Gran Canaria is the second most populous island of the Canary Islands, an African archipelago which is part of Spain, with a population of 847,830 (in 2015) that constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Located in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 kilometres (93 mi) off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 1,350 km (840 mi) from Europe. With an area of 1,560 km2 (602 sq. mi) and an altitude of 1,956 m (6,417 ft) at the Pico de las Nieves, Gran Canaria is the third largest island of the archipelago in both area and altitude.
Gran Canaria was populated by the Canarii, who may have arrived as early as 500 BC. The Canarii called the island Tamarán or Land of the Brave. After over a century of European incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29, 1483, after a campaign that lasted five years, by the Crown of Castile, with the support of Queen Isabella I, a conquest which turned out to be an important step towards the expansion of the unified Spain.
The capital city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was founded on June 24, 1478, under the name "Real de Las Palmas", by Juan Rejón, head of the invading Castilian army. In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the Port of Las Palmas (and spent some time on the island) on his first trip to the Americas. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is, jointly with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands.
This island is called a "Miniature Continent" due to the different climates and variety of landscapes found, with long beaches and dunes of white sand, contrasting with green ravines and picturesque villages. A third of the island is under protection as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
The number of annual visitors was 3.6 million in 2014 (of which 450.000 Spaniards). Most of the tourists visit the southern part of the island. The north tends to be cooler, while the south is warmer and sunny. The east coast of the island is flat, dotted with beaches, while the western coast is rockier and mountainous.
The island possesses 32 Natural Protected Spaces, notably the Rural Park of Nublo, The Doramas Jungle, the Azuaje Ravine, Tamadaba, Pino Santo, etc.
In the south there is a large bird park, Palmitos Park, as well as many beach resort communities. Resorts are concentrated in the central eastern part of the southern coast in the Maspalomas area, which includes the towns of San Agustín, Playa del Inglés and Meloneras. The Maspalomas Dunes are located between Playa del Inglés ("The Englishman's Beach") and the distinctive 19th century Maspalomas lighthouse.
In Tarajalillo, an Aeroclub exists from where tourist flights can be taken over the island.
Still further to the west along the southern shore, in the Municipality of Mogán, are the communities of Puerto Rico and Puerto de Mogán, a village referred to as "Little Venice" on account of its many canals.
Other attractions include Cocodrilos Park, Roque Nublo (an 80 m monolith), Cenobio de Valerón with more than 350 storage cavities, Painted cave of Galdar the most important archaeological park in Canary Islands, or the botanical gardens Jardín Canario (in Tafira Alta) and Cactualdea (in La Aldea de San Nicolás).
El Dedo de Dios, or "God's Finger", was a rocky spire jutting from the sea in Puerto de las Nieves, and was previously the signature attraction of the Canary Islands until it was destroyed by tropical storm Delta that crossed the archipelago on November 2005.
Other well-known rock formations are El Cura (also known as El Fraile), The Frog (La Rana), Roque Bentayga, the Roque de Gando, and the Peñón Bermejo. The highest peak of the island is the Pico de las Nieves, at 1,950 metres (6,400 ft).
The capital city is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Canteras beach, a protected area and diving zone, lies in the heart of the city. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is also known for its annual carnaval. It was the first stop of Christopher Columbus' expedition on his way back from the Americas, a commemoration of which is the Hermitage of San Antonio Abad, where the navigator prayed, and the Casa de Colón. Other attractions in the capital city include the Museo Canario (the most important archaeology museum in the archipelago), the cathedral and the Plaza del Espíritu Santo. In Teror the shrine of Virgen del Pino ("Virgin of the Pine"), patron saint of Gran Canaria, can be found. Its feast is celebrated on September 8.
The town of Agüimes, on the eastern part of the island, has been carefully restored and its town centre, centered on its old church and a peaceful square, now evokes the quiet living of a traditional Canarian town. The district also has some of the best preserved cave dwellings, in the protected area of the Guayadeque ravine, where even the church has been built into the mountainside and visitors can find a number of popular cave restaurants. The district also includes the most renowned scuba diving area on the island: the marine reserve at the playa de El Cabrón just outside the town of Arinaga.
Other important towns are Telde, very well known due to the sales of hot dogs on the Salinetas coast, and Vecindario (within the municipality of Santa Lucía de Tirajana) and Gáldar important diving zone. In Arucas there is a Neogothic temple, popularly known as "Arucas' Cathedral", as well as a large fertile plain where bananas are grown. In Gáldar and its surroundings there is also a banana-growing plain and some remarkable archaeological remains, such as the Painted cave of Galdar or the cenobio de Valerón's communal silos, ancient tombs (among which the necropolis of Maipés), and the port of Sardina del Norte (one of the island's ports where, as in Las Palmas', Christopher Columbus used to get supplies for his ships).
Heading west along the southern coast is the fishing city of Arguineguín in the Municipality of Mogán.
The official language of Gran Canaria is Spanish. However, one hears many people speaking English and German in the tourist areas.
The local inhabitants speak Canario, a Spanish dialect characterized by a slightly more singing tone than the mainland, less clear pronunciation and incorporation of different verb tenses. Even for foreigners with a basic knowledge of Spanish, the varieties spoken on the islands can take some time getting used to. On Tenerife however, the pronunciation seems to be more neutral, and leans a bit more toward normalized Spanish. In a way is very similar to Chilean Spanish. Technically speaking, Canarian is known by
- loss of ending 's' in most plural unstressed words into a "h" or "sh" sound (relojej instead of relojes),
- diphthonging words and verbs (callao for callado, pesao for pesado),
- emphasis of the H sound when normally mute (hediondo pronounced jediondo and not ediondo),
- different verb tense (ayer juguemos un partido instead of ayer jugamos un partido),
- use of Haiga instead of haya (as the verb "to have") and
- use of simple past tense instead of past participle tense, resulting in the occlusion and almost non-existence of the latter
The climate is subtropical semi-arid for most locations, but it may vary a lot depending of where you are going. For the main touristic resorts the weather is mostly comfortable.
In Maspalomas there is normally 28-33 degrees in July at daytime, which drops to 21-24 by night. In winter, day temperature is normally 23 and by night 16-17. Bad weather can occur, especially between mid-October and March. Temperatures can then drop to 11-12 degrees and be quite windy.
Arguineguín has the best climate, with the least wind, and is, due to its protected location, among the driest in winter too.
Las Palmas has a bit of a different climate, and is sometimes clouded and rain might occur, even in May or June, but it is not very common. If you travel in winter take at least a thick jacket or two. If you plan to travel to the mountains bring or buy a scarf and gloves. The freezing point can be reached on Pozo de Las Nieves.
In summertime, always bring a bottle of water during the day. If winds from Sahara occur and temperatures rise above 40, try to stay in the shadows, close to climatized air and always drink plenty of water.
Climate data for Gran Canaria Airport
|Average high °C (°F)||20.8|
|Daily mean °C (°F)||17.9|
|Average low °C (°F)||15.0|
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||25|
|Average precipitation days (≥ 1 mm)||3||3||2||1||0||0||0||0||1||2||4||5||21|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||184||191||229||228||272||284||308||300||241||220||185||179||2,821|
|Source: Agencia Estatal de Meteorología , Agencia Estatal de Meteorología|
Gran Canaria is located southeast of Tenerife and west of Fuerteventura. The island is of volcanic origin, mostly made of fissure vents. Gran Canaria's surface area is 1,560 km² and its maximum elevation is 1,949 meters (Pico de Las Nieves). It has a round shape, with a diameter of approximately 50 km.
About 80% of the volume of the island was formed during the Miocene period, between 14 and 9 million years ago. This is called the "Old Cycle" and is estimated to have lasted some 200,000 years and have emitted about 1000 km3, mostly of fissural alkali basalt. This cycle continued with the emission of trachytes, phonolites and peralkaline rocks. This period was followed by one of erosion, which lasted some 4 million years.
A second cycle of volcanic eruptions, known as the "Roque Nublo cycle", took place between 4.5 and 3.4 million years ago. This shorter cycle emitted about 100 km3. Most of the inland peaks were formed by erosion from these materials. This period also started with fissural basalts, but ended with violent eruptions of pyroclastic flows. Some phonolitic features, like the Risco Blanco, were also formed in its last stages.
The third or recent cycle is held to have started some 2.8 million years ago and is considered to be still active. The last eruptions are held to have occurred some 3500 years ago.
The changes in volume and, therefore, weight of the island have also caused the island to rise above the previous sea level during erosive periods and to sink during eruptive periods. Some of these "fossil beaches" can be seen in the cliff faces of the more eroded northern coast.
Transportation - Get In
- Gran Canaria International Airport (IATA: LPA), 928 579 095, .
Gran Canaria has a modern international airport which receives flights from Madrid, about 2 and a half hours, and from Barcelona and Bilbao, both about 3 hours. UK flights takes about 4 or 4 and a half hours. It operates flights to different destinations, mainly trough Europe and northern Africa. To get into the city, take the bus number 60 from the airport to either bus station in the city. The bus runs every 30 minutes from 6:15am to 8:50pm and costs €2.70
Transportation - Get Around
The public transportation system is well organized and economical. There are regular buses that go all over the island, most of the ones useful for tourists run through Avda. Tirajana in Playa del Inglés and head north to the Atlantico shopping centre or Las Palmas or along the coast towards Puerto Rico. To travel Maspalomas-Las Palmas the fastest bus is 50, which stops at the airport frequently for both directions. Make sure to bring some change as bus drivers rarely accept high value notes. You can also buy bus passes for certain routes but you can only collect the cards from local offices. Do not expect a bus driver to help you open the luggage compartment, you just have to do it yourself. Never try to make a bus driver smile either as they have the most stressful job on the island. You can find out why by taking the Playa-del-ingles bus towards Amadores. If you are scared of heights and fear falling of cliffs do not take this bus.[Once the highway is complete this route will be altered]
Do not be afraid to take a taxi. Sometimes you can get somewhere a lot quicker for a few euro more than you would spend on a bus. Why not walk past a bus station and ask somebody to share a taxi? All taxis on the island are metered and easily identified. Avoid taxis without a meter as they will certainly be uninsured.
Rental cars are available in all resorts, both from local companies and large international car rental companies. Most of the large ones such as Avis and Hertz have offices in Playa del Inglés near the motorway. Goldcar (http://www.autocarhire.es/locations/gran_canaria_car_hire/) at the airport seems to offer interesting prices on the website, but in reality you are forced to buy a tank full of gasoline and return the car empty ( which is impossible), they force you also to take an additional insurance coverage. This makes the price almost double from what is advertised - so be aware of this. You can rent or pick up a car at the airport. The rental offices are located on the gound floor on the new wing for international departures.
There are no trains in Gran Canaria. There is an autopista (motorway/ highway) that covers much of the island.
To go to the other islands are not far, and the island most near is Tenerife which is only 2½ hour away with ferry (http://www.world-nomad.com/gran-canaria-to-tenerife/)
- Las Palmas - the largest city, situated in the northeast section of the island, one of the capitals of the Canary Islands.
- Playa del Inglés
- Telde - the second largest city (population 98,000), situated between Las Palmas and the Gran Canaria Airport (LPA).
- Puerto Rico
The south of Gran Canaria is famous for the variety of beaches. The longest beach is "Playa del Inglés" and "Maspalomas", the almost 4 km stretch of beach between Playa del Inglés and Meloneras is a serviced nudist beach. In the Mogán area there are other famous beaches, such as "Amadores", "Anfi del Mar", "Puerto Rico", and "Playa de Mogán."
Things to see
The sand dunes in Maspalomas (ask for "Las Dunas de Maspalomas").
San Bartolomé de Tirajana.
- Palmitos Park, Barranco de Los Palmitos s/n. 35109 Maspalomas Gran Canaria, . Various animals (esp. exotic birds) and exotic plantations. Also dolphins. Has shows with parrots, dolphins and birds of prey (eagles, hawks, etc). A great place to go with children 2+ yrs and upwards. You could spend 3-4 hours there.
- Teror. Nuestra Señora del Pino
- Valsequillo. This area is very green with imposing rock formations and steep ravines, It has pine forests, palm groves and almond trees (which are in bloom in January and February) and all kinds of vegetation within its 39.15 km2. The historic center and surrounding neighbourhoods offer valuable traces of history like ie. the Church of Saint Michael Archangel, the former Cavalry barracks, Flemisch carvings etc. The varied gastronomic offer includes traditional cheeses, wine, honey and almonds, all of which make up one of the major attractions of Valsequillo.
Things to do
- Biking. The island is a paradise for bikers, with lots of trails for mountain biking, from easy to very difficult and long ones.
There are also many possibilities of road biking, both in the mountain region and along the coast. There are bike renting centers in the island.
- Surf Canaries Surf School (Surf School Gran Canaria), . Gran Canaria is a perfect place to learn to surf. A surf class will set you off safely with the right technique. Use a reputable surf school such as Surf Canaries, a mobile Surf School in the south of the island who take parties to the right beaches for learning and give in depth and fun classes with qualified instructors. It's a great day out if you always fancied having a go!
Gran Canaria is a paradise for hill walking with its inhabited cave villages, lake side walks, spectacular mountain scenery and wonderful flora & fauna especially in the Spring. There are a great variety of hikes on outstanding trails, many of these are off-the-beaten-track and the climate is excellent for trekking.
Described as the "Hawaii of the Atlantic", the surf on Gran Canaria can be incredible. On the right day the surfers will put on a free and spectacular display, often in the north of the island but also in the south on the right conditions - Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés and Arguineguin.
It is also a great place to learn to surf with fantastic beaches and a couple of really good surf schools.
The island is home to Spain's oldest golf club plus eight newer courses, mostly located in the south of the island.
The south part of the island has many great diving locations and many dive centers. Most arrange daily trips Monday to Saturday with hotel pickup and reasonable equipment rental prices. Most travel guide books suggest one or two dive centers.
Near Maspalomas, Let's go diving [www] arranges boat tours to natural and artificial reefs with a variety of fish and other species. A wreck dive is also possible within 20m depth. You may find flashier rental equipment but you will hardly find better personnel.
In Arquineguin, Scuba Sur Diving Center [www], located inside the Time Share Resort Anfi Del Mar, organize daily diving trips, free scuba diving try every day in the different pools, all PADI courses till Instructor Development Course; three times a week snorkeling trip to the Pristine Bays of Gran Canaria from amazing beach of Patalavaca and the small and wonderful private marina, from where boats are leaving.
Besides many good restaurants of different nationalities, the Canarian Cuisine is especially worth trying.
Most restaurants serve local wines as well as Rioja.
La Casa Vieja: [www] (North area of Maspalomas) serve Canarian meals like Gofio, fish, squid rings, octopus with vinegar, Papas arrugadas con mojo (salted potatoes with a spicy mix), and grilled meat.
In Las Palmas there are many excellent fish restaurants, specially along the coast near Las Canteras beach and El Confital in the neighborhood of La Isleta. An exquisite dish is Chancletes al limón, but many other local fresh fish are excellent too.
Restaurant Ciao Ciao near the beach in Las Meloneras serves an Italian cuisine with good pizzas, meat and fish dishes.
Restaurante Olivia in Puerto de Mogán serves well prepared local dishes near the yacht harbour in Puerto de Mogán.
As an aside, when staying in the area of Playa del Inglés, expect to be regularly solicited by "waiters" who want you to eat at the restaurant they are working for. It can't be avoided but becomes slightly less annoying over time.
If you are in Maspalomas then you must visit Samsara. Making a booking at least a week in advance is a wise decision. The portions are enormous so order per couple. Arriving in beach shorts and a t-shirt will make you feel under dressed so dress smart-casual. You should not hold back and spend some extra money for desserts and anything you get offered. It may be the best restaurant on the island, not just because the food is nearly perfect but it has an amazing Asian décor, out of the world vibe and extremely welcoming staff.
The Yumbo Centrum dominates the centre of Playa del Inglés. It has dozens of restaurants, bars and clubs, many catering to the gay community, particularly on the higher floors.
Some of the cheaper bars are located on the Western side of the ground floor.
Busy gay bars are Construction on the ground floor and Terry's Show and XL on the first floor. The top floor has dance bars such as Mykonos and Mantrix that are a mix of bar and clubs, and tend to be more expensive. Heaven also has a club here, on the third floor. A selection of real English teas can be found at Café Florín, also known as the Internet Cafe located one minute from the Yumbo, down the hill towards the Playa del Inglés beach.
Stay safe / healthy
There is relatively little crime in the resorts, the main annoyance is drunks causing trouble. As anywhere, one should not leave valuables unattended on the beach.
In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, applying common sense for large cities is advisable. Some of the streets can be badly lit and the area around the harbour can be a bit threatening.
In the south, young guys may attack aged people trying to tear off a bag. It may happen even in the daytime on the central streets of Playa del Inglés.
On the beach, African women vendors may try to put a bracelet on your wrist and then charge an exorbitant fee for it. They will almost always approach you with a badly spoken "whea' you from my friend". Pay no attention and walk away as quickly as possible or you will be plagued. Some of these women can be aggressive however, so always be on your guard. Scream "Molestado!" if you have to and if you are forced into having to pay for bracelets, make sure you have a few small bills or change and convince them it's all you have.
Gay travelers be warned about being approached by very dark skinned Moroccan men. You can tell they are not Spanish from their different hair texture. They can approach you for sex tourism, and will tell you a cheaper price and then ask for more and more, so make sure you agree on one before. Or they can be very aggressive and not leave your place. one way of deterring them is telling them you are being treated for an STD, although you may be heavily insulted for this. It may also be recommended to do anything you want to do, in the many bars or clubs with darkrooms and places.
If you've been to Tenerife, you may be familiar with the so-called Lookey Lookey Men. Since they are not as common in Gran Canaria, they are usually not seen as problem, but can be annoying as they try to sell cheap items which are usually bootlegs.