The Jardín Canario Viera y Clavijo is one of the highlights of Gran Canaria for two main reasons. The first is that it’s Spain’s biggest botanical garden and one of the most impressive anywhere in the world. The vast Canary Garden, as it’s known, has everything from forests and lakes to cliff paths and lawns. It’s a great place to spend a few hours wandering about with a camera.
The second is that it’s the best place on the island to see a vast range of the 600-odd rare and exotic plants that only grow in the Canary Islands; plants like the dragon tree, parrot’s beak lotus, and the viper’s bugloss.
Canarian plants are as spectacular as they sound and the Jardín Canario is more than just a garden. It’s a scientific institute dedicated to protecting rare species.
While you are walking around the garden, the Jardín’s botanists are working hard in their cliff-top laboratory (building with the white roof) to make sure that all the plants you see have a long future.
My top tip for visiting the Jardín Canario is to use the top entrance on the GC-110 road between Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Tafira Alta. There’s a bus stop just a couple of hundred metres from the entrance and a convenient car park right by the entrance gate.
Come in at the top and you get a wonderful overview of the garden from the cliff top plaza. You see the broad Guiniguada valley, carved by a river of lava that flowed down from the centre of the island aeons ago.
The huge rocks you see dotted around the valley floor were left behind when the lava stopped. The driftwood of a vast eruption.
Some of these rocks just beyond of the aqueduct that marks the northern end of the garden, even have houses on them. In the days, before supermarkets, flat land was in short supply in Gran Canaria and nobody wasted good farmland by building on it.
From the plaza, walk down any of the winding stone paths past rare Canarian species growing naturally amongst the rocks. Check the rocks for orchilla; a grey lichen that grows from the bare rock.
It looks like thick beard hair and was once harvested all over the Canary Islands because it yields a rich purple dye (once you mix it with fermented goat pee).
You’ll also see, or at least hear, giant Gran Canaria lizards, kestrels and small birds like wild Canaries and Canarian blue tits.
Look out for the path that winds past dozens of Canarian dragon trees, the waterfall, and the shaded spot under an olive tree with a gorgeous view of the lakes. I won’t give you directions as there are so many paths on the cliff that you just have to wander down and see where you end up.
Luckily, once you get to the bottom of the cliff the path around the garden is a big loop so just wander about until you end up back where you started. Then, choose a different route back up the cliff.
There’s a restaurant at the top if you need a cold drink.
Amongst the highlights of the valley floor are the dense patch of laurel forest, the desert zone with its giant spurges, the palm tree plaza full of Canary Palm trees with their perfect tufts of leaves, and the lawns surrounded by flowerbeds full of rare Canarian species.
There’s also a cactus garden full of exotic succulents from around the world, a subtropical garden overflowing with flowers, and a superb collection of palm trees from all over the world.
Tip: Kids love the lakes and ponds as they full of fish, frogs and terrapins. Look out for exotic species like Amazon catfish, African cichlids and crayfish; people have emptied their aquariums here, and everything survives in the subtropical climate of the Guiniguada Valley.
You see Canarian dragon trees all over Gran Canaria and there are lots of them in the Jardín Canario. However, the garden is also home to a much rarer tree; the Gran Canaria dragon tree.
Discovered a few years ago, it’s almost extinct in the wild with just a couple of hundred individuals clinging to existence on the inaccessible cliffs of the island’s rugged southern valleys.
Nobody knows why the Gran Canaria dragon tree is so rare or why it only grows on one island, but the Jardín Canario is the only place on Earth where you can see it.
The easiest one to spot is the by the palm garden at the south end of the garden. It’s kept in a big cage because its seeds are so valuable that they had to be protected from birds and people.
One great thing about this garden is that there’s always something in flower whether it’s a Canarian species or a beautiful exotic.
The Jardín Canario changes with the seasons (yes, we have them) and is different every time you visit.
It’s a place you have to come back to and get to know.
Tip: When you get to the red stone bridge, look over the edge and you’ll see the giant Gran Canaria lizards basking on the rocks. They love a slice of apple or a squashed tomato.
The Jardín Canario is open every day of the year. Entrance is free.