The Canary Island of Gran Canaria
Spend your mornings on your surfboard enjoying the waves and your evenings taking a stroll along the beach as a couple, counting the stars in the night sky – surely this kind of experience is bound to require a long flight and a sizeable holiday fund! Or perhaps not? Our tip for your European beach holiday with a difference is Gran Canaria. So far and yet so near - this Canary Island is the exotic all-rounder for your dream holiday! It's no wonder this island, with its volcanic origin, is described as a mini-continent. Here you will find, in close proximity, deserts, mountain ranges, and even small forests. And yet Gran Canaria can be reached in a mere five hours’ flying time, and is actually part of the European Union. Many of the locals here on Spanish soil speak English too, and it goes without saying that you can pay for everything in euros!
The majority of visitors arrive on Gran Canaria by plane, landing at Las Palmas Airport in the north of the island. However, a lot of cruise ships call here as well, so the visitor crowd is a nice mix of families, slightly smarter guests, couples both young and old and especially LGBT travellers. Lesbian and gay couples like spending their romantic holiday à deux here, but singles come here too, to get to know new people. This makes for a thoroughly relaxed atmosphere, both in the tourist centres in the south and along the beaches favoured especially by locals in the north and east, and has the pleasant consequence that in quite a short holiday you can get to know a great deal about this unique and very compact island. Since it is only fifty kilometres across you can reach the other side by car in less than an hour. And if you like being by yourself and are in search of solitude, you won't have to drive far on Gran Canaria, either. Pico de las Nieves in the heart of the island, at just under two thousand metres high, is an invitation to hikers, and on the west coast are long beaches and secluded bays which you can have all to yourself.
It was originally the Canarii ethnic group who colonised this Atlantic island. In about 500 BC these first settlers arrived on its coast and named it Tamarán, “island of the brave”. For a long time this proved to be true! Despite centuries of attacks by the Portuguese and the Spanish, it was the end of the 15th century before Gran Canaria was finally conquered by Spain. In 1478 the present-day capital of Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, was established as Real de Las Palmas by Juan Rejón, the leader of the invading Castilian army, and five years later the whole island was occupied by Isabella I. Just a short while afterwards Christopher Columbus took advantage of the harbour at Las Palmas before his great voyage to the American continent. The openness of the roughly 800,000 inhabitants of Gran Canaria probably has a lot to do with the island's location at the crossroads between Africa and Europe, but also with its longstanding seafarer tradition. In fact, a further 1.2 million people from all over the world live here as migrant workers, long-term visitors or dropouts. A genuine culture of welcome!
Today Gran Canaria is primarily the destination of tourists from all over Europe in search of relaxation and is particularly popular with the British, Scandinavians and Germans because of its climate, which is reliably warm, even in winter. The majority of visitors spend their holiday in the south of the island, since from the 1960s onwards, a tourist infrastructure has been created at the two biggest beaches here, Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés, which is second to none in the island worlds of the Canaries and the Balearics. There are hotels, bungalows and holiday apartments for every budget in the immediate vicinity of the beaches, and the restaurants and bars provide everything the culinary heart could desire, from a beach snack right up to exclusive award-winning cuisine. During the daytime you are spoilt for choice between every conceivable water sport and trend sport, including kiting, jet-skiing, stand up paddle boarding and Zumba. In the evenings you can stroll along well-kept promenades, or throw yourself headlong into the crazy nightlife at the longest beaches on the island. And the waves that regularly break on the shores in the north of the island should bring a smile to the face of every surfer. In fact, up to and including September you can do without your wetsuit and enjoy your freedom in the water to the full.
Gran Canaria’s nature and culture won't fall short of your expectations either: right in the middle of the touristy south you'll find genuine desert in the sand dunes at Maspalomas. This protected area with its silence and barrenness is especially impressive at sunrise. Anyone interested in history should definitely plan in a day excursion to Las Palmas and walk around the UNESCO World Heritage district of Vegueta. The Cathedral of Santa Ana goes back to the arrival of the Castilians in the 15th century and most of the buildings around it date from this period as well. So while Gran Canaria is a truly all-round destination for holidaymakers, it has a very special atmosphere that attracts many long-term visitors as well. They appreciate the tolerance and openness of this island, so close to and yet so far from Europe.
About the beaches
Gran Canaria's beaches are just as diverse as its landscape. This volcanic Atlantic island, situated less than 150 kilometres west of the coast of North Africa, is fringed by more than fifty kilometres of beaches. The desert wind from the African mainland and the Gulf Stream that washes the island's shores make for a warm climate all year round. Despite this, the trade wind ensures that temperatures as extreme as those on the Dark Continent are rarely experienced, even on summer days. Gran Canaria is thus a real gem for sun worshippers. But its diverse landscape is what puts the finishing touch to the island as a first class destination for a beach holiday. Although this "mini-continent" is only 50 kilometres across, north to south, you will find areas of desert, hills and woods reminiscent of the Mediterranean, plus an equally wide variety of beaches. Whereas the southern tip of the island has two of the longest beaches in Europe, Playa del Inglés and Playa de Maspalomas, on the western and eastern sides smaller coves and stony beaches predominate. From the light grey sand in the south to the black sand in the north and east, the beaches of Gran Canaria vary considerably, not only in their size, but also in their colour. For beaches it’s simply unbeatable!
Beach life in all its diversity awaits you, especially on the endless, desert-like beaches in the south of the island. The beaches of Meloneras, Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés merge seamlessly with each other and you’ll find every conceivable kind of beach culture here, from stylish boulevards to naturist areas. Yet the most secluded highlights of Gran Canaria are threaded along the west coast like pearls on a string. Many of these beaches have no infrastructure and can often only be reached by climbing or even by boat, such as, for instance, the unspoiled hikers' paradise at Guí Guí beach. The beaches in the east of the island are mainly popular with the locals and are, to a large extent, family beaches with good infrastructure. If you find that the tourist crowds in the south finally get too much, but don't want to forgo nice cafés and restaurants, then these beaches - Playa de la Garita, for example, or Playa de Salinetas - are the right ones for you! In the north, on the other hand, you will find the insider's tips for snorkelling and surfing, such as Playa del Confital or Playa de Sardinia. Here you will encounter only locals from the immediate vicinity and can immerse yourself completely in Gran Canaria life. However, we must not overlook the capital city of Las Palmas in the north-east, where there are two really huge town beaches, Playa de las Canteras and Playa de las Alcaravaneras. The name of the game here is see-and-be-seen, or grab your surfboard or bodyboard and head for the water!
"A multi-faceted urban beach"
"Fly with the wind - on 'Eagles' Beach'!"
"Elegant and tolerant!"
"A bay that makes you happy!"
"That's beach life!"
"High quality relaxation!"
"The all-rounder of Gran Canaria"
"Windsurfing - learn from the pros!"
"One last swim before the flight home!"
"The relaxed one down south!"
"Relaxation and action with a fantastic view"
"For foodies and water sports enthusiasts"
"No real beauty, but a great spot for windsurfers!"
"For lovers of the underwater world and romantic sunsets"
"Convivial urban beach, not just for locals"
"Top spot for divers"
"A popular urban beach with an unusual view"
"Not just for hotel guests"
"For surfers and lovers of seawater pools"
"Take a sunrise stroll!"