to us to walk to the edge of the viewpoint and cheerily warned us not to fall over it. Peering over the side of the plateau, we found we were at the southern end of Risco de Famara. More than 10 miles long, this line of dramatic cliffs on the western side of the Famara massif was formed by volcanic activity over the period between 10.2 million and 3.8 million years ago (see here for an in depth analysis of the island's geology).

Risco de Famara from Caleta de Famara.
Undoubtedly the best place to experience the incredible scale of this escarpment is from one of the villages below or, even better, from out at sea. That said, the views up here aren't to be sniffed at either and I got a bit carried away, taking photo after photo as the clouds overhead created shifting patterns on the sides of the gorge.

El Castillejo (l) and Peñas del Chache (r), the highest point on Lanzarote and the site of a radar station.
Famara below and Caleta de Famara behind it.
From front to back: La Graciosa, Montaña Clara, and Allegranza.
View south west to the volcanoes of the Timanfaya National Park.
When we finally got round to paying a visit to the hermitage we found it was locked. It's a pretty building in its own walled enclosure but apparently it was only built in 1966: the original chapel was sacked by pirates, reconstructed a century later, and then fell into ruins again over time. With that in mind, it was clear that any historical significance lay in the site rather than the actual building so it wasn't that much of a disappointment to be unable to go inside.

After the chapel, continuing south west, the GR-131 becomes a rough track again and heads downhill on a very gentle gradient. After passing what seemed to be a small military base (I didn't take any pictures of that for obvious reasons), the terrain around us became increasingly arid. In the distance we could see our finish point now, the town of Teguise, which looked like a veritable "oasis in the desert" sitting below Montaña de Guanapay.

Montaña de Guanapay, with its sixteenth-century castle, stands watch over Teguise.
A path led off from the main track at one point and we followed it to find another viewpoint on the edge of the plateau. The jagged Famara coastline gives way to more rounded hills once you're past the hermitage - they're still relatively high, by Lanzarote's standards, and still scored by gullies and ravines, but viewed from below they provide a smoother vista than the jagged cliffs to the north. In fact, when we looked up at them from Caleta de Famara later in the trip, we were both struck by how similar they looked to the Howgill Fells in Cumbria, as though those iconic hills had decided to fly south for some winter sun like we had.

Panoramic shot from the viewpoint: you can just make out the military installation on the summit.
The same hills viewed from below, in Caleta de Famara.
After we returned to the track across the desert-like terrain, we weren't on it for very much longer. At a point where it swung to the left, we came off it and joined a rocky path that descended into a valley.

It was a strange mix of land use down here, of neat pícon fields and dry stone walls next to seemingly abandoned waste ground and occasional, tumbled down buildings. Some of the ridges around the valley looked like they'd make for good walking though, so I made a note of that for future trips to the island.

On the valley floor the narrow, stony path had given way to another farm track and it was a straight shot now into Teguise. A mile further along we were on the outskirts of the town and another half a mile after that we were in the centre, heading for our favourite tapas bar there.

Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Teguise.
There hasn't been a walk we've done on Lanzarote that we haven't enjoyed but I think this is definitely one of our favourites so far. Aside from the wonderful views, it was interesting to experience the fertile valleys in the north of the island and the arid conditions in the centre and south of Lanzarote in one hike. And Teguise, if you do the walk in the same direction as us, is a lovely place to end a day in the hills with a fine selection of cafes and tavernas.


CLICK HERE  for more walks on Lanzarote and other useful information.


Date: January 2020

Walk length: 13 km

Total ascent: 370 metres


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