Gran Canaria hasn't had a major volcanic eruption for millions of years but it does occasionally suffer a little hiccup. Once every 25,000 years or so, a little big of magma wells up and pops out at the base of the island to form a new volcano.
The most impressive of these, the Bandama cinder cone and caldera (technically a maar), is also the most accessible because it’s just 15 minutes drive from the capital city Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Bandama volcano, rising out of the rolling hills of Gran Canaria’s oldest wine region, is 706m above sea level at the tip. The circular caldera is a kilometre across and over 200 metres deep. It's one of the world's largest complete calderas.
To see it the easy way, you drive all the way up the spiral road to the tip of the cinder cone and look down at the vast caldera and out across most of north and east Gran Canaria.
But, to get a real feel for just how immense this geological freak is, you have to get your walking boots on.
Hike clockwise around a volcano
It’s only when you walk right around Bandama’s rock cauldron that you see the most impressive views of the cinder cone, the steep walls of the caldera, and the dozens of palm trees that grow on the crater floor. From high up on the rim, they look like little green tufts with inexplicably long shadows.
Even though the trail is just two kilometres long, bear in mind that it’s a tough hike if you suffer from vertigo. At times, you’re on a narrow ridge with steep drops on both sides.
However, if you’re fine with heights, this is superb short walk and probably the only chance you’ll get to do a lap of a volcano that’s still, in geological terms, hot to the touch.
Start by the road that goes up to the tip of the Bandama mountain. The signposted trail begins about 500 metres from the turn off and takes you clockwise around the rim.
The first section, a steep walk down, is the greenest with fragrant wild lavender and artemisia. The picon gravel underfoot, essentially petrified volcano froth, crunches gently with every step. Lizards scuttle everywhere and the kestrels hover and flutter overhead . In spring, wild Canaries sing from the tips of the agave flowers.
When you reach the rim, the views into the hole get impressive. There’s still a farm on the crater floor and you’ll see the old threshing area and wine press amongst the palms. The Atlantic glistens on the horizon and the mass of Gran Canaria’s highlands rises behind the crater.
The trail follows the ridge line in a series of undulations almost the whole way round. The south edge is the most exposed and the plants here are low and stunted by the wind.
What I love about this walk is the ever-changing view of the Bandama volcano. At the start, you see it behind the cliffs of the crater wall, home to a unique plant called the Bandama Shrubby Stock. Later on, the full panorama appears with the volcano spilling over into he northern fringe of the caldera.
The last section of the trail is a steep climb up past rocky peaks and caves and then you’re out of the caldera and onto a golf course. Even here, there’s a surprise; a line of stumpy old dragon trees that always look slightly embarrassed to be caught growing on a green rather than up a mountain.
A short walk takes you past the golfers and back to the start of the trail.
Wine or another walk?
Once you’ve looped the caldera, you can always walk down to its floor for another perspective. Don’t forget though, that you also have to walk back out and that the soft picon is tough on your calves.
A better option perhaps, is to stop at the Hoyos de Bandama winery just by the gate to the caldera for a glass of their superb white wine.
The viewpoint with a secret bunker
Most visitors to Bandama drive up to the viewpoint at the top of the cinder cone, look at the view for a bit, and then leave. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot more to the Bandama Caldera than a big hole in the ground. There’s also a little hole in the ground right under the visitor centre.
You see, the cute was actually built during WW2 as an elaborate disguise for a military lookout post. It comes complete with a secret bunker and hidden windows.
Nowadays, the military bit is open to the public although you have to ask the visitor centre staff to open it up. Inside, there’s a video about the history of Bandama all the way from its explosive origins to modern times.
It’s a bombastic display and well worth experiencing.