This article is part of our series on Discovering Something Different in the Canary Islands. Be sure to check out the central hub to this series here.
The Canary Islands are no doubt familiar to most of us. Even if you’ve never holidayed there yourself, you almost certainly know someone who has. These are a stunning group of islands and they’ve rightly been a popular destination for decades with European holiday-makers in search of a relatively close and inexpensive way to experience year-round Sun. But, many visitors to these islands will not venture much further afield than their hotel or resort. This is an enormous shame, as these islands offer phenomenal natural beauty for those who are willing to seek it out.
A Landscape format image. Cliffs roll down from the left-hand side of the image into the Atlantic Ocean. Waves hit the base of the cliffs and clouds of sea spray mix with golden sunlight to create a hazy atmosphere in the image.
Gran Canaria is the third largest of the Canary Island and has the second highest population (Tenerife comes first in both regards). Parts of the island are certainly very well developed and the main city – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria – certainly feels like a buzzing European capital. However, as with all of the Canary Islands, you are never far from spectacular nature. Gran Canaria is, in common with the rest of the Canary Islands, volcanic, but unlike, say, Lanzarote, where the volcanic activity happened in the last few hundred years, plant life has had time to re-establish itself on Gran Canaria and you can expect to find lush forests in the Island’s interior.
Gran Canaria is a large island and it’s helpful to have access to a car if you want to really explore the island. Fortunately, vehicle hire is inexpensive and easy to organise in the Canary Islands. Gran Canaria is also a popular destination for road cyclists and there are plenty of places on the island offering cycle hire.
Below, we’ve outlined some of our suggestions to allow you to explore and discover a different, nature based side to Gran Canaria allowing you to truly switch off and connect to the world around you.
A Landscape format image. The Sun sets behind a mountain ridge. The sky is golden-red and dramatic shafts of light illuminate the spaces between the distant mountains.
Discover an Ancient Civilisation
Roque Bentayga – an imposing rock spire that towers over Gran Canaria’s interior – is a regular feature on most ‘must see’ lists for the island. It’s there for good reason: It offers stunning views out over the island that really are unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere in the Canaries. However, the Roque has another side: Look closely and you’ll see evidence of ancient settlements dotted around the landscape – from mysterious carvings in the rock to caves that were once used as dwellings. These are remnants of the Guanches – the indigenous people who inhabited the islands before the Spanish came in the 15th Century. We know very little about their culture, which makes the traces they left behind even more tantalising and mysterious.
A Landscape format image. A pine forest in the mountains is enveloped by low clouds. A patch of bright golden sunlight creates a rainbow in the centre of the image.
Visit a Desert
Maspalomas is a well-developed resort town on the south coast of Gran Canaria. You’ll find plenty of bars, restaurants and shops there and it’s also home to an iconic lighthouse, but a stones-throw from the manicured terraces of holiday lets and hotels you’ll find one of Gran Canaria’s true natural gems: The Maspalomas Dunes. These are truly an unexpected site – an area of massive golden sand dunes stretching down to the sea. It looks as if a part of the Sahara has been transplanted onto the island. The dunes were previously threatened by development in Maspalomas, but fortunately, today they are a protected nature reserve. The Dunes are great fun to explore, but for those with push chairs or who might find walking over loose sand difficult, there’s a wide boardwalk around the edge so you can still take in the sights without have to step off sold ground. The Dunes are a spectacular sight at any time of the day, but at sunset they take on an even more magical quality as the shadows grow deeper and longer and the colours in the sand shift from deep gold to red to purple. To get the true desert experience, you can book a camel tour of Maspalomas via TUI’s website here.
A Landscape format image. Sunset at the Maspalomas Dunes. The dunes, snaking to the distant Atlantic have taken on a warm, red glow in the fading light.
Hit the Road
All of the Canary Islands are beautiful, but Gran Canaria is a real star when it comes to scenic drives. The coast roads – which often follow cliff tops – give fantastic views out to sea and you can often spot the other islands in the distance. Or, you could head inland. Look on a map and you’ll see numerous twisting roads heading into the centre of the island. These roads lead to spectacular valleys and mountain passes as they weave through the volcanic landscape and rich, forested areas. You’ll spot numerous hiking trails as you drive and there’s ample opportunity for hiking on the island too. Gran Canaria is a popular destination for cyclists and you’ll see everyone from serious roadies training for competition (several pro teams train on Gran Canaria) through to people riding at a far more leisurely pace. The island authorities clearly take cycling very seriously, and this is reflected in the quality of the roads and cycle-friendly signage. If you’re keen to explore the island on two wheels but are daunted by some of the ascents, remember that e-bikes can be hired just as easily as regular bikes. If you would prefer a guided experience, TUI has plenty of options – including this comprehensive tour of the island, and this one with a focus on locally produced food and drink.
A Landscape format image. Early evening in the mountains. The silhouette of the iconic Roque Bentayga frames a distant landscape of hazy mountains and salt pans. The colours are cool and blue.
Hit the Waves
The landscape in Gran Canaria is spectacular and seeing it from the ocean adds another dimension to it entirely. Boat tours are a good way to get a different perspective on a place and can offer some great photo opportunities too. Beyond this, many boat trips will include stops, giving you the chance to swim in the open sea and, of course, whales and dolphins are a common sight in the seas around all of the Canary Islands. As always, TUI has you covered in terms of booking experiences including this and this.
A Landscape format Image. Looking through pine trees in the high mountains, we can see a vivid turquoise lake lower down the mountain. The colours are overall golden and warm.