Gran Canaria The Great Atlantic Escape
Our free days are a pleasant surprise on the calendar and the best way to get the most out of them is to board a plane bound for some fresh, entertaining and getatable destination. That spot is Gran Canaria, a whirlwind of sensations, halfway between Europe, Africa and America.
Gran Canaria is just a two-hour flight from the Iberian Peninsula. So, getting there is really easy. A comfortable trip with no stopovers will convey you to that diverse land which emerged millions of years ago from submerged volcanoes in the depths of the Atlantic.
One of the perks offered by a Gran Canaria getaway is, of course, the winter sun. Temperatures on the island remain a constant 24 degrees all year around, enabling you to make the most of any outing to Las Canteras, Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés or Puerto de Mogán, some of the best known and famous beaches.
The Gran Canaria seaboard is the perfect setting for letting off steam by engaging in watersports, but, if what you’re after is making forays into the island’s interior, you should make a point of visiting the towns of Teror, Agüimes, Tejeda and Artenara, or such stunning spots as the Guayadeque Gorge, an ancient pre-Hispanic settlement which nowadays is noted for its striking, cosy cave houses.
Any trip to Gran Canaria should include a visit to the island’s summit, a central area in the Biosphere Reserve where the Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga outcrops stand. Oh, and remember to get your camera ready. There, you will literally feel like you have arrived in heaven when the weather phenomenon known as the “sea of clouds” spreads out at your feet, as if you were the main subject in a painting set against the memorable scenery of steep mountains and deep gorges.
The north coast of Gran Canaria features some must-see sites such as Puerto de Las Nieves and the Valle de Agaete, a lush garden with tropical fruit housing the only coffee plantation in Europe. Gáldar awaits you with the majesty of the Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave), the largest native Canarian archaeological site, while Arucas, for its part, is the headquarters of Arehucas Rum, a peerless drink which has livened up the festivities of many generations of Canary Islanders.
Well worth visiting is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a carefree capital with a wealth of cultural activities. Its Vegueta district is the city’s historic centre and you are urged to venture into the monumental area to see close-up the Cathedral of Santa Ana, Museo Canario, Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno and Christopher Columbus House Museum, a beautiful enclave where the Genoese navigator stopped over on his way to discovering America and which highlights the relationship between the Canary Islands and the New World.
If you’re up for an intense day of shopping at more than reasonable prices, the Calle Mayor de Triana is the ideal spot for it. Large, national and international firms and prestigious brands have stores in this shopping area, and the latter is a pleasure on the eyes, as the district features picturesque buildings in various architectural styles.
Gran Canaria is a lively island, an urban travel destination where you can soak up the atmosphere of its street markets and craft stalls, as well as the various events held there during the year. The last quarter of 2016 will see such long-awaited events as the start of the ARC Transatlantic Race, the Underwater Photography Contest, the Bethlehem built of sand on Las Canteras beach or the Gran Canaria Walking Festival, a grand event for trekking enthusiasts which in this upcoming fifth edition will be including new routes and a night itinerary for star-gazing on the Cumbre de Tejeda.
All these offerings make Gran Canaria a unique destination for an exciting long weekend or warm autumn or winter holiday. Here, time flies by and the island has lots of travel plans to be savoured in advance.
Why wait to experience all this first-hand? Check out our flights here.
Images by Patronato Turismo Gran Canariamore info
Explosion of Colour at Carnival on Gran Canaria
With its five centuries of history, the Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a must-visit event for all enthusiasts of this festivity, when the streets in the capital of this fantastic Canary island are inundated with music, entertainment, colour, masks and other festival costumes. Its origins go back to the time of the island’s conquest, when its population included a large number of Genoese, who were instrumental in introducing the festivity – it is assumed to have been a highly italianised celebration during that period. The magnificent climate, the proximity of the beach and the friendly demeanour of the people meant that Carnival was here to stay. It has now grown into one of the most popular Carnival celebrations in the world.
Those of you wishing to experience for yourselves this year’s Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria should head for the island between 10 February and 5 March, when most of the scheduled activities take place during the lengthy festivity. The list of things to see and do is endless, but the crowning moments include the Gala de la Reina (the Queen’s Gala), the Carnaval al Sol (Carnival in the Sun), held at Las Canteras, the shortlisting and election of the Drag Queen at the Drag Queen Gala, the Traditional Carnival at Vegueta, the Carnaval de Día (Day Carnival) in Santa Catalina and the Cabalgata Infantil (Children’s Horse Parade). Spoiled for choice?
The nerve centre of Carnival is located in Santa Catalina Park, where the highlights of the festivities are staged. Local streets and establishments fill up with people dressed in striking costumes, ready to express themselves to the full.
Every year has a central theme for the festival, and this year it is The Eternal Spring, which is supposed to inspire the costume design of both locals and festival-goers from everywhere, all intent on coming to enjoy the Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Here, you would be hard pressed to see anyone not concealed behind a mask, wig or fancy dress of some kind – you have been warned.
Your Carnival experience will often be accompanied by the sound of murgas –similar to the chirigotas of Cádiz – with ensembles chanting songs set to satirical lyrics poking fun at the political and social status quo, in addition to comparsas or carnival troupes dancing to the beat of batucadas (percussion groups). Be sure to let yourself get carried away by the rhythm!
Any festivity worth its salt also has a culinary facet, and the Carnival of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is no exception. Be sure to taste the tortitas de carnaval (carnival flapjacks), sopas de miel(a bread pudding) and pan dulce (sweet bread), all designed to restore your energy after so much revelry and upheaval.
Time for a Breather
If you’re lucky enough to be able to spend so many days that you end up getting worn out from so much cavorting to the Carnival beat, fear not. Gran Canaria is an island laden with secluded spots where you can wander about far from the everyday bustle. You can take the opportunity to sunbathe and have a dip at Maspalomas beach, or that of El Inglés, marvel at the natural spectacle provided by the blowhole known as the Bufadero de la Garita, or head for Tejeda and its stunning lunar landscape, presided over by the formidable Roque Nublo.
Pick up your fancy dress and get ready to delight in the Carnival of Gran Canaria – book your Vueling here.
Text by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
Three Essential Spots on Gran Canaria
But, that is not all. There is also an endless array of places to visit and activities to engage in. Despite the myriad options, we have made a selection of the spots we feel you can’t afford to miss.
It is well known that Gran Canaria’s beaches are one of its major draws but, to leave it at that would be doing an injustice to an island that has practically unlimited potential. Following is a selection of three must-see sights – apart from the beaches, of course – for your next trip to the island. Our choice is based on several criteria, not just its touristic appeal. Here, then, is our ranking:
3) Painted Cave Museum and Archaeological Park
The Painted Cave Museum and Archaeological Park complex is one of the most stunning sites in Gran Canaria. It lies in the heart of Gáldar’s town centre (Calle Audiencia, 2), in the north of the island. The approach road is therefore the same one leading into the historic centre.
The Painted Cave was discovered in 1862 as a result of agricultural earthwork. The cave interior is huge, its walls richly decorated with all kinds of geometric symbols. The archaeological complex is currently made up of six caves carved out by the ancient dwellers of Gran Canaria, and remains of red ochre can still be seen adorning the walls and ceiling.
The various archaeological projects implemented around the Painted Cave in recent years revealed the presence of a terrace-built country home. The outworks connect the bottom of the gulley to the town’s historic centre, forming what was one of the quarters in the pre-Hispanic Agáldar settlement.
2) Teror Town Centre
The origins of Teror predate the island’s conquest by the Crown of Castile in the 15th century. Indeed, the place-name is derived from the indigenous word Aterura, Therore or Terori, the meaning of which is unknown.
The town’s history and development are closely linked to the Marian apparition of the Virgin of the Pine and the existence of a shrine dating from 1514. However, writings containing references to its station as a centre of pilgrimage do not emerge until two centuries after its foundation.
The “Villa Mariana de Teror” was designated an Art History Complex in 1979, turning it into one of the leading tourist destinations in the island’s interior. Folk traditions and beautiful, meticulously designed houses go hand-in-hand in the streets of Teror, noted for the views they afford of typical Canarian balconies.
A stroll through the historic centre of the town should start willy-nilly at the square of Nuestra Señora del Pino, alongside the church. You can get there quickly from the parking lot by crossing the square above it and heading down Calle Obispo Marquina. If you’re travelling by bus, it stops on the east side of the precinct, so you only need to continue along the Calle Real to the square at the end.
1) The Guayadeque Gorge
The Guayadeque Gorge lies between the towns of Agüimes and Ingenio, in the east of Gran Canaria. The area is of great environmental value and has a rich heritage, leading it to be designated a Natural Monument and an Asset of Cultural Interest – categorised as an “Archaeological Area” – a distinction granted it by the Canary Islands’ Law of Historical Heritage.
The road running through the gorge winds among spectacular cliffs awash with a large variety of pre-Hispanic archaeological deposits and sites, prominent among them being the settlement known as Bermeja Cave.
Housed there is the Guayadeque Gorge Information Centre, open every day except Monday, where you can find out about the archaeological sites in the area and glean a lot of other interesting information about this priceless spot. Visitors will also be able to learn more about the rich, natural fauna and flora in the gorge.
Towards the end of the road winding through the Guayadeque gorge you will come to a number of restaurants set in the rock face itself. The most popular of them is El Centro, comprising a cave complex that creates a unique setting for a restaurant. They offer an extensive menu with dishes representative of Canary Island cuisine, featuring such specialities as fried pork, mixed grill and barbecued pork.
Fancy discovering it for yourself? Check out our flights here.
Images by Patronato Turismo Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria A Paradise of Contrast on Two Wheels
Gran Canaria has become the favourite destination among cyclists in the last few years owing to the good climate on the island and the challenging routes it offers. The island has hosted professionals of the calibre of Alberto Contador, entire pro cycling teams such as Tinkoff, world champion triathletes like Daniela Ryf and Stöckli’s Swiss mountain bike racer, Jolanda Neff. But, the fact that it’s teeming with pros does not mean they have exclusive rights to the land – amateurs can also delight in touring it on two wheels. Here is what is special about this island, and my recommendations.
Advantages of Gran Canaria as a Cycling Destination
- Direct flights from most European airports.
- Good, tarred roads with little traffic, as well as cautious drivers accustomed to cyclists.
- The land elevation is almost 2,000 metres (1,949 m) in the Pico de las Nieves, considered to be one of Europe’s toughest mountain passes, together with Mortirolo, Angliru and Stelvio. However, here the advantage is that the temperature is much warmer than in Asturias or the Alps.
- Marked scenic contrasts, ranging from white sand dunes in Maspalomas to tropical parkland in the north of the island, to the oasis in the Fataga Gorge.
Accommodation. If you’re seeking tranquility and vegetation, the best option is to stay in the north. A good spot is the Bandama Golf Resort, which forms part of the oldest golf course in Spain, located in the Bandama Caldera with its noticeable volcanic presence. Nearby you will come across the vineyards of the Bodegón Vandama, offering delicious dishes well worth trying. And, if you require other services, as well as sun and long afternoons, the Barceló Margaritas in Maspalomas is a good choice, with the broadest culinary variety to be had in the hotel itself. Remember that, if you want to pedal, you’re going to have to rest and eat properly.
Essential routes and sights. The number of places you visit will depend partly on the length of your stay. Detailed descriptions and route times can be sourced at the Strava cycling community. Following are the key points, and a rundown of what to expect in terms of your level, to help you plan your itinerary.
Pico de las Nieves. This is the highest point on the island, situated in its centre. On a clear day you can pick out Mt Teide on Tenerife and Roque Nublo from there. Different access routes are available. The toughest route – which I would not recommend, unless you’re a seasoned climber – is the Ingenio por Cazadores, which reaches gradients of 23%. Next comes the ascent from Ayacata, which you get to from Maspalomas, while the easiest route is on the north side, via Cueva Grande. You need to take the climb leisurely. Once at the top, apart from some fine views, there is a food station where you can refuel.
Tejeda. A mountain village with excellent gastronomic offerings. If you’re planning a route on a non-competitive day, this is an ideal spot for stopping to enjoy some traditional island cuisine.
Three Big Dams (Soria, Las Niñas, Chira). It is surprising to come across so much water on the south of the island. All the dams are connected by district roads with virtually no traffic. If you’re after peace and quiet, this is a great route.
Maspalomas Dunes. For those who have never seen sand dunes, this is a must-visit destination, featuring dunes worthy of the Sahara. My advice is to go there at dusk, when the light is at its best.
Fataga Gorge. It starts just past the Degollada de las Yeguas, and the scenery ranges from a desert landscape to a “valley of a thousand palm trees”. Those who have been to Morocco will feel like they’re still in the Draa Valley.
Artenara. Located in the Tamadaba Nature Reserve, the vegetation here is different from the rest of the island, the prevailing species being the indigenous Canary Island pine.
Puerto de Mogán and Güi-Güi Beach. Puerto de Mogán is near the great dams route, while Güi-Güi beach can be reached on foot and is well worth visiting.
If the weather is still bleak and cold where you live, don’t think twice – get away to Gran Canaria and discover the island on two wheels. Book your ticket at Vueling.
Text by Raúl Casañasmore info