Gran Canaria – the white beaches of Maspalomas
Gran Canaria is something like the queen of the Canary Islands and probably spectacular in every respect. With large hotel complexes that satisfy everyone’s taste, with an excellent infrastructure and above all with the snow-white beaches of Maspalomas.
Here it is sometimes a bit louder and more turbulent than on some neighboring islands, but who says “yes” to life, is 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 favorite destination for vacationers who want to take a break under the southern sun. In the course of time, crowned and uncrowned heads, artists, industrialists or simply people like you and me came. 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 purchased a finca with a flourishing garden, fruit trees and vines. Frantz was an enthusiastic advertiser for the scenic beauty of Gran Canaria, and one day he 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 gain a lot from the silence of this island. He felt it as “sounding 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 the distance, where donkeys, goats and chickens walk 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 center 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 have been abandoned by all inhabitants.
An impression that is deceptive, because behind the gray walls life probably only takes a short siesta, and whoever buys fresh almonds or a delicious dessert called “Bienmesabe” in one of the small stores, will very quickly get into conversation with the villagers.
Over gravel roads to the top of the mountains
The coastal strip of the south alone is firmly in tourist hands on Gran Canaria. With hotel palaces of all categories, with numerous bed castles – but also with an excellent infrastructure. Life pulsates here and is thus quite different from that in 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, where the surf almost always piles up meters high. Like a star, the barrancos, the deep gorges, run from the coastal regions into the interior. Here the peaks of the mountains reach heights of up to two thousand meters. They are not the most sublime of the Canary archipelago but no less beautiful. To the mountains wind some gravel paths lined with prickly agaves.
If a fairy godmother shows you the way…
Gran Canaria presents itself from space like a shell in the ocean. The island is exactly 1,532 square kilometers in size, making it number three among the seven islands of the Canary Islands. Whom a good vacation fairy leads the way on Gran Canaria, will lead the tourists to sites that could not be more contrasting.
Here the wide beaches of Maspalomas, there the rocky coasts, then the lively metropolis of Las Palmas and finally the barren landscape at Roque Nuble, the “Cloud Rock”. It is the many faces that put their stamp on this island of spring and made it a center of attraction for tourists from all over the world.
There are many fine hotel addresses, such as the “Golf Bandama”, where more often the Spanish king 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, vegetables are ripening again
Gran Canaria, like La Palma and La Gomera, is abundantly blessed with ravines. 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 due to the constant lack of water.
But then, in the seventies of the last century, the largest reservoirs of Gran Canaria were created 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, vacationers 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 the reputation of being an island of hidden charms. At first glance and after landing at the airport near Las Palmas, the landscape appears barren and devoid of any idyll. But this soon changes. Either in the tourist centers of Playa de Inglés surrounded by green oases or in the solitude of the mountain regions.
If you need distance from the nightlife of mass tourism, you will also find a zone of silence after the shopping malls of Playa de Inglés in the neighborhood. In a quiet residential street with white villas and many shady palm trees there is a Protestant parish office, where the clergyman officiating there is often in demand as a conversation partner. Namely, when vacation 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, this is a kind of imitation of a desert with a view of the sea. If you look for a place to sunbathe in the sandy hills, you will feel far away from the hotel castles of San Agustin and Playa de Inglés, because this is the border between the hot air in the valleys and the cool Atlantic Ocean.
Maspalomas is one of the oldest places on the island – tourism has a long history here. And the dunes have been a feature of Gran Canaria for generations. This sandy stretch of beach is six kilometers long and two kilometers 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.
Migrating 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 has been created for nudists. 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 tourist development of Gran Canaria in the sixties and seventies of the last century temporarily got out of hand, the dunes were threatened in their existence by sewage problems. But then one remembered the importance of this area and put the wandering dunes of Maspalomas under protection.
Puerto de Mogàn – a touch of Venice
If you stroll through the small village of Puerto de Mogán in the southwest of Gran Canaria, you will inevitably feel transported to Venice. For many visitors, this village with its numerous canals is one of the most beautiful in the Canary Islands. Although you won’t find any singing gondoliers here, the romantic harbor and the numerous bridges exude a very special charm. F
rlier, 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 color, and several excursion boats depart from the harbor. With a ferry you can get from there to Arguineguin in an 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.
The fifteen exhibition halls and two courtyards of the former governor’s palace house, among other things, historical nautical charts and instruments. The museum is also dedicated to the history of Las Palmas and the island’s indigenous peoples, as well as the cultures of Amazonia, the Mayas and the Aztecs. The museum, which is well worth seeing, was given its present appearance in the 1950s.
A city as a mix of different cultures
On some days, Las Palmas sparkles with the joy of being. The metropolis with its wonderful beach, 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 district of Vegueta, Spanish and Caribbean sounds emanate from the bars and the proud Santa Ana Cathedral shines in the glistening light of the spotlights in the balmy hours of the evening. 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 the month of June, there is no doubt that you will enjoy the three kilometers of sandy beach in Las Palmas. Because then the islanders celebrate the founding day of their capital with a gigantic fireworks display. And some visitors then stay on the beach until sunrise and enjoy themselves with wine, song and dance.
The neighborhood behind Playa de las Canteras is called Guanarteme. Here, in the early evening hours, you will always find inhabitants after their work is done. 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 neighborhood.
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 harbor, a defiant castle with mighty walls cannot be overlooked – the Castillo de la Luz. This was one of the most important defenses of the Canary Islands for a long period of time, and it was from here that the Spanish fought 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 area. Many of them retreated to the north of the island in later years. They were hermits who dug into the soft tuff of the cliffs and lived in a total of 287 caves. The living caves were named after two monks and were discovered only in 1933.
The same is true for some storage chambers in the Angostura Valley. The area is of archaeological importance and is a protected monument because an old brickyard was excavated here. The Monumento Natural of Roque Nueblo attracts especially hikers, because the basalt boulders on the summit resemble a frog and a monk and are the landmarks of Gran Canaria.
Colorful cities and a pinch of culture
Whether you choose to stay in one of the huge hotel complexes not far from the dunes of Maspalomas or in a finca in the countryside, Gran Canaria, the “shell” in the sea, is always worth a visit. With its picturesque villages, colorful towns, first class restaurants and with more than 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.