Explore history and nature in the must-see UNESCO World Heritage site of Gran Canaria

Far from its famous beaches, the rural center of Gran Canaria is a place where peaks rise, volcanoes soar skyward and gorges plunge into a tangle of greenery. But it’s not just its biodiversity credentials that turn heads: among the landscapes lie traces of the island’s pre-Hispanic culture, which travelers can explore at the Risco Caído World Heritage Site and sacred mountains of Gran Canaria.

Prehistoric cave dwellings, temples and granaries are all present in the Amazigh cave settlement of Risco Caído. The rock art scribbles covering the walls of its 21 caves may be linked to magical or religious beliefs, but it is believed that the site may also have functioned as a prehistoric astronomical clock: one of the caves, known as almogaren Where Cave 6, has a small opening in its roof letting in the light of the summer solstice to fall, revealing a series of rock art engravings. As special as Risco Caído is, it is only one of the 1,500 settlements that make up the landscape of the Sacred Mountains cave era, with a set of archaeological sites scattered among the municipalities of Artenara, Tejeda, Agaete and Gáldar.

In its entirety, this gargantuan World Heritage site covers around 18,000 hectares – including almost all of the Caldera de Tejeda crater, the Tamadaba massif and part of the Barranco Hondo gorges – which means it can be hard to know where to start. To find your bearings, go to the Artenara Visitors Center; the municipality recently opened an exact replica of cave 6, with greater capacity and visiting hours to avoid pressure on the original cave. Travelers can then embark on one of the island’s hiking trails, many of which are based on real paths (king’s highways).

The site sharing part of the territory of the island’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, panoramic views await you after every turn. The eight-kilometer Acusa-Las Hoyas-Lugarejos-Coruña circular route takes you along agricultural terraces that climb steep ravines, through farmland that still retains some of the ancient traditions practiced by the Canary-Amazigh people. The route also runs along the Tamadaba Natural Park, where pines, cliffs and green valleys merge. Elsewhere, head to the northern edge of Caldera de Tejeda on an eight-kilometer hike, where spectacular views of the Risco Caído and sacred mountain areas lie in the shadow of Roque Nublo, Roque Bentayga and Altavista. Then there is the longer hike along the Roque Nublo crossroads; the 11 km trail takes you to the mountain that has become a national symbol of the island, where you can contemplate Risco Caído from above.

About Wesley V. Finley

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