With a wide variety of climates and landscapes, Gran Canaria's impressive geographical diversity has seen it become known as ‘a continent in miniature’. The third largest of the Canary Islands, it offers everything from pine forest-covered mountain peaks and verdant valleys to undulating sand dunes and chic city neighbourhoods. As a result, its shores attract not just sunseekers, but professional athletes looking to test their mettle on the rugged terrain, historians curious to learn about the island’s pre-Hispanic culture and gourmets seeking a slice of the exciting culinary scene.
Although part of Spain, the island is closer to the west coast of Africa and benefits from balmy year-round temperatures. Its unique microclimate allows for incredible agricultural variety — from avocados and pineapples to potatoes and coffee — and you’ll find local produce on most restaurant menus. But if you’re really looking to try — and buy — some of the best local cuisine and crafts, stop by one of the island’s markets for a true taste of Gran Canaria.
1. Vegueta crafts and culture market
Markets don’t come in much more storied spaces than this. Set in and around the Plaza del Pilar, behind the Santa Ana Cathedral and beside the Casa de Colón (Columbus Museum), this Sunday market is ideal for artisans. Expect everything from local handmade crafts such as woven baskets and leather goods, to cigars and artwork. If you’re here on a weekday, wander the alleyways towards the sea and you’ll also find the Mercado de Vegueta, built in 1856 and still serving the city with the freshest fruit and vegetables. Once you’ve stocked up, head down the road to CAAM, the Atlantic Centre of Modern Art. Offering welcome respite from the sun, the centre has permanent and visiting collections, so there’s always something new to see.
2. Villa de Moya open-air market
Venture up into the island’s northern reaches and you’ll find a number of traditional towns and villages, including the mountain municipality of Moya. To islanders, Moya is known for two main things: forests and biscuits. It’s no surprise then, that the Sunday morning market at the bus station serves up plenty of sweet treats, including the famous bizcocho de Moya — double-baked fingers of biscuit flavoured with lemon. You’ll also find suspiros (delicate swirls of meringue) and gofio — toasted flour that’s characteristic of the island and used in myriad dishes. But don’t just come for the confectionary. The nearby forest, Tilos de Moya, is one of the last remaining places to see native laurisilva trees that date back millions of years and is well worth a visit in its own right.
3. Valsequillo de Gran Canaria agricultural market
A charming historic town amid the island’s eastern peaks, Valsequillo is famous for its bountiful harvests. Thanks to the region’s varied altitude, farmers here can cultivate everything from strawberries to livestock, and from bees to almonds. The Sunday morning market, just minutes from the historic centre of town, is one of the best places to sample this produce. Highlights include queso tierno (fresh soft cheese) and crumbly curado (cured) cheeses, made using goat’s and sheep’s milk and best sampled alongside the region’s much sought-after honey. Visit in April or May to experience Valsequillo’s famous strawberry festival, where over a tonne of strawberries are available to taste in a variety of forms.
One of the largest regular markets on the islands, Mercado de la Vega de San Mateo is extremely popular with tourists and locals alike. It's made up of two adjacent warehouses, one housing food and produce, the other crafts and clothing. On the agricultural side, visitors can spend the weekend shopping for plants and flowers (including the majestic birds of paradise) and sampling pastries such as truchas de batata (sweet potato pasties) and pan de huevo (light sweet bread often infused with aniseed). Sunday mornings tend to be busiest, as this is when the crafts market is also open, with stalls offering everything from clothing and jewellery to skincare products made using local aloe vera.
5. Villa de Santa Brigida agricultural and craft market
In stark contrast to the arid south of the island, the region of Santa Brigida in the north east is lusciously verdant. The weekend market here enjoys a more rustic atmosphere than others on the island, with locally produced wines, beers, jams, cheese and flowers filling the stalls. Canarian wine dates back centuries — even Shakespeare makes reference to it in Twelfth Night — and there are some standout wines being cultivated on the island. For a taste of some local tipples, head to Casa del Vino just by the market or consider planning an itinerary using the new Ruta del Vino (wine route). Look out for wines made with Malvasía, Negramoll and Listán grapes, among others.
6. Artenara agricultural market
Head up the winding mountain road to Gran Canaria’s highest village, Artenara, where striking volcanic landscapes provide the backdrop to a bustling market at the central Plaza de San Matías. Taking place every Saturday, this is the perfect place to bag a bargain on plants, seeds and fresh fruit. Try the bananas — they might be different to what you’re used to (the Canarian variety are usually smaller and sweeter than their counterparts from Africa or the Caribbean). And be sure to sample tuno, the Canarian prickly pear, while you’re here too. Once your bag is full, head through the nearby cave to the Mirador de Unamuno viewing point, where you can take in the famous Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga monoliths.
Many major airlines fly direct from the UK into the island’s only airport (LPA). There are also ferries from Cadíz and Huelva in mainland Spain to Las Palmas port. Local airline Binter flies between the islands, while ferries and high-speed catamarans are also available.
Once on the island, car hire is an efficient, inexpensive way to travel and you can easily curate a road trip that takes in a number of markets. Alternatively, buses (known here as guaguas) cover most of the island and are frequent and inexpensive. Find out more information at grancanaria.com