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Soak up the sun
Why go on holiday to Gran Canaria?
Whether you think a beach is somewhere to flop for a week, a place to party all night, or just a spot to stick your surfboard, Gran Canaria is in many ways an ideal year-round destination with sunshine almost guaranteed.
This might not be the most attractive of the seven Canary Islands, but it is worth exploring if only to marvel at the contrast between the pine forests in the fertile north and the sand dunes in the south.
How much does it cost?
A seven-night self-catering package costs from £350 in July, flights only are from £120 with charter bargains as low as £65, and a hotel room will cost roughly £15-£20 a night. All prices vary, especially with the seasons.
When should I go?
You can bet on getting a tan at any time of year, with year-round temperatures of 18-24C (65-75F). December to February is the coolest period but it is also the island's busiest time of year, so prices are higher.
The best deals are around between March and May or from November to mid-December. Party animals should aim to be there for Carnival in February and March when the island is in celebratory mood and there are weeks of parades and fancy dress contests.
*Feeling inspired? Book a break to the Canaries.
Land of contrasts
What should I do when I'm there?
Most people base themselves in one of the main beach resorts on the south coast, where you can just lie back and soak up the sun, indulge in some watersports - sailboarding is particularly popular - or hire a car and see the island.
It's so small that it would take only a couple of days to drive right around Gran Canaria, but hire a car for longer if you want to explore at a more leisurely pace.
What's the terrain like? Gran Canaria is often described as a continent in miniature due to its contrasts. A short drive from the desert beaches brings you to the arid interior with its crumpled ridges, which eventually gives way to pine forests as you approach the fertile north.
What's there to do in the capital?
Las Palmas in the north is the only place on Gran Canaria with a big-city feel. It has busy shopping districts, a thriving port and a fab beach. There is also an interesting historic quarter with museums, churches and monuments.
When you're tired of sightseeing, you can rest your feet in one of the many restaurants or bars that line Playa de las Canteras.
What's off the beaten track?
Some interesting towns in the north include Teror, whose ancient square is home to some fine old houses, and Arucas, which boasts an extraordinary neo-Gothic cathedral.
Not to be missed is the Caldera de Bandama, one of the biggest extinct craters on the island, with fantastic views over the island. Also interesting is a troglodyte hamlet, about 9kms from Aguimes, where some residents live in caves.
Young and lively
Where's good for nightlife?
The vast array of bars, clubs and restaurants in the biggest beach resort, Playa del Ingles, is a honeypot for the young and lively crowd. Yumbo Centrum, the multi-storey shopping centre has the highest concentration of nightspots.
Las Palmas is also buzzing at night, but it's a long way from the main beach resorts in the south. If you like your nightlife to come with a Union Jack, try Puerto Rico which has lots of British pubs and cafes.
What's the food like?
Resorts have cafes and restaurants to suit all tastes and budgets. Many serve international fare (fish 'n' chips, bacon and eggs, etc) but there are some fantastic local dishes such as sancocho - a mixture of fish, goat's cheese and garlic potatoes.
Try sama a la sal - fish baked in salt - and don't skip the delicious papas con mojo - hot, spicy potatoes.
What should I buy?
The Canaries are a duty-free paradise and prices are cheaper in the shops on the islands than at the airports or on flights back home. All the resorts have shopping arcades, and electronic goods can often be found cheaper than back home.
One of the best places for electronic goods is around Parque de Santa Catalina in Las Palmas. For other goods, try Centro Comercial Las Arenas in the capital, or the fashionable Avenida de Mesa y Lopez.
Locally-made products to look out for include pottery, cutlery with bone handles, embroidery, hand-woven baskets, hand-woven silk and cigars.
What is there for children to do?
There are lots of theme parks in the south - including Palmitos, which has 230 species of bird and an aquarium; the Holiday World amusement park with white-knuckle rides; and the Aqua Sur and Ocean Park water parks.
Spanish National Tourist Office, 22-23 Manchester Square, London W1M 5AP. Tel. 020 7486 8077 Brochure line: 09063 640630 (60p per minute).
Gran Canaria Towns
Many people's comments about Puerto Rico and/or Playa del Ingles include the famous line "It's not very Spanish, is it?" Puerto Rico is around 30 years old and Playa del Ingles around 40 years old. Before the resorts appeared, all that exhisted was arid, barren countryside (and a nice beach in the case of Playa del Ingles). The resorts were purpose built for tourism.
To see and experience the Canarian way of life or any Canarian or Spanish traditions, you're going to have to venture out of the resorts and go and visit any one of a huge number of towns or villages scattered around the island. Head anywhere other than the south of the island and you'll find a rich culture of traditions, festivals, architecture and gastronamy. More typical Canarian towns well worth a visit...
(population 17,500) San Sebastian Church in Aguimes houses various works of art including paintings and sculptures and is one of the most well maintained structures of worship on the island, having being completed in 1952 (construction began in the late 18th century!), and the designs are based on the Cathedral of Las Palmas. Located not far from the caves of Guayadeque
and adjacent to "Barranco de Balos". It's at this barranco (valley) that you can find the sacred Guanche site called "Lomo de los Leteros". The Basalt slope there is inscribed with pre-hispanic, geometric designs and sketches of human figures.
(population 30,000) One of the main places of interest in Arucas is the neo gothic church of San Juan Bautista (St John the Baptist), constructed between 1909 and 1977. Arucas is also the third largest town on Gran Canaria and has it's own rum distillery worth a visit (and some sampling!) too. "The Marchess's Garden" is a 10 minute walk from the church, a botanical garden with a huge collection of both local and tropical plants. If you get to the top of "Arucas
Mountain" (an old volcano), you'll find a traditional Canarian restaurant up there.
This is one of the most populated areas along the south coast of Gran Canaria. A typical Canarian fishing village, it's home to many locals rather than being a tourist resort. Here you'll find some excellent bars and restaurants, the latter specialising in fresh fish caught that day. Tuesday is market day (the largest on the island). The harbour here hosts a ferry service to Puerto Rico and Mogán whilst another popular way to reach the town from Puerto Rico is by trecking over the
mountain between the two towns.
(population 5,600) Agaete is located in the far, north west of the island at the foot of the Tamadaba pine woods, also on the outlet of one of the most beautiful, fertile valleys of the island. Here they produce lemons, oranges, avocados and coffee whilst Agaete is more famous through the archipelago for its "Fiesta de la Rama", celebrated during the first week of August annually. The port of Agaete is very well known for its fish restaurants, the area being a fisherman's haven.
The port also hosts frequent ferry services to Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. One of the views from the port is "Dedo de Dios" (God's finger - pictured above) being a spectacular rock formation just a few yards out to sea. The area around Agaete is one of the most richest and fertile areas of the island. As well as traditional and tropical fruits are grown alongside the coffee plantations there and the natural mineral water produced in this area is thought to have medicinal properties!
It's at Bandama that you'll find the most perfectly formed crater in the Canary Islands, it has a diameter of 1000m and a depth of 220m. At the bottom of the crater you will see a farm which can only be reached by a steep and narrow path and making it (so I'm told) the only inhabited crater in the world. With views to the picturesque town of Bandama along with its 18 hole professional golf course, the oldest in Spain (founded 1891), this is very much an area worth a visit.
(population 5,750) Again one of the more picturesque towns of Gran Canaria I have found, Firgas is famed locally for it's natural mineral water. Nearby is the "Azuaje Ravine", the waters of which are believed to have curable properties and many other natural springs in this area have brought about the construction of the islands main bottling plant for mineral water.
(population 21,500) Seat of the ancient Guanche rulers and the first capital of Gran Canaria prior to Las Palmas. The church of Santiago de Los Caballeros another stop-off point here, known for its 4700 pipe organ and the green font where, tradition has it, the Aborigines were baptized. It also houses one of the best collections of art on the island, both of paintings and sculptures. Also worth a visit if your in the Galdar area is "Reptilia
Park" located on the outskirts of town heading towards Agaete. Reptile park with the largest lizard in captivity and several species of (cute) monkeys too. Recently re-opened are the "painted caves", an historical site of pre-historic caves which are both preserved and restored for display to the public.
(population 12,500) Birth place of the famous painter Lujan Perez, Guia is better known for the "Casa Quintana", built in the 16th century. It's also famous for its cheese and Canarian Knives. On the outskirts of the town you'll find "Cenobio de Valerón", an area of 300 or so caves once inhabited by the aboriginals. Many of their original tools, utensils and so on are to be found there on display. Close by is "EL Gallego", an area of caves where the aboriginals conducted their
(population 21,500) "Ingenio de azucar" means sugar refinery and it was here that a sugar refinery was built when the Spanish first colonized the island. Ingenio also has a museum to visit showing how crafts have developed over the centuries. You can see the "openwork skill" that has been kept alive for centuries and is still to be displayed here. The "Sequero" district and its buildings date back to the 15th century. Not to be missed if you're here mid October
is their festival of the billy goat (second Saturday of October) in which the whole town participates in finding the best goat and parading it around town all afternoon whilst feasting on huge amounts of food and drink! Also, close by are the caves of Guayadeque.
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Maspalomas is the oldest touristic town in the south coast of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands. The people of Maspalomas create a warm, vibrant, friendly atmosphere. Maspalomas is part of the municipality of San Bartolomé de Tirajana. Its name may derive from that of Rodrigo Mas de Palomar, a settler and soldier from Majorca, or from Francisco Palomar, a Genoese friend of Alonso Fernandez de Lugo who purchased 87 Guanche slaves from Güímar and settled in the
The place is famous for tourism, its hotels, beaches, dunes, apartments, and other facilities including restaurants, bars, taverns, shopping centres, souvenirs, and businesses.
There is a 68 m tall lighthouse, named El Faro de Maspalomas, at the southern point from where the 12 km long beach and dunes, a nature reserve since 1897, lead to Playa del Inglés.
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is a 68 m tall lighthouse, named El Faro de Maspalomas, at the southern point from where the 12 km long beach and dunes, a nature reserve since 1897, lead to Playa del Inglés.
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