Gran Canaria holidays sock you with a double whammy of big-hitting beach resorts and poster-worthy scenery.
Upbeat beach towns
Playa del Ingles is a real ‘look-at-me’ kind of customer. The whole place was pieced together with holidaymakers in mind, so you’ll want for nothing. Shopping malls and bars keep the huge sandy beach company and, when the sun ducks out, it wins the prize for the island’s best nightlife. The capital, Las Palmas, brings a culture-stuffed old town and a bevy of bars to the table.
For everything it offers in the way of partying, Gran Canaria’s just as accomplished in the relaxation game. Peaceful resorts like Playa Taurito and Amadores have a go-slow vibe, and the hotel-clad hills of Puerto Rico slope down to beside-the-beach arcades and restaurants. Meloneras is arm’s length from the biggest theme park on the island, and traditional San Agustin lands you close to the spaghetti-like flumes of the Aqualand waterpark.
Green and gold filter
Switch to explorer mode, and you’ll see there’s more to this place than lounger-loaded beach resorts. A big chunk of the island’s been made a biosphere reserve, due to the unique plants and micro-climates that crop up in the centre. Its other natural calling card needs little introduction – the golden sand dunes of Maspalomas are something of a local celeb in the Canaries. At first glance, this nature reserve looks like a mini version of the Sahara Desert.
Things to See and Do in Gran Canaria
Every type of beach
If you’re looking for sand, sea and year-round sun, Gran Canaria ranks pretty highly. Size-wise, you’ve got swathes of sand that stretch for miles in resorts like Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas, as well as smaller bays like Puerto Rico Beach and Puerto Mogan Beach.
The big beach
The big cheese on the island in terms of beaches is Playa del Ingles. It’s a wide, three-kilometre strip of dark golden sand that runs along the south coast, eventually meeting up with the Sahara-like dunes at Maspalomas. Life is all about fun in the sun on this beach. You’ve got a head-spinning number of watersports to choose from, plus the sand is backed by a prom packed with cafés, bars and restaurants.
The secret beach
If you’d rather just share your stretch of sand with the seagulls, make tracks for Playa Guigui. Tucked away on the west coast of the island, it’s all dark sands and jagged volcanic cliffs. You can get here by boat from Puerto de las Nieves and Puerto de la Aldea, or you can don your walking boots for the 2-hour hike from the village of Tasartico. Apart from a small café, there’s nothing in the way of facilities here – the major activities are swimming, snoozing and sunbathing. And if you’ve walked down, you won’t be up for doing much more anyway.
Gran Canaria’s markets are a great place to pick up a bargain, and good buys include African carvings and leather. Puerto Mogan’s Friday market is arguably the best. An open-air job, it fills the two plazas by the marina. A close runner-up is the massive jumble sale at Maspalomas' Faro 2, running 8 'til 2 on Sundays. Souvenir shops are in every town, though, so you can pick up a few take-homes in smaller resorts like Bahia Feliz and Playa Taurito.
Make the most of the duty-free outlets while you’re here. They aren’t hard to come by. Playa del Ingles probably has the best selection, including the Metro Centre in the streets behind the beach. Puerto Rico’s Centro Civico is a good bet, too. You’d need a month here to get round it all.
If only the crème de la crème will do, or you just fancy upmarket window shopping, there are a few smart shopping hubs to head to. Plaza Maspalomas, in the resort of the same name, is designer-label heaven, as are the shops along Meloneras' prom.
Go-slow spots aren’t hard to find in Gran Canaria. The seafront in Playa Taurito, and Bahia Feliz's pretty town square are both good places for pavement cafes and low-key bars. The area around the lighthouse in Maspalomas, called Faro, has a lovely cluster of al fresco restaurants. And along with beachfront bars, there's often traditional jazz music on the bandstand in Puerto Mogan.
Playa del Ingles is the place for nightlife that carries on well into the next morning. The bars and clubs tend to be in the malls. There’s the Kasbah Centre where the young and beautiful meet, while the Plaza is dance central, pumping out all the latest hits. And a newcomer to the resort is the famous superclub, Pacha – you'll find it on Avenue Sargentos Provisionales.
Carne de cabra
This goat’s meat speciality is a pot of soul-warming satisfaction. It's a mouth-watering stew, served with potatoes and vegetables. A Canarian tradition, it’s been on local menus since the pre-Spanish era.
You’ll see these wrinkly-skinned potatoes on pretty much every menu. More often than not, you'll find them smothered in mojo sauce. The most common fixtures are mojo picon, made from peppers and chillies, and mojo verde, made from coriander.
You can’t go wrong with this typical Canarian pud. In a nutshell, it’s a delicious mix of flour, milk, butter, cinnamon, eggs, almonds and lemon zest. For a really special treat, top it with caramel sauce.
Granted, you might not be able to name any local wines off the top of your head, but that's because they're hidden treasures. In fact, Canarian wine has been exported since the 16th century. The best variety is said to be from the Bandamas region, so look out for the name on wine menus.
For a shot of something traditional, order a glass of mejunje. A local liqueur, it’s a mix of lemon, honey and rum. It’s tasty, but potent. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
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The hillside town of Amadores perches on Gran Canaria’s coast. And, if you’re looking for a laidback getaway, this is the place for you – it runs on R&R. You can plant your parasol on the Blue Flag beach, or lace up your trainers and take a leisurely clifftop stroll. Long, low-key evenings are on the cards in the waterfront bars and restaurants, too.
Maspalomas has an Ant and Dec-style double act going with neighbouring Playa del Ingles. It’s impossible to mention one without the other in the same breath, and together they’re major crowd-pleasers. Maspalomas cut its teeth in the family holiday game, and brings al fresco cafés and waterparks to the table. Historic sites like the Faro de Maspalomas lighthouse elbow their way in, too. Playa del Ingles, meanwhile, smashes the getaway essentials – a big beach, home-from-home cuisine and attention-seeking nightlife.
Meloneras is like an upmarket suburb of Gran Canaria’s southern heavyweights, Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles. It’s got the luxe hotels, the golf club and the smart prom, while the other two top it up with family-friendly facilities and razzle-dazzle nightlife.
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