Insider tips on Gran Canaria for every type of traveller
The second most populated of the Canary Islands, Gran Canaria is blessed with sunny weather all year round. Although over the years it has suffered at the hands of extensive tourism, it is still a good destination choice when sunshine and high temperatures are top of your agenda and whatever type of traveller you are we have the highlights you shouldn’t miss out on.
For the VIPs
If luxury hotel resorts and designer shopping is your thing, there is just one place you must head to – Meloneras in the south of the island. This beach resort is flanked by the famous Maspalomas sand dunes and Atlantic Ocean on one side and acres of golfing green on the other.
What makes it different to any other part of Gran Canaria is that a set of luxury resort operators have chosen to locate here, thus creating an enclave of sophistication. Seaside Palm Beach Residence, Seaside Palm Beach boutique hotel, Lopesan Costa Meloneras, Hotel Riu Palace, Lopesan Baobab Resort, Lopesan Villa del Conde Resort and Thalasso, Club Hotel Rui and H10 Playa Meloneras Palace sit side by side in this pristine neighbourhood. Gone are the topless bathers, microwaved paellas and fraying store fronts of Playa del Ingles. In Meloneras visit the well-heeled shop at Ralph Lauren, enjoy Argentinian steaks and play golf. Lopesan El Faro Shopping Boulevard is lined with designer boutiques including Lacoste, La Perla and Tommy Hilfiger. Also along this stretch is Moonlight open air cinema, which shows films at sunset and at night while serving pizza and sparkling wine.
Have a decent steak and glass of wine while watching a spectacular sunset at El Churrasco Steakhouse.
Enjoy a movie under the stars at Moonlight Cinema.
The spa and natural beauty junkie
One of the first things you will notice on the island is that it is dotted with some of the plumpest aloe vera plants you have ever seen. Gran Canaria is a major grower of the health boosting desert lily so having a spa or beauty treatment with it is an absolute must. The Sheraton Salobre’s Aloe Spa, in Maspalomas, has a ritual that consists of scrub, full body aloe vera massage followed by a glass of aloe vera drink and the Seaside Palm Beach Spa has a package dedicated to curing sun damaged skin using an aloe vera body wrap. The cooling gel inside the leaf treats sunburn, fights ageing and is super moisturising. It is a bit of a wonder plant full of antioxidants so there are scores of beauty products available to buy in specialist shops, markets, spas and even in the supermarket. Many of the supermarkets have good fresh plants for sale while the Aloe Vera Fresca store, about 25km away in Puerto de Mogán, stocks its own top quality products including herbal oils, anti-ageing creams and drinks.
Stay in Meloneras where the luxury hotels have the best spas.
Visit Puerto de Mogán and pop into Aloe Vera Fresca to stock up on aloe products.
As a foodie you may be hard pressed to find some real decent Canarian eats if you follow the tourist track. Insider knowledge here is key. Gran Canaria has fantastic fresh fruit, vegetables and local produce, such as honey, cheese and almonds at its farmers’ markets. Forget booking expensive restaurants, the real foodie adventure comes from exploring the markets and tasting the cheeses, breads, fruits, wine, honey, herbs and vegetables on offer. You can find anything from custard apples to cactus fruit. The best markets are in the island’s mountainous regions. Market days vary from village to village and a lot of markets close at 2pm. Santa Brigida is open until 8pm on Friday and Saturday and San Mateo also has an 8pm close on Saturday.
For Spanish tapas head to Mercado del Puerto in Las Palmas during the evening. The lively food hall has bistros offering local delights. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings from 8pm are the best times to soak up the bustling atmosphere. Another gastronomic hotspot is the Vegueta district of Las Palmas where ‘La Ruta De Pinchos’ tapas route takes place on Thursdays, which means many of the bars offer beer and tapas for 2 euros.
Stay in Las Palmas where all the best local food haunts are easily accessible.
Sample iberico ham and Rioja wine at El Jamonal Wine Bar in Puerto de Mogan.
For the sporty types
The mountains, good weather and strong winds on the island make it a great place for three key activities: cycling, hiking and kite surfing. During the early part of the year when it is freezing in the northern parts of Europe sports enthusiasts head to Gran Canaria for the sun and perfect sporting temperatures, which varies between 23 and 28 degrees C in the south of the island.
There are excellent hiking routes, the landscapes are particularly beautiful around the small village of Tejeda in the northeastern part of the island where hundreds of almond trees covering the mountain blossom with pale pink flowers. Tejeda leads to the highest mountain points with amazing views of Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga, which are both geological landmarks. While exploring around them you will find archaeological sites and caves.
Cyclists can hire everything they need from any of the main tourist areas; Playa De Ingles, Maspalomas and Las Palmas. The cycling routes and conditions are some of the best in the world and there are routes for all levels. Some challenging tours are offered by Cycle Gran Canaria.
During the winter months the skyline above the coast is dotted with kite surfers. The summer months are more suited to first-timers as the temperatures soar and the water is just right for activity without the need of a wetsuit. Pro Surf Gran Canaria in Playa del Ingles provides lessons throughout the year.
Hikers can get off the beaten track by staying in the village of Tejeda.
Consider travelling with a mobile home as there are a lot of breathtaking camping spots.
If landmarks and cultural sights draw you like a pilgrim Vegueta, which is the old district of Las Palmas, is your Mecca. It dates back to the 15th century and is the most important area of the city’s historical heritage. Christopher Columbus stopped over here in 1492 because the island is well placed between mainland Europe and America. Columbus House and Museum exhibits the story in fascinating detail. Vegueta is home to the oldest buildings in the city and houses museums, theatres and tapas bars. It genuinely feels like time has stopped here. From Plaza de Santa Ana main square you can explore the cobbled streets, climb to the top of the Santa Ana Cathedral, visit the Atlantic Centre of Modern Art and Museo Canario as well as a plethora of other heritage sites.
Nearby, Arucas is well worth a visit. The town’s Gothic church is a centrepiece to this quaint municipality, which is packed full of boutiques and cafés. It has scores of lanes to explore, pretty gardens and the Arehucas rum factory offers free tours and tastings from Monday to Friday until 1pm or 2pm.
Visit in late October early November to catch the two days of open air street performances that tell the story of Spanish womaniser Don Juan Tenorio.
Religious processions take over the Vegueta streets during Easter and throughout the month of February the whole island of Gran Canaria celebrates the carnival season with parties and processions day and night.
by Abena Bailey