When I think of the Spanish island Gran Canaria, many words starting with ‘M’ spring to mind: multifarious, mesmerizing, modern, memorable.
Part of the Canary Islands archipelago just off the northwest coast of Africa, Gran Canaria packs a punch. The delightful variety of climates and landscapes that can be found there have earned the island the apellation of “miniature continent.” In an area about the size of Houston, Texas, you’ll find sandy beaches, vertiginous mountains, caves, pine forests, and a Sahara-like desert. See, I told you it was multifarious!
Here’s my guide to Gran Canaria, from M to M:
The Maspalomas area is located in the southern part of Gran Canaria and plays host to some of the most popular beach resorts on the island. This is where you will find sunny weather, long beaches, the bewitching Dunes of Maspalomas (a genuine mini-desert), and a gorgeous 19-century lighthouse. One of the largest gay pride festivals in “Europe” (the Canary Islands are part of Spain) takes place in Playa del Inglés each May.
Lopesan Costa Meloneras is a good choice if you prefer luxury hotels (as is their impressive spa and wellness center, Spa Corallium), though Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia, Baobab Resort, and Lopesan Villa del Conde offer a close second when it comes to pampering their guests.
Many restaurants on the island offer delicious Canarian cuisine. Try local cheese, wine, papas arrugadas (small unpeeled potatoes boiled in salt water) together with red or green mojo sauce. Ropa Vieja (“Old Clothes”) is a classic stew made of shredded beef, chicken, and chickpeas.
But there’s a wide selection of restaurants offering international cuisine as well, including my personal favorites, Ciao-Ciao (try the mouth-watering lobster pasta), SushiMex (Japanese and Mexican fusion), and Samsara (top-notch Indian-influenced food).
Gran Canaria is often associated with sunny beaches and palatial resorts, but its mountains and forests make it a paradise for trekkers. Gran Canaria is of volcanic origin and Las Cumbres (the central mountain area), with its highest peak, Pico de las Nieves, is beyond impressive. On your way to the top you can pop into charming mountain villages like Fataga and Santa Lucía.
A trip to Gran Canaria wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Barranco de Guayadeque valley, a popular weekend hideout for locals and tourists alike, to see the unique cave houses where the Guanches (ancient inhabitants of the islands) once lived. Today these cool caves are up to 21st-century standards and still used as homes. In the area you find cave shops, a cave church, and cave restaurants, like Tagoror where they serve excellent traditional Canarian cuisine.
Puerto de Mogán, otherwise known as “Little Venice,” is the perfect one-day excursion in the southwest. It’s a picturesque fishing village with colorful houses, a small beach, and a harbor where fishing boats and luxury yachts rub shoulders. Don’t leave hungry: some of the best fish restaurants on the island can be found here.
Las Palmas is Gran Canaria’s capital city and boasts its own urban beach, Las Canteras, and great shopping. The major department store, El Corte Inglés, has two locations in the city (on Avenida José Mesa y López) where you can find anything from clothes to electronics. But there are several boutique shops nearby on Calle Mayor de Triana.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
With eight golf courses, mountain bike tracks, surfing schools, sailing, and scuba diving, the island won’t be putting many limits on your sense of adventure.
Christopher Columbus docked at Las Palmas on his first trip to the Americas in 1492, and the island pays homage to the Spaniard with its Casa de Colón, where you can see a replica of one of the cabins in La Niña, handwritten documents, navigational instruments, maps, and other artifacts related to his expeditions.
There are also tons of fun things to do for kids and kids at heart: visit the zoological and botanical garden at Palmitos Park, spend a day at Aqualand, or set off on a short camel safari in the Maspalomas desert. You can even hang around an authentic western saloon and witness a staged bank robbery in the cowboy village, Sioux City.
There you have it, Gran Canaria from M to M. Does anyone have anything they’d like to add to the mix?
Hanna Snarberg (a Swede) and her partner, Alex (a Ruskie), share their wanderlust on their travel blog, Sam and the Dunes (“Sam” is their lovable pooch).