Gran Canaria – everything you need to know about this Canary Island
A holiday to Gran Canaria is always a good idea! A mild climate with plenty of sunshine and pleasant temperatures prevail the whole year round on the third largest island in the Canaries. Yes, you can even go for a dip in the Atlantic in December. Gran Canaria has extraordinary animal and plant life, which is why this island is also called a “miniature continent”. I’ll show you the most beautiful holiday resorts and sights in Gran Canaria: Puerto Rico, San Agustin, Santa Ana and the picturesque harbour of Puerto de Mogán. We’ll make a quick stop in the capital, Las Palmas, to stroll along the most beautiful beaches – from the endless Playa de Maspalomas across to Playa del Águila and on to Playa del Cura, with its fine, dark sand. You can go shopping and indulge in the night life by the famous Playa del Inglés in San Bartolomé. Adventure holiday makers will love the water sports and diving paradise of Playa de Taurito. I’ll provide you with all the tips and tricks you need for an unforgettable holiday to Gran Canaria and answer all your questions.
- Sights in Gran Canaria
- The prettiest beaches in Gran Canaria
- The climate in Gran Canaria
- Cuisine in the Canaries
- A holiday to Gran Canaria – my conclusion
Sights in Gran Canaria
There’s lots to discover on a holiday to Gran Canaria – there are numerous attractions, wonderful places, impressive natural landscapes and historic sites. With a diameter of 50km, renting a car is the perfect way to discover this island. Let me show you the most important sightseeing highlights.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
The capital, Las Palmas, situated in the northern part of the island, is the most southern major city in the European Union with nearly 400,000 inhabitants and was the first colonial city of the Spanish Kingdom. Here, the eventful history from the colonial period is combined with modern culture and a vibrant nightlife. The huge harbour Puerto de la Luz y Las Palmas is the deaprture destination for many cruises between June and October. Stop off for a bite to eat in one of the many fish restaurants and enjoy the Canarian cuisine. You’ll probably be needing your credit card to hand for all the boutiques on the shopping street, Calle Mayor de Tirana. Winding alleyways, a variety of a culture in the museums, green spaces and impressive churches await you in the historic old town of Vegueta.
The huge Santa Ana Cathedral stands proud between the many theatres, museums, clubs and bars. The Diocese of the Canary Islands is based in the oldest and largest church on the island. Here, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, historicism and classicism come together beautifully. The fascinating Mélange took over four centuries to build. Be sure to take a look at the western facade from the palm tree-lined forecourt and enjoy this monumental sight.
Walk in the footsteps of the famous explorer in the Columbus Museum and feel the spirit of the colonial period in the beautiful squares of the old town: Plaza Pilar Nuevo, Plazoleta de Cairasco, Plaza del Espiritu Santo and you should also check out Parque San Telmo. And if you want to be by the sea, lay on the golden sands of Playa de Las Canteras. Feel the sun on your skin, take a dip in the crystal clear waters of the Atlantic and be tempted by the diverse range of water sports. A formation of rocks “La Barra” protrudes from the sea. 1.5km long and 400m out to sea, it’s responsible for the year long warm water.
Puerto de Mógan
Puerto de Mógan has a picturesque harbour. Because of the many canals, this holiday destination to the south of the island has been given the name “Venice of the south” or “little Venice”. A day trip here is definitely worth it. Away from the hustle and bustle, you’ll be able to have peace and quiet here. The weekly market on a Friday is bursting with life. Round the harbour all kinds of food are sold – from African spices to traditional garments, there’s no where better to discover the Canarian spirit than in Mógan.
At the bottom of a ravine in the southwest of the island, you’ll find Puerto Rico, which also belongs to Mógan. The area is perfect for a family holiday to Gran Canaria. You can enjoy spectacular views of the turquoise water from everywhere. The fine white sandy beach invite you to sunbathe and swim in the water until your heart’s content. Nowhere else can you do that better: in Puerto Rico the sun shines practically every day of the year.
Maspalomas – a desert feel in the south
Maspalomas is the most well known holiday resort in Gran Canaria. A huge selection of hotels in San Agustin and Campo Internacional tempt masses of tourists every year on a beach holiday here. The vast dune landscape gives the place a true desert feel. When the sun sets, the warm sand shimmers in shades of gold, red and brown. Climb up to the lighthouse and on to the headland of Punta de Maspalomas to reach the popular Playa del Inglés.
Vegetation on Gran Canaria
Due to the climatic differences on the island, the vegetation varies depending on the location. In the past, the whole island was covered with laurel forests. What’s left of these green oases can be found in the Los Tilos de Moya nature reserve. Indulge your senses here – feast your eyes on the luscious greenery and breathe in the scent of the laurels. In the south you find desert-like dune landscapes and the north is broken up by deep ravines (“Barrancos”).
If you love greenery, you should go to Palmitos Park. Wild orchids and countless cacti will leave any plant lover lost for words. Want something taller? Then there’s the landmark of Gran Canaria, the 1813 metre high “cloud rock” Roque Nublo. You can reach it in a rental car and for the mountaineers among you, there are hiking trails to the top. Once at the top, take in views of a cloudless sky all the way across to the 7,500 metre high Pico del Teide on Tenerife.
Read more about the sights on the island in my Travel Magazine article, Tips for Gran Canaria.
The most beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria
236 kilometres of coastline, 50 kilometres of which is beach. So I guess it makes sense that there are a few real gems here. If we are talking about the most beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria, then we can’t ignore the famous Playa del Inglés in Mapalomas. Other than the fine white sand and crystal clear water, you’ll also find lots of shops, pubs, bars and clubs. Chill on the beach in the daytime and enjoy the buzzing nightlife by night. If it’s too lively for you there, then I recommend the San Agustin district. It is part of San Bartolomé and perfect for a family holiday to Gran Canaria with its calm and relaxing atmosphere.
Just along the coast, there is Playa de Maspalomas. Miles of sandy beach stretch along the coast all the way to Playa del Inglés and provide surfers and water sport lovers with the perfect conditions to ride the waves and go diving. You can get that real Sahara feeling in Maspalomas. The desert-like dune landscape extends 1.5 km inland. Watch the breathtaking sunset and discover secluded spots to spend some romantic time with your other half. For those that want to, there is also a designated nudist section where you can strip off and get that seamless tan.
On the southwest coast, between Mogán and Puerto Rico, you’ll come across the quiet and secluded Playa de Taurito. Mighty rocks and steep cliffs frame the family-friendly beach and give it a relaxing and intimate feel. The soft, grey sand stretches right out to the bright blue water of the sea. Children can splash about in the shallow water carefree while the parents enjoy some relaxation time. Water sport lovers will feel right at home here. Hop on a jet ski and speed across the water. In Puerto Rico, you can hire a boat and set sail into the Atlantic. The three diving schools are an absolute highlight. With courses for beginners, experienced divers and professionals, gain an insight into the colourful underwater world of the reef in Playa de Taurito. There’s even a sunken shipwreck to discover. On land you can enjoy a game of volleyball and lovers can take a romantic trip on a pedal boat. And if you’re looking for your dream job, you can learn how to become a diving instructor.
In Puerto Rico there is also Playa del Cura. Mountains line the quiet bay. Here, you can ride on a banana boat or try out parasailing. Windsurfers can spread their wings on the “Eagle beach”, Playa del Águila. It’s situated in the southeast of the island, near to Playa del Inglés, however it’s much quieter and family friendly.
The climate in Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria is ideal for those who love the sun and want to enjoy the pleasant temperatures outside of the high season. A mild climate prevails across the volcanic island all year round. This is due to the location and the geology of the island. 300 days of sun in a year speaks for itself. The climate strongly differs between the wet north half of the island and the dry south. Trade winds come from the northeast and head towards the mountains in the centre of the island, resulting in more rain. There, the temperature rarely reaches more than 22 degrees in the summer. In contrast, unbearably hot temperatures in the 40’s prevail across the south during the summer months. The dry wind from the Sahara is responsible for the subtropical climate. On days when the heat hits 50 degrees, the locals call it “calima”.
So, that means: during the winter months, you can enjoy a beach holiday surrounded by more sun and less rain in the south of the island. The north is perfect for the summer months. You can go hiking or mountain biking or discover the underwater world by snorkelling or diving.
Cuisine in the Canaries
The food and drink in Gran Canaria is a real delight. Freshly caught fish are always high up on the menu: from parrotfish to sea bass, all the delicacies of the underwater world are served up on your plate. Every day, lots of restaurants send a boat out into the clear blue sea of the Atlantic to catch fresh lobsters and crabs. The geographical proximity to Africa is also reflected in the regional specialties. Simple dishes are spicy and well seasoned. Accompany the food with a glass of Del Monte from the local wineries, which is also loved by the Spanish royal family. In every restaurant you can expect a huge selection of locally-brewed Spanish beer: “Una cerveza, por favor!!”
At the heart of Canarian home cooking are hearty stews and soups, made with the number one basic ingredient – Gofio. This flour is ground from barley, wheat and maize. Gofio is often added to children’s milk as it contains lots of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. For dessert, there is gofio ice cream and gofio mousse. If you want to taste the Spanish delights, then a trip to a tapas restaurant is a must. Every Wednesday and Saturday there is a market in Maspalomas, where other than souvenirs, you can also buy tropical fruit, traditional clothes and specialties from the Canaries.
Don’t be surprised if you’re sitting in an empty restaurant in the early evening. The Canarios eat a snack at this time – “merienda”. Then later, between 9 and 10pm, the whole family meet for dinner. The breakfast is a little sparse. An espessso with a bread roll. The lunch is much more heavy. A few of my favourite dishes: potaje canario (a hearty vegetable soup with meat), vieja sancochada (cooked sea bream), sanococho canario (a stew with salted cod and sweet potato). Visit a local restaurant outside of the touristic centre and immerse yourselves in the culinary delights of Gran Canaria!
A holiday to Gran Canaria – my conclusion
Every year, 2.8 million tourists choose to spend their holiday in Gran Canaria. What makes this volcanic island so appealing? The year-long, mild climate? The impressive vegetation? The dreamy beaches that stretch for miles and the shimmering blue sea of the Atlantic? I think it’s a combination of it all. The island has so much to offer that one holiday is hardly enough to get a sense of Gran Canaria in all its glory. If you want to try, at least now you are well-equipped with all the best info on how to spend your holiday in Gran Canaria.