Gran Canaria: what to see and do. Black sand beaches, seafood restaurants, dunes and mountains
December 4, 2015 | By: High50
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The unspoiled dunes of Maspalomas

Why go

Gran Canaria is actually the third largest of the Canary Islands and with around 60km of beaches along its 236km coastline, it’s well-loved by sunseekers. However, the unspoiled dunes of Maspalomas and mountainous interior make it more than a fly and flop destination. Heaven for hikers, with paths to take you from one side of the island to the other, it’s also boasts cave restaurants and rum distilleries.

Between the built-up resorts, there are smaller seaside towns along the south coast, including the picturesque Puerto de Mogan. The black and golden sand beaches are great for watersports too, with surfing and windsurfing at Pozo Izquierdo in particular. And you can spot whales year-round off the coast. The island is known for being as gay-friendly as it is welcoming to families.

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What to do

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Bougainvillea on a street in Puerto de Mogan

Explore the island’s historic cities, fabulous scenery and the sun, sea, sport and seafood restaurants of the coast. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the main city, with a busy port, Unesco World Heritage site in the historic old town Vegueta, and its own beach Playa de las Canteras. The biggest resorts are dotted along the south coast between Playa del Ingles and Costa Meloneras, but stretch west to Puerto de Mogan and you can choose quieter spots beyond the bustling hub of Maspalomas. Visitors can see the pre-Hispanic cave paintings, showing the history of the islands before the Spanish conquest, and enjoy walking trails in the mountainous area around Tejeda.

Where to stay

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The reception at the Lopesan Baobab resort

Various global and Spanish chains have five star hotels around the island, including several in Meloneras. The H10 Playa Meloneras Palace, Sheraton Gran Canaria on the Salobre golf resort and the Lopesan Baobab are popular There’s also a Radisson Blu along the coast in Arguineguin. In the north, La Hacienda del Buen Suceso is set on the oldest hacienda estate in the Canaries, while Casa Mozart in Las Palmas is one of the island’s few boutique properties.

Where to eat

You’ll find plenty of fresh fish and seafood on the menus alongside specialities like Canarian potatoes, or papas arrugadas, with hot mojo sauce plus local goat’s cheese.

Fine dining choices can be limited but La Aquarela in Anfi del Mar has a reputation as the best in Gran Canaria, while stylish Mundo and pan-Asian Samsara stand out in Maspalomas. Otherwise, head to Las Palmas, especially if you’re looking for international cuisine. In the Vegueta and Triana districts, Casa Montesdeoca has the seal of approval from Spanish royalty, while the chef at Deliciosa Marta trained at El Bulli. Waterfront La Marinera offers great seafood.

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Getting around

At 29 miles across, the island’s size and speedy GC1 motorway means it’s rarely more than an hour to reach anywhere on the island – two if you take the twisty mountain roads. Taxis are easy to find in the main resorts and Las Palmas, as well as at the airport, and there are bus routes around the island but hiring a car is a good way to explore independently.

When to go

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The Cathedral in Las Palmas

Gran Canaria is a year-round destination. Temperatures are highest in July and August, and during spring when there’s little rain and the interior is at its most verdant. The winter months can be cooler at night and in the mountains, but with enough sun to hit the beach. February sees Carnaval celebrations while Spain’s second-largest Gay Pride event takes place in May.

Three things we like

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Lush colours of the Barranco de Guayadeque

  1. Barranco de Guayadeque – the lush green gorges and views from the twisting mountain roads are some of the most beautiful in Europe. Stop to refuel in one of the cave restaurants, such as Tagoror overlooking the valley.
  2. The Botanic Gardens of Las Palmas. After wandering the historic streets or discovering the city’s attractions, this quiet, peaceful spot is a shady oasis that’s home to around 500 different plants from the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde and the Canary Islands.
  3. Aguimes – the grand Iglesia de San Sebastian overshadows the cobbled streets and pastel buildings of the restored historic centre.

Something we don’t like

The long walk to the beach – in the most built-up sections around Playa del Ingles and some of the hillier resorts to the south west, there are shuttle buses to the sand as holiday accommodation is often a lot further away than you might think.

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Camel Safari

Don’t miss

A day trip to historic Arucas, with the Arehucas rum distillery on the town’s outskirts. Take a tour, spot the barrels signed by celebrities, and try a taste – the honey rum is the one to buy.

The protected sand dunes. Plodding along on the back of a camel, you’d find it hard to believe that Maspalomas is just over the dunes.

Picturesque Puerto de Mogan. Dubbed the ‘Venice’ of the Canary Islands, there are no canals but there are attractive white and blue buildings with bougainvillea framing the cobbled streets, and a marina. The Friday market is one of the most touristy so it’s best to avoid if you prefer peace over purchases.

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High50 insider tips

  • You’re spoilt for choice with boat trips but the Lineas BlueBird glass-bottomed ferries connect Arguineguin with Puerto de Mogan and provide an enjoyable way to get around.
  • Although nude sunbathing is legal on Gran Canaria, it’s usually restricted to quieter coves or specific areas such as the central section of the long beach in front of Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas.
  • Shop at Fedac. The non-profit handicraft stores in Las Palmas and Playa de Ingles promise high quality.

Travelling with family?

Children will love Gran Canaria, from the pools and slides at Aqualand waterpark to the animal shows at Palmitos Park Zoo. There’s also quirky attractions, such as Sioux City, a slice of the Wild West in western Europe and endless sand to be made into castles. Check before heading to a new beach, some can be nudist.

Need to know

  • Flying time is just over four hours.
  • The airport is around 30 minutes from both Maspalomas and Las Palmas.
  • Two-pin European plugs are standard.
  • The timezone is the same as the UK – GMT (+1 in summer).
  • Currency is the Euro.