Gran Canaria holidaysThe sample prices are per person based on two people travelling!
GRAN CANARIA HOLIDAYSSpain
Gran Canaria’s official language is Spanish, although most inhabitants speak Canario, a local Spanish dialect. In the main tourist zone of Maspalomas, English and German are commonly spoken by those working in the tourist industry.
The currency on the island is the euro, and banks are easily found in the tourist zone, as are ATMs. Credit and debit cards are accepted in the cities and currency exchange is available via banks, licensed tourist offices, currency exchange booths and hotels, although the latter offer the worst rates.
Citizens of European Union countries, including the UK, can enter visa-free by presenting a passport, or in some cases just an ID card. Nationals of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also allowed visa-free entry for stays of up to 90 days. Citizens of other countries should check visa requirements with their nearest Spanish embassy prior to travel.
Gran Canaria is known for its variety of micro-climates, but is famous for its hot summers and warm winters. Overall, average daytime summer highs around the coastline hover around 26°C and drop to a pleasant 20°C in winter, a boon for visitors from colder northern climes. In the interior, temperatures are still mind, although in the mountainous region, occasional snow or frost occurs. It’s quite possible to walk in the snow in the morning and bake on the beach in the hot sun in the afternoon.
Gran Canaria has one airport, located on a bay 19kms from the island’s largest town, Las Palmas. Known as Gran Canaria Airport or Las Palmas Airport, it’s the fifth busiest airport in Spain, handing over 10 million passengers every year, mainly in the summer months. Air links are offered to major European cities by a raft of low-cost and charter airlines.
The main carrier for flights from the UK is Ryanair, offering routes from London-Luton and London-Stansted, Edinburgh, East Midlands, Glasgow, Bristol, Birmingham and Glasgow-Prestwick. Monarch flies from Birmingham and Manchester, and easyJet offers a flight from London-Gatwick. Full-service carrier Aer Lingus flies from Dublin and Jet2 covers Leeds-Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle. Thomas Cook and Thomson Airways offer holiday charter flights from most UK destinations including Exeter, Cardiff and Bournemouth. Flight times from the UK to the island average at just over 4 hours.
Flight and accommodation charges are at their highest in July and August, coincidental with UK school summer holidays, although last-minute bargains can still be had through charter holiday companies. Shoulder and low season are the best times for a budget trip, and the off-season weather is an encouragement for those needing a break. Transportation from the airport to places all over the island is straightforward via bus, taxi or self-drive.
Travelling overland from London to Gran Canaria is more expensive than flying, but gives the bonus of endless miles of French and Spanish countryside, ending in a ferry trip. The first leg is by Eurostar to Paris, picking up the sleeper train to Madrid at Paris d’Austerlitz Station. From Madrid’s Atocha Station, it’s a four-hour journey to Cadiz in Andalusia. Ferries leave from here for Las Palmas at frequent intervals during summer but less frequently in winter, with the total trip taking two days.
Travel around the island is by hire car on good roads, well-organised and cheap buses or by taxi. As yet, the island has no train services, although plans for a rail line have been in the pipeline for several years. The island has a number of motorways, while smaller roads extend to most areas.
Two bus companies operate on the island, with one, Guaguas Municipales, providing routes around Las Palmas and its suburbs, and the other, Global SU, offering comprehensive connecting routes across the rest of the island. Fares are cheap and the buses, known as guaguas, are modern and comfortable, if occasionally infrequent. Global SU also offers an open-top city tour of Las Palmas for visitors.
Car hire companies, both local and international, are found in all the tourist destinations and the island has a network of fast roads branching out from the main GC1 motorway around Las Palmas. The GC2 and GC31 roads are of motorway standard, and the GC4 and GC5 are dual carriageways. Other roads are generally single carriageway, but are well-maintained, although the mountain roads require careful driving.
For a relatively small island, Gran Canaria has an impressive list of things to do while on holiday, provided visitors can tear themselves away from the stunning beaches and their water sports. The buzzing tourist resorts all have charms of their own and the natural beauty of the island and its unique eco-systems have led to much of the land being designated as a protected bio-reserve by UNESCO.
Given its long history, it’s no surprise that Las Palmas, the island’s capital, has a number of impressive landmarks, interesting museums, a stunning cathedral and picturesque old quarter, and Playa de las Canteras, the 2.5-mile beach which is the city’s symbol. Everything from surfing to sunbathing keeps visitors busy during the day, and the nightlife around Parque Santa Catalina keeps going until late.
Aguimes Old Town is a picturesque reminder of earlier times on the island, with pretty painted houses set in well-preserved medieval streets and a fine neoclassical basilica in the main square. The town is famous for its international theatre Festival du Sur, which attracts companies from Europe, Africa and the Americas.
For a day out having fun, Gran Canaria offers a selection of theme parks and water parks which are perfect for family visits. Maspalomas holds most of the attractions, including Aqualand, Holiday World, Aqua Sur, Sioux City and Palmitos Park, and San Nicolas de Tolentino is home to Cactualdea Park. Crocodile Park in Aguimes is an all-time favourite.
Playa des Ingles is another popular visitor destination, with July and August given over to the 18-30s set arriving for the vibrant nightlife. The huge resort boasts a casino complete with Las Vegas-style entertainment as well as a great choice of dance clubs, pubs, bars and eateries. For upscale delights, Meloneras district is the place to go.
One of the most visited natural wonders on the island is the nature reserve of the Dunes of Maspalomas, raised over hundreds of years with sand blown from the Sahara Desert. This mini-desert is fronted by the ocean and its peaks and troughs change daily with the wind. Maspalomas itself is a hive of luxury hotels and resorts.
Gran Canaria’s volcanic scenery tells of the island’s fiery formation, with remnants in the form of the vast calderas of Tirajana and Tejeda, Bandama’s crater and volcanic cones, and other hot spots scattered across the landscape. The weird moonscapes make for great hiking and eco-tourist destinations.
The amazing geological diversity of Gran Canaria is now preserved and protected as a UNESCO bio reserve covering over 40 per cent of the island, and is its most famous feature. Six traditional rural communities live within its borders, and the region is home to many unique species of flora and fauna, as well as diverse bird species. The coastline is a magical land of contrasts and the reserve extends far out into the ocean, protecting the delicate marine life.
El Museo Canaria is the island’s fascinating museum, displaying a fine collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts dating between 500 BC and the 16th century. Set in an attractive old building, the museum was founded in 1879 to preserve the indigenous culture of the island. Highlights include images of pagan gods, jewellery, tools, pottery, skulls and skeletons, and mummies related to the Guanche peoples, the aboriginal occupants of the island before the Spanish arrived.
The Casa de Colon in Vegueta is the most famous historic building on Gran Canaria for its links with Christopher Columbus, who visited the island in 1492. Once part of the original Spanish Governor’s residence, the mansion is set in a tiny square and surrounded by charming smaller homes.
The many years as a popular holiday destination have developed Gran Canaria into a multi-choice visitor hub, with entertainment to suit all tastes set in the main southern tourist resort towns. The most popular choice for young visitors looking for lively nightlife is Playa des Ingles, with its 50 discos and dance clubs, as well as a great selection of bars and pubs. The fun goes on all year round here, with Playa des Ingles famous as a winter playground for Europe’s gay community.
Las Palmas beats its own nightlife drum, with its centre packed with a good choice of bars, pubs, discos, hot floor shows and other entertainment options. The scene starts around 22:00 and ends in bars at 02:00, with clubs and discos partying on until 06:00. The hottest night spots are near Plaza de Espana, set in Mesa y Lopez district. Las Palmas’ entertainment malls are fun, with small nightclubs, eateries, bars and cinemas showing the latest movies.
The smaller beach resort of Puerto Rico is no less lively after dark than its larger rivals, with the clubs here opening around midnight and the bars open all day until late. Sports and British TV bars are popular here, and once the game’s over or the soaps have finished, DJs take over so that punters can dance until they drop. For a quieter evening, the bars around the old harbour are good for local wines, beers, conversation and people-watching.
For upscale, sophisticated nightlife in luxury resorts and hotels, Maspalomas is the place. Dressing to the nines for the see and be seen culture is the norm in this tourist town set adjacent to riotous Playa des Ingles. If you’re allergic to all-night noise, Arguineguin is a rurally-located, small resort with harbourside bars and eateries offering lots of choice of food and drink.
Canarian cuisine reflects both its ancient Guanche origins and the influence of Spain, with a touch of South America for good measure. Fresh, locally-grown vegetables, meats and seafood, and the staple, gofio, a finely stone-ground mix of barley, wheat and maize, form the basis of most local dishes, with meats usually served in stews.
Local restaurants often own their own fishing boats, which go out early each morning for the day’s catch of lobsters, crab and various fish, thus making sure their offerings are as fresh and as delicious as possible. Olive oil is as important here as in Mediterranean resorts, and many dishes are served with piquant sauces that are rich in flavour. Recipes using sardines are a speciality along the northern coast.
Gran Canaria’s many resort towns offer a wide selection of international foods including British and Scandinavian favourites. Asian restaurants serving Indian, Thai, Japanese and Chinese food are easily found, and fast food outlets are common. Serving tapas (called enyesques here) before a main meal is a tradition here, as it is in mainland Spain, and Spanish wines and beers are offered in all eateries.
The best way to source authentic Canarian food is by watching out for restaurants with local customers. As with all tourist destinations, the culinary gems may well be located outside the main tourism areas and away from the picturesque harbours, but are well-worth the search. If you’re keen on Spanish food in general, there are eateries all over the island serving regional specialities from the mainland.
Beaches are Gran Canaria’s best selling point as a holiday destination, and there are plenty of types to choose from. Topless sunbathing and nude bathing are almost the norm here, with locals as well as tourists taking advantage of the sunshine to get an all-over tan. Maspalomas, Amadores, Puerto Rico, Mogan, Taorito and Playa del Ingles have the largest, most commercial and most popular beaches, but there are plenty of quieter strands and pretty bays to choose from if crowds aren’t your thing.
The noisy nightlife-oriented tourism hubs on Gran Canaria aren’t the most romantic settings on earth, but there are plenty of places in the less-visited northern region which fit the bill exactly. A get-away-from-it-all option is to book a villa with a pool in a rural area, hire a car and drive to the beach. In the south, Puerto Mogan is a picturesque fishing village surrounded by mountains and with a marina, a cute harbour and streets with traditional cottages.
Most Gran Canaria hotels and resorts welcome children and go to great lengths to make sure they enjoy their stay. Many beachside properties have dedicated facilities for kids, from supervised play areas and children’s pools to organised activities, kids’ entertainment and special menus. Given the number of theme parks, water parks and other family-friendly attractions in Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles, these resorts are the best bets for a family break.
Gran Canaria is the perfect destination for an outdoor activity holiday, whether the activity is in the water or on land. It’s known for its year-round surfing, while Playa de El Cabron Marine Reserve has the best dive spots on the island. Mountain and road biking, horseback riding in the interior, sport fishing in the rivers or deep sea fishing in the ocean, as well as hiking or trekking through the biosphere reserve and protected parks are all guaranteed to please.