Gran Canaria, the continent in miniature, is a place where Mother Nature celebrates diversity in the most exquisite way. Visitors to this extraordinary Canary Island will be treated to ever-changing landscapes from the rugged Northern coast to laurel forests, followed by extinct volcanoes and mountainous peaks in the centre of the island. Further south, there are pine woodlands before deep ravines, and finally, desert dunes that lead into the golden, southern beaches. Gran Canaria is an explorer’s playground, with lots of history and local flavour to experience along the way. Plus, as one of the warmest destinations in winter within Europe, it makes for a great winter-sun escape! Below, we share some of our favourite places and how to enjoy them.
Colourful and vibrant Las Palmas de Gran Canaria located on the northeast coast, is not only the capital of Gran Canaria, but also the largest city in the Canaries. With its fantastic city beach and charming old town, it’s well worth getting to know this cool capital. High on the list for most visitors, is a trip through the streets of the old quarter, Vegueta. Take a guided walking tour around the district to fully appreciate the history and mix of late Gothic to Renaissance traditional Spanish architecture which make excellent photo opportunities. Enjoy museums and galleries and stop in to see Casa de Colon where Columbus historically stayed on his way to the Americas, now a museum. Refuel at a selection of excellent restaurants and tapas bars before hitting the shops or heading to Las Canteras, the city’s sprawling sandy beach. This beach is one of the best city beaches in Europe and a hub of local activity, with fishing boats at one end and surfers at the other, it’s a local experience in itself and a great place to cool off after touring the city centre. Plus, at sunset its beachfront terraces fill up and the promenade’s cafes, bars and restaurants are lively into the night.
Top Tip: We recommend having lunch/dinner at the family-run restaurant; Casa Montesdeoca. This hidden gem is tucked away in a quaint little courtyard, serving the most mouth-watering steak and sensational seafood, coming in highly recommended on TripAdvisor.
Before you head to the southern resorts and beaches, explore the rugged and beautiful northern coast of Gran Canaria. Beaches here are unspoilt, we recommend you take the GC-2 which hugs the coast and stop off at El Juncal or wild Guayedra.
There are also natural swimming pools like El Puertillo, Charco de San Lorenzo and Las Salinas in Agaete. El Puertillo is a wonderful place to stop for some local, freshly caught seafood, but be warned, Puerto de Las Nieves, Agaete and the natural pools of Las Salinas will tempt you to stay a longer stay. This cute fishing village with a colourful harbour and attractive cluster of blue and white Canarian houses has a chain of craft shops and galleries lining its Paseo de los Poetas leading to the shore of Las Salinas.
Before they became the perfect bathing spot they are today, for centuries, the natural pools found in Las Salinas were used to harvest salt. Rocks form a natural barrier from the waves but allow fresh seawater to rush in, which can be both mesmerising and exhilarating to watch. Volcanic tubes connect the three pools which have flat areas for sunbathing. Pine forest covers mountains that lead inland and make a dramatic backdrop for bathers and an attractive scene for pool-side photos.
Away from Agaete and the coast, Gran Canaria’s northern towns and villages are a delight. From Firgas’ 30-meter terraced waterfall to Teror’s beautiful, wooden balconied streets, it is worth getting to know a few of the towns in between the fantastic outdoor activities that the island has to offer. Not to mention Santa María de Guía, a town famed for its local flower cheeses made from curdling cow, goat or sheep’s milk with the head of an artichoke thistle.
Did you know th Canaries used to be inhabited by the Guanches, indigenous people with links to the Berbers of North Africa? A trip to the centre of Gran Canaria is a great place to explore pre-Hispanic sights, with Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga being two such places. They combine incredible nature experiences with a fascinating glimpse into the island’s history. Roque Nublo is a 70-meter giant crag that stands proudly at 1,813 meters above sea level. As one of the world’s largest free-standing crags and ancient place of worship by the Guanches. It is easy to see why it was so revered - the panoramic views across the island are spellbinding! Sometimes, you can even see the peak of Teide Volcano from neighbouring Tenerife and, depending on weather conditions, you could be looking out over the island above the clouds. Don’t forget to take your camera!
There are several hiking trails through for those who want to enjoy Nublo Rural Park’s landscapes and other views along the way - the shortest trail is just an hour round-trip.
Top tip: Make sure you include a visit to Tejeda village, perched under Roque Nublo, where you’ll find a local ethnography museum if you want to delve further into the island’s ancient cultures.
Nearby Roque Bentayga is a natural fortress where generations of Guanches lived, building community granaries and funerary caves, lined with inscriptions and paintings. A short but precipitous path leads to their almogarén, a spiritual ceremonial space where the rocky landscape is a theatre of light and shadow.
Gran Canaria attracts hikers throughout the year with many incredible routes through volcanic landscapes, mountains, ravines, and forests. Explore the trails of Tamadaba National Park, part of the island’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, where you can summit either the Tamadaba volcano or the highest peak in the park – the Pico de la Banders and enjoy bird watching in the forest of indigenous Canary pines along the way. Tamadaba is the undisputed hiking and climbing hotspot, and although some trails are challenging in part, hikers will be rewarded with incredible views.
For some time on the coast, picturesque Puerto Mogán is an excellent family resort, located in the southwest with a fishing port, yacht marina and well-protected sandy beach. The village itself sits at the mouth of a steep-sided valley; its whitewashed buildings contrasting with the mountainous landscape behind. Wander the narrow alleys and admire houses bursting with colour from floral window boxes and bougainvillea adoring walls. Puerto Mogán is often described as ‘the Venice of the Canaries’ because a network of seawater canals connects the marina to the port - a beautiful town and great place to take an evening stroll after a day out in the sun.
In contrast to the pine and laurel forests of the interior, in the south of Gran Canaria you’ll find the beautiful, desert-like Maspalomas Dunes. Maspalomas’ breath-taking undulations evoke the Sahara, and with Playa Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles on either side, they are an enjoyable addition to beach days. Locals find the dunes mesmerising, due to the fact that they are like living sculptures, constantly changing and evolving, shapeshifting with the wind.
The sweeping, powdery sands comprise three distinct ecosystems which have been protected since 1987, the oasis palm grove, the lagoon, and the dunes themselves. They provide a habitat for African fauna on the island including the giant lizard and several migratory bird species.
Look out over the dunes for the Mirador Maspalomas or take one of the trails to Maspalomas beach. The best times to visit the dunes to take photos are dawn and dusk, when the light levels really accentuate the textures in the sand.
Feeling ready to explore Gran Canaria from tip-to-toe? Contact us today to start planning your trip to this beautiful and diverse island!