This is a really tough day on the bike and likely to be the most challenging ride you do on Gran Canaria.
The route takes in the island’s most notorious climb (Valley of the Tears) where you ride from the Parralillo reservoir, at 300 metres above sea level, to the summit, at 1,380 metres above sea level.
Expect Valley of the Tears to make you feel like you want to cry! There’s incredible scenery, and an end-of-the-world, lost-in-time sense of isolation, but also unrelenting gradients. The average gradient (including a 1km descent) is 10% (12% without) and maximum gradients reach an eye-popping 25%. On the unforgiving sections of double digit gradients, you’ll feel like you’re on a break when they finally drop back to around the 10% mark!
By way of reward, the ride also takes in the legendary descent down the GC605 from Ayacata to Mogán.
This is a route for fit, experienced cyclists only. Test yourself on other rides first and, if you’re concerned, make sure you’ve got reliable back up in the form of a support car and guide.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
The indisputable highlight of this ride is the view from the summit of the Valley of the Tears.
Not only is there an overwhelming sense of relief and satisfaction at having completed all that climbing, but the view is incredible (see banner photo). On a clear day like we had, it feels like you could just reach down and touch Mount Teide!
1. Puerto de Mogán to San Nicolas: 0 – 33 kilometres
You climb away from the built-up coastline, on a good road, climbing gradually past the odd house and café, hamlets, cactus bushes and brightly coloured flowers.
At around 11.5 kilometres into the ride, there’s a sharp left after Mogán onto the GC200. From here it’s a two kilometre climb up to Mirador de Veneguera (5.5% average gradient, but sections well into double digits).
You’re on a generously wide ride as you wind up and around the valleys, passing some unusual green rocks at around 19 kilometres into the ride (Los Azulejos De Veneguera (Rainbow Rocks) – more on those below).
It’s then a fantastic, fast descent down to San Nicolas on a twisting, buttery smooth road with switchbacks galore and an average slope of around -10%. There are some sweeping valley views and in El Hoyo, you pass the unmissable signpost for the world largest cactus!
Note: San Nicolas’s full name is “La Aldea de San Nicolas de Tolentino” but we go with San Nicolas here.
2. San Nicolas to Mirador del BalcÓn to San Nicolas: 33 – 51 kilometres
Nearing the bottom of the descent, just before San Nicolas, you turn left staying on the GC200. We encountered some dubious road surface on the way to the brutal climb up to the Mirador del Balcón (though of course, it might have been improved by the time you get there!).
It’s not a particularly beautiful climb visually speaking, but at the top, the view out to Mount Teide on Tenerife, and along the vertical volcanic cliffs, is worth seeing.
When we were there, the road any further along the coastline was blocked and we’ve subsequently heard that it’s permanently closed from this side. Again, check with a local to see whether this has changed as it looks like a fantastic road to explore when it’s possible to do so.
Note: This is a section of the ride that could be skipped if you don’t fancy the extra 18 kilometres 400+ metres of climbing it involves.
3. San Nicolas to turn off for Valley of the Tears: 51 – 64.5 kilometres
You leave San Nicolas on the narrow GC210, past banana farms and a dry river bed.
You’re soon climbing up into a narrow rocky red valley, with vertical cliffs either side of you. It feels like you’re heading to the end of the world. There’s little traffic, which is fortunate since two bikes would pass each other but cars would spend some time maneuvering…
Gradients start off relaxed out of San Nicolas, but you’re soon dealing with kick ups into the double digits, especially through the two short but crazy hairpin sections that rear up alarmingly above you like a wall. The second set spits you out at the top of the Presa del Parrallilo dam and is the final big obstacle before the Valley of the Tears (VOTT) junction.
Enjoy the short descent from the top of the dam down the other side to the turn for the VOTT – it’s the last descent you’ll see for a while.
Note: It’s easy to look at the route profile and think these 13 kilometres out of San Nicolas to the VOTT turn will be easy-going. But they’re not. The bigger climbs to follow make this section look okay, and the ups and downs make the 4% average look easy, but there are some pretty brutal ramps and the road surface is not good.
Thought this section was hard? You ain’t seen nothing yet!
4. Turn off for Valley of the Tears to Ayacata: 64.5 – 76.5 kilometres
Be aware: when you look at the stats, the next 11 kilometres at 8% average sounds manageable. But they are extraordinarily tough. There’ll be some serious swearing going on if you’re not fit and haven’t got forgiving gearing!
Try and keep your momentum as you take the right onto the GC606 VOTT road. The switchbacks at the bottom are brutally steep and just keep on going up – what’s more we found the road surface absolutely terrible here! Lose your momentum and you might well find yourself walking, unable to clip in again…
The first kilometres after the turn off are particularly punishing – Ride with GPS gives an average 13% and a 21% maximum, but it felt worse than that to us! Perhaps lack of fitness, perhaps the fact it’s difficult to avoid riding this road in the middle of the day (due to its location) and the heat can be intense.
The views are spectacular, but it can be difficult to focus on them! At least there’s an excuse to stop and take a photo if you need a rest…
About 4 kilometres after the turn off is the hamlet of Carrizal de Tejeda, which clings to the side of the mountain and marks another steep section of climbing with gradients at 20%+ around the hairpins. The scenery here is much greener than earlier in the VOTT.
It gets steep again just before El Toscón, with relentless climbing continuing through switchbacks taking you past a smelly goat farm and finally to the hamlet itself. The hamlet provides some sort of marker that you’re around two thirds of the way. But don’t expect anything in the way of a friendly café!
Keep on climbing through the village and out, ever onwards for the last three or so kilometres. Gradients aren’t quite as crazy as earlier, but your legs will still be burning!
Finally, you reach the Mirador degollada del Huma, just before a sharp left hand corner – and you’ve made it! The top of the world!
The view from here definitely needs to be appreciated – stretching all the way back to San Nicolas and (if you’re lucky) even as far as Mount Teide on Tenerife. Check out the photos in the Highlights section above.
Descend a few kilometres to the junction with the GC-60 and savour the sense of being out of the wilderness! At Ayacata we suggest enjoying a well-deserved feed up at one of the little cafés by the road (plenty of bike racks).
5. Ayacata to Puerto de Mogán: 76.5 – 114 kilometres
From Ayacata, you’ve got choices. We suggest the superb descent down the GC505 to Playa Mogán, but if you’re based in Maspalomas you may want to stick with the GC60 all the way home.
In any event, the good news is that from here you’re (pretty much…) downhill all the way home!
The GC605 down to Mogán is a glorious descent. When we rode it, the road surface on the first third was mixed with sections of old and new tarmac – but get off that and you’re flying. Heavenly twists and turns, the dappled light of the pine forest and reservoirs to your right and left. Then down further, majestic views down the valley towards the sea and fantastic, endless switchbacks sections that drop you down magically all the way to the junction with the GC200.
From there you’re riding the same rode you came up on through Mogán at the start of the ride.
This is a very rural ride. The hamlets are few and far between and, even if it looks like there might be a restaurant marked on the map, don’t assume it’ll be open/still in existence.
We stopped in Mogán, La Aldea de San Nicolas and Ayacata.
When we visited, there was also a drinks seller at the Mirador del Balcón, but he wasn’t doing a huge trade, so we’re not sure how regularly he’s there. Other than these, there really is very little in the way of water/food shops so pack accordingly.
We found a nice café to refuel at in San Nicolas. It’s a good idea to replenish your energy levels here and ensure you’ve got enough water and snacks with you for the journey; Valley of the Tears is very remote and you won’t find shops/restaurants to help you out if you bonk!
These are ones we noticed while riding – there may well be others! Add your favourites in the comments below.
Restaurante Las Canadas, Carretera GC 200, km 97, Veneguera
Bar Cafeteria Semidan, Calle Alfonso XIII, 6, La Aldea de San Nicolas
Chiringuito Veneguera Los Azulejos, Los Azulejos, Carretera San Nicolas
Fran’s Pizza House, Calle Algonso, 13, La Aldea de San Nicolas
Casa Melo, Ayacata, 37, San Bartolomé [There are a few cafés in this little row in Ayacata – it’s not obvious which is best!]
Mogán is the best base for this ride. It’s doable from Maspalomas, but you either need to be up for a very long day in the saddle or get a transfer to the start.
Don’t miss our tips for riding in Gran Canaria and loads of other information in our ultimate guide to Gran Canaria.
If you’re staying in Maspalomas rather than Puerto de Mogán, there are three options to do this loop – be aware they’ll all add extra distance and climbing to your route:
There’s a bit of scope to make this route easier by removing the out and back up to the Mirador del Balcón on the GC200, just before San Nicolas.
We found the road surfaces generally pretty good, with the notable exceptions of the GC210, the Valley of the Tears (GC606), and the first third of the descent from Ayacata on the GC505.
Also much of the road to Mirador del Balcón – the GC200 – is not in a great state, probably no surprise since the road has been closed after the Mirador since 2015 due to a landslide and doesn’t look likely to open any time soon.
Ride this route in the direction we’ve suggested. You really don’t want to be descending Valley of the Tears – we came across someone doing that and the screeching rim brakes didn’t sound much fun. The road surface would also make it a seriously uncomfortable ride.
General points of interest
The Azulejos de Veneguera have been classified of international importance for their interesting mineral deposits formed about 14 million years ago during volcanic eruptions at the edge of the volcanic crater Caldera of Tejede.
The GC210 runs along a canyon where the central drainage basin of the island opens up towards the valley of La Aldea and the sea. The three reservoirs you see are testament to how the waterway has been managed. La Presa de Caidero de la Niña reservoir has important historic value because it was the first time concrete was used in such constructions in the Canary Islands. It was finished in 1958.
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