Travel Guide 2021
Gran Canaria – the white beaches of Maspalomas
Gran Canaria is something like the queen of the Canarian Islands and probably also spectacular in every respect. With big hotel complexes that satisfy everybody’s taste, with an excellent infrastructure and specially with the snow-white beaches of Maspalomas.
Here, it is sometimes a little louder and more turbulent than on some of the neighbouring islands, but those who say “yes” to life are exactly right here. And there are also a few quiet spots away from the tourist boom.
A jewel in the sea and dunes
Gran Canaria has always been a favourite destination for holidaymakers who want to take time out under the southern sun. Over the years, crowned and uncrowned heads, artists, industrialists or simply people like you and me have come here. They all spent some time relaxing on Gran Canaria, and one of those who fell in love with the big island on the doorstep of Africa was the pianist and conductor Justus Frantz.
On Monte León near Maspalomas he bought a finca with a flowering garden, fruit trees and vines. Frantz was an enthusiastic advertiser for the scenic beauty of Gran Canaria and one day even convinced the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. He was his guest there.
The “sounding silence” away from tourism
“This is a landscape like Bach’s organ music. Clearly structured and without any frills”. The musician from Germany could appreciate the silence of this island. He felt it to be a “resounding silence”, hardly thinking of the atmosphere that is characteristic of the tourist strongholds on this island.
Justus Frantz found his paradise, which he called “Casa de los musicos”, in the hinterland of Maspalomas. There, where there are a few green hills, where Monte León greets from afar, where donkeys, goats and chickens stroll around a pond and where it smells of the blossoms of oranges and mangos.
The mountain villages – the “other” part of the island
If you want to enjoy Gran Canaria with all your senses, you have to leave the paths of commerce and the streams of tourism. And he will find in the green interior of the island a nature that simply makes dumb. Even gifted couch potatoes will be fascinated by this landscape of Gran Canaria.
When they finally drive over the countless serpentines to San Bartolomé de Tirajana, the administrative centre of the southern part of the island, and park in the square in front of the church, they will feel the flair of the “other” part of this island. Often, the lonely mountain villages of Gran Canaria look as if they are abandoned by all inhabitants.
An impression that is deceiving, as behind the grey walls, life probably only has a short siesta, and those who buy some fresh almonds in one of the small shops or also a delicious sweet dish named “Bienmesabe” will very soon get into a conversation with the villagers.
Over gravel paths to the mountain tops
Only the coastal strip of the south of Gran Canaria is firmly in the hands of tourists. With hotel palaces of all categories, with numerous bed castles – but also with an excellent infrastructure. Here life pulsates and is so very different from the lonely villages in the interior of the island.
In the west, Gran Canaria is characterized by mountains that slope down to the sea in steep coasts and where the surf almost always piles up metres high. Like a star, the barrancos, the deep canyons, run from the coastal regions into the interior. Here the peaks of the mountains reach heights of up to two thousand metres. They are not the most sublime of the Canary archipelago but no less beautiful. Some gravel paths wind their way to the mountains, lined with prickly agaves.
If a fairy godmother shows you the way…
Gran Canaria looks like a shell in the ocean from space. The island is exactly 1,532 square kilometres in size, making it number three among the seven islands of the Canary Islands. Whom a good holiday fairy on Gran Canaria shows the way, will lead the tourists to places that could not be more contrasting.
Here the wide beaches of Maspalomas, there the rocky coasts, then the lively metropolis Las Palmas and finally the barren landscape at the Roque Nuble, the “Cloud Rock”. It is the many faces that put their stamp on this island of spring and made it an attraction for tourists from all over the world.
There are many fine hotel addresses, such as the “Golf Bandama”, where the Spanish king often tested his skills in putting on the green. Juan Carlos is still listed there as honorary president of the golf club.
Thanks to two reservoirs the vegetables are ripening again
Gran Canaria, like La Palma and La Gomera, is richly blessed with gorges. Probably the most beautiful and most frequented by hikers is the Barranco de Arguineguin. Once, this was a barren area where the Canarian farmers could only cultivate their fields with difficulty, as there was always a lack of water.
But then, in the seventies of the last century, the biggest reservoirs of Gran Canaria were built there. The Embalse de Sori and east of it the Embalse de Chira. Since then, in the villages of Cercado de Espino, La Filipina, El Barranquillo Andrés and Soria, vegetables are finally thriving again. In this area, holidaymakers can enjoy the somewhat rustic Canarian cuisine in several smaller restaurants. The roads to the valleys and to the mountains are everywhere well signposted and asphalted.
When sore souls ask for balm
Gran Canaria also has a reputation as an island of hidden charms. At first sight and after landing at the airport near Las Palmas, the landscape seems bare and without any idyll. But this soon changes. Either in the tourist centres of Playa de Inglés surrounded by green oases or in the solitude of the mountain regions.
Those who need some distance from the nightlife of the mass tourism will find after the shopping malls of Playa de Inglés in the neighbourhood also a zone of silence. In a quiet residential street with white villas and many shady palms, there is an evangelic parish office where the clergyman is often asked as a conversation partner. Namely, when holiday dreams are shattered or when sore souls ask for balm. This is also an aspect of this unusually versatile island.
Maspalomas and the fairy tale of the sand from the Sahara
The dimensions of the dunes of Maspalomas at the southern tip of Gran Canaria are almost legendary. For some people, this is a kind of imitation of a desert with a view to the sea. Those who look for a place to sunbathe in the sandy hills imagine to be far away from the hotel castles of San Agustin and Playa de Inglés, as this is the border between the hot air in the valleys and the cool Atlantic Ocean.
Maspalomas is one of the oldest places of the island – here, tourism looks back on a long history. And the dunes have been a feature of Gran Canaria for generations. This sandy stretch of beach is six kilometres long and two kilometres wide. For a long time, there was a myth that the fine white sand was blown over from the Sahara and that the dunes were created by a tsunami. In the meantime, it has been proven that this sand consists of the lime of shells and crushed corals. It formed dunes without equal.
Wandering dunes and a reserve for birds
In the central area of the dunes of Maspalomas, between the lighthouse and the beach of Playa de Inglés, an area for nudists has been created. Those who like it can also trudge through the Atlantic desert on the back of a camel. This sandy wonder of nature ends at a brackish water lake called “El Charco”, which has been designated as a nature reserve because migratory birds pass by here from time to time and then make a stop on their long journey.
When the touristic development of Gran Canaria got temporarily out of control in the sixties and seventies of the last century, the existence of the dunes was endangered by waste water problems. But then the importance of this area was recognized and the wandering dunes of Maspalomas were put under protection.
Puerto de Mogàn – a breath of Venice
Those who stroll through the small place Puerto de Mogán in the south west of Gran Canaria inevitably feel transported to Venice. For many visitors, this village with its numerous canals is one of the most beautiful of the Canarian Islands. Although you will not find any singing gondoliers here, the romantic harbour and the numerous bridges exude a very special charm. F
ruefully, the inhabitants of this place lived almost exclusively from fishing, but today tourism plays a much bigger role. The beach here is a golden brown colour, and several excursion boats leave from the harbour. With a ferry you can get from there to Arguineguin in one hour via Anfi and Puerto Rica.
Columbus had his ship repaired in Las Palmas
When the American explorer Christopher Columbus had to have his ship repaired on his way across the Atlantic in 1492, he anchored for some time in Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria. The Columbus Museum is now located where he spent the night.
In the fifteen exhibition halls and two courtyards of the former governor’s palace, among other things, historical sea charts and instruments are accommodated. The museum is also dedicated to the history of Las Palmas and the native inhabitants of the island as well as the cultures of Amazonia, the Mayas and the Aztecs. The museum got its present appearance in the fifties.
A city as a mix of different cultures
Las Palmas bubbles with the joy of existence on some days. The metropolis with its wonderful beach, the Playa de las Canteras, on its doorstep, with a beautiful promenade and numerous restaurants and cafes is a mix of different cultures.
In the old town quarter Vegueta Spanish and Caribbean sounds emanate from the bars and the proud cathedral Santa Ana shines in the warm hours of the evening in the glistening light of the spotlights. One of the most beautiful buildings in Las Palmas is the Gabinete Literario, built in neoclassical style, which has played an important role in the social and cultural life of the city since its foundation in 1844.
A gigantic fireworks display on St. John’s Day
If you are lucky enough to be in Gran Canaria on St. John’s Day in June, there is no doubt that you will enjoy the three kilometres of sandy beach in Las Palmas. Because then, the islanders celebrate the foundation day of their capital with a gigantic firework. And some visitors stay on the beach until sunrise and enjoy themselves with wine, song and dance.
The quarter behind the Playa de las Canteras is called Guanarteme. Here, in the early evening hours, there are always some inhabitants after having finished their work. The bars there are quaint, and the expansive counters under the dim light of the overhead lamps are often packed with red wine bottles and plastic flowers. When the sun has taken its leave on the horizon, singers with their guitars go from house to house in the neighbourhood.
A mighty fortress against pirates
Las Palmas can look back on an interesting history, for the city was founded as early as 1478 and was exactly fourteen years old when Christopher Columbus dropped anchor here. The medieval core of the metropolis has been preserved until today with the cathedral and with numerous town houses.
In the harbour, a defiant castle with mighty walls cannot be overlooked – the Castillo de la Luz. This was one of the most important defences of the Canary Islands for a long period of time, and it was from here that the Spanish fended off privateers, pirates and corsairs. Today, the castle is surrounded by a beautiful garden with many roses. Inside the complex there are exhibition rooms, which are used from time to time by visual artists.
The living caves of the monks in the tuff stone
Before Las Palmas was founded, monks already lived in the surroundings. Many of them retreated to the north of the island in later years. They were hermits who dug themselves into the soft tufa of the cliffs and lived in a total of 287 caves. The living caves were named after two monks and were only discovered in 1933.
The same is true for some pantries in the Angostura Valley. The area is of archaeological importance and is a protected monument because an old brickyard has been excavated here. The Monumento Natural of Roque Nueblo attracts hikers in particular, as the basalt boulders on the summit resemble a frog and a monk and are Gran Canaria’s landmarks.
Colourful towns and a touch of culture
No matter if one decides as a holiday maker for one of the huge hotel complexes not far from the dunes of Maspalomas or if one prefers to stay in a finca in the countryside: Gran Canaria, the “shell” in the sea, is always worth a visit. With its picturesque villages, colourful towns, first class restaurants and with more than just a touch of culture.
Sometimes a breeze from Africa brings hot days to the island, and then all the inhabitants and their guests remember that Gran Canaria is actually a piece of the continent next door.