It might be best known as a sun and sand destination, but Gran Canaria’s rugged and mountainous terrain will appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. Keen walkers and hikers can follow well-signed trails through UNESCO biosphere reserves and passing pre-Hispanic sacred rocks. And after a hard day’s hiking, there’s the reward of breath-taking views and delicious gastronomy.

La Cumbre – 'the Summit'

The island’s mountainous interior was crafted by millions of years of volcanic eruptions and erosions. One particularly violent explosion caused the centre of the volcano to collapse, creating the Caldera de Tejeda, a crater 18 kilometres wide. The two distinctive pillars, Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga crowning the crater, are the result of five million years of erosion.

Now sparsely populated, the region has maintained local traditions more than any other part of the island, including delicious local dishes. Try the wonderful, salt-fish sweet-potato “sancocho”', accompanied by the typical “papas arrugadas”, (small potatoes baked in salt). For dessert, a must is the honey almond sauce 'bienmesabe' washed down with a shot of warming honey rum.

La Cruz de Tejeda

The crossroads at Cruz de Tejeda, marks the geographical centre of Gran Canaria. Hikers will experience a noticeable change in climate zones where the trade winds hit the top of the island - from sunny Tejeda to the cooler, cloudier and wetter conditions that prevail around Vega de San Mateo. This is the mountainous heart, at an altitude of 1,580m, and makes a good start for two walks:

Walk One - Artenara

This 8 kilometer trail involves a gradual climb up through the pines before a gentle downhill ridge walk. Take time to enjoy the views across to the Caldera de Tejeda, with Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga dominating the horizon. The path passes the Cuevas de Caballero - caves with aboriginal rock engravings - before descending to the village of Artenara, at 1,270m it is the highest on Gran Canaria.

Some of the houses are built into the rock and the chapel of the Virgen de la Cuevita, dating from the 18th century, has a cave to itself. One of these troglodyte dwellings has been turned into a museum and furnished as it would have been in the 19th century, with living room, bedrooms, and kitchen.

Walk Two - Teror

The second option is a 12 kilometer trail in opposite direction from walk one, dropping down through dense forest and mixed farmland to Teror. The town is famous for being the site where the Virgin Mary revealed herself in a pine tree to a group of shepherds in 1481. The spot became a place of pilgrimage and the 18th century Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pino now stands imposingly in the Plaza del Pino.

Walkers will enjoy to marvellous examples of typical colonial Canary houses with colourful wooden balconies. Go for the Sunday morning market and enjoy tastings of local cheese, tangy olives and freshly baked breads and finish the day by sampling the local wines, both red and white.

Roque Nublo

In the centre of the island, the distinctive outline of the volcanic rock Roque Nublo stands stark at a height of 1,813m above sea level, and at 80m tall, is one of the world’s largest free-standing crags. The path up to the rock is relatively easy, starting at the car park at La Goleta, just above Ayacata. There are fine views of Pico de las Nieves, the highest peak of Gran Canaria, and the island’s other sacred rock, Roque Bentayga, as well as out towards the sea. It was an ancient place of worship for the Guanches, the island’s aboriginal inhabitants.

Roque Bentayga

Bentayga is a natural fortress and generations of Guanches lived here, building community granaries and funerary caves, lined with inscriptions and wall paintings. A short and precipitous path leads to their almogarén, a spiritual ceremonial space where the sun plays a spectacular game of light and shadow. At the solstice, a single solar ray strikes a circle engraved on the rock centuries ago by Guanche astronomers.

Pico de Las Nieves

The name means “peak of the snows” and, in the 17th century, pits were dug here to store the snow for the summer. By June these blocks of ice were carried on horseback, wrapped in blankets, to the ice cream shops in the capital, the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a journey of around five hours. They were also used at the hospital to control epidemics of yellow fever and cholera.

The peak is the highest point on the island at 1,949m. From the carpark, follow the signs to the mirador which overlooks the entire south of the island, all the way to Maspalomas. Unlike other lookout points Las Nieves has great views on misty days with Gran Canaria’s peaks seeming to float on a sea of clouds.

La Fortaleza

Near Santa Lucia in the south east of the island, are the castle-like La Fortaleza rock formations, rising in layers from the fissured valleys below. It was a fortified Guanche settlement and its eastern side has a large number of natural and artificial caves. These were used as dwellings, food storage and even as burial sites and are all linked by a network of paths and tunnels.

It’s recognised as the site of the last stand of the indigenous people against the Castilian conquerors. In 1483 Spanish troops, led by Pedro de Vera, had been besieging the fortress and on the April 29 the islanders surrendered. It’s said that the leaders, Bentejuí and Tazarte, committed suicide by throwing themselves off the cliff.

The excellent interpretation centre details their tragic history. DNA evidence suggests they were Berbers from North Africa, who arrived around 500BC and lived peacefully until the arrival of the Castilians. Since no boats have been found, theories suggest they were brought here by the Romans, deported for causing trouble in Africa. The Spaniards found a race of blonde, blue eyed people and, although many were killed, present day Canarians still have a large percentage of their DNA in their blood.

Tamadaba Natural Park

Forming part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Tamadaba Natural Park in the west is the oldest and largest natural park on the island, covering an area of 7,500 hectares. The landscape was shaped by eruptions of the Tamadaba volcano over 14 million years ago, descending to the sea in a series of ravines and sheer cliffs.

At the heart of the reserve is an enormous forest of indigenous Canary pines containing the largest variety of endemic flora on the island. It’s also a birders’ paradise with woodpecker, blue chaffinch, kestrels and hawks easily sighted.

Puerto de Las Nieves

Start at the Tamadaba campsite, surrounded by forest. This 11 kilometer walk is fairly level until the ancient footpath, long used by locals collecting wood for fuel, leads down steeply, passing caves dug into the crags for storing grain. There are spectacular views of the coast and the Agaete Valley but even more unique is the sudden rise of temperature visitors will experience when walking the valley floor, which has its own microclimate.

It’s lush with fruit trees, coffee bushes and vines but a highlight is a stop at Bodega Los Berrazales to sample their excellent wines and coffee. Finally, you arrive at Puerto de Las Nieves where you can soak your aching feet in the saltwater pools by the sea. Don’t miss the excellent fish soup, “caldo de pescado” it’s a local speciality.