Your vacation guide to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Mar 21, 2021

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With a solid plan out for COVID-19 vaccination in place, we can start — cautiously — planning some trips abroad. Where Americans can and can’t go is still an evolving situation, so book with caution and make sure to check all cancellation policies for your flights and hotels.

But even just at the planning stage, it’s great to get some inspiration. Here’s all you need to know should a jaunt to the diverse island of Gran Canaria be on your radar.

The third-largest of the Canary Islands, it has some distinct attractions that make it a very special place for a vacation. From Sahara-style sand dunes to the rushing waterfalls amid volcanic rocks to a thriving LGBTQ nightlife scene, there’s really something for everyone on this sunny Spanish island.

This guide will help you curate your trip in full, from tips on getting there and where to stay to advice on what to do, see and eat during your Gran Canaria vacation.

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Amadores Beach in Gran Canaria. (Photo by Alex Bramwell/Getty)

Getting there and around

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Airport (LPA) is located on the east side of the island, about 15 miles south of the capital, Las Palmas, and about 20 miles north of popular resort town in the south of the island, Maspalomas.

The island has to lot of offer in the way of exploring, so it’s best to rent a car upon landing for more flexibility. There are public buses and taxis, but car rental is generally affordable and driving around the island isn’t too complicated. If you plan to stay in one general area for the majority of your stay, such as Maspalomas, bicycle rental is also an option.

Where to stay

While the best weather and tourist-catering resorts are typically in the south, if you feel like hanging with the locals or more of a city vibe, you may want to consider staying in Las Palmas up north. Those with Marriott points can stay at the AC Hotel Gran Canaria Las Palmas — a Category 2 property. Slightly farther south, those wanting a more boutique feel should consider the affordable Hotel s. XVI, a building full of historic Canarian charm.

(Photo courtesy of Hotel s. XVI)

Hikers may also want to stay north to explore the greener parts of the island, such as the Doramas Rural Park and Tamadaba Natural Park. For a more rurval vibe, enjoy the mountainous scenery of the Parador de Cruz de Tejeda.

(Photo courtesy of Parador de Cruz de Tejeda)

Down south, you’ll find more sunshine and larger resorts, such as the African-inspired Lopesan Baobab Resort, which features seven different pools.

(Photo courtesy of Lopesan Costa Meloneras)

Nearby, another Lopesan property, the Costa Meloneras, features the massive Corralium Spa where both guests and visitors can experience a four-hour spa circuit, including a Himalayan salt room, a lava floating pool and an igloo room.

(Photo courtesy of the Radisson Blue Resort and Spa)

Fans of Radisson Blu have a few choices when it comes to hotels on the island, but we like the Radisson Blu Resort & Spa in Mogan, home to various pools and a large spa a short walk away from the coast.

What to do and see

Beaches

Gran Canaria has every style of beach a traveler could hope for. From windswept golden sand dunes to exotic volcanic sand and cliff-sandwiched sandy stretches, you’ll never get tired of visiting new beaches on this island

Dunes in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain. (Photo by donstock/Getty)

Here are some of the best:

  • For exotic desert sand dunes: Maspalomas dunes
  • For family-friendly, wind-free shallow waters: Playas de Puerto Rico, Mogan or Amadores
  • For a volcanic, lunar adventure: Playa del Ámbar
  • For black sands: Risco Beach
  • For a trek that ends in golden sands: Guigui Beach
  • For local vibes and snorkeling/diving: Sardina del Norte
  • For wild, rocky golden sands: El Confital
  • For a city beach: Las Canteras
  • For all the tourist amenities: Playa del Inglés
Las Canteras Beach in Gran Canaria. (Photo by Bruno Maccanti Pescador/Getty)

Couples will enjoy the peace and quiet of the cliffside path stroll from Playa de Puerto Rico to Playa de Amadores. Once in Amadores, the Amadores Beach Club is especially chic if you’d like to sample some Spanish cava while sunbathing. Meanwhile, both of these beaches, as well as Mogan are shallow and have chair rentals and other amenities that are good for families.

Adventure

Start with a visit to the Tamadaba Natural Park in the northwest. One of the park’s highlights is the Charco Azul. Although it translates to the Blue Puddle, it’s actually a rushing waterfall surrounded by rock reachable by a short hike. Make sure to visit the nearby cliffs of El Lomo.

Parque Natural Tamadaba on Gran Canaria. (Photo by Andrew Holt/Getty Images)

Another hiking option is the Nublo Rural Park, where you can see the famous Roque Nublo, a vertical rock formed by a volcanic eruption. Close by, you can spot other iconic rock formations like Roque del Fraile and La Rana. Experienced hikers can also trek one of the tallest points on the island, the Pico de las Nieves.

Sunset at Roque Nublo in Gran Canaria. (Photo by Maya Karkalicheva/Getty)

Beginner divers will see lots of marine life heading underwater near Mogan. This wind-free area often has ideal conditions for both snorkeling and diving. Experienced divers should head further north to Sardinia del Norte to brave the rougher waters.

Surfers can also be divided into two categories: experienced surfers should head to the northern coast near Las Palmas, where waves can reach up to 15 feet. Beginner surfers may have more success with the calmer southern waves around Maspalomas, which usually only reach up to five feet.

Nightlife

Although Covid-19 has temporarily halted nightlife, here’s hoping that Gran Canaria’s party scene returns in full force someday soon. The after-dark party scene on the island is concentrated in a few main areas: in the capital of Las Palmas, Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés and Meloneras.

You’ll have your pick of large nightclubs, bars and pubs, contemporary wine bars, lounges and cafes and LGBTQ spots as well. Although Carnival celebrations are suspended in 2021, they should likely return with gusto in 2022. The three-week extravaganza typically features over 40 different acts (musical, parades, galas, contents and more) as well as family-friendly daytime activities, too.

Family fun

This island is just as great for families as it is for couples, groups of friends and solo travelers. Some of the best beaches on the island are ideal for families with small children, and there are many activities perfect for groups, like dolphin- or whale-watching excursions, camel riding and spots such as Holiday World, Aqualand and Angry Birds Activity Park, all located in Maspalomas.

Kids enjoy the sand dunes in Maspalomas. (Photo by Nadezhda1906/Getty)

What to eat and drink

While you should definitely indulge in traditional Canarian cuisine on the island, such as wrinkly potatoes with special sauce Mojo and vieja, a type of parrotfish native to this island archipelago, there are also a few key spots you should visit.

Canarian wrinkled potatoes with Mojo sauces. (Photo by Ernesto r. Ageitos/Getty)

One of these is the Arehucas Rum Factory. Visit, tour and taste their specialty — honey-infused rum. Plan to take some home to share with family and friends. Another key spot on your tasting journey through the island should be Bodega Berrazales, where you can sample wine and coffee. In fact, it’s the only remaining coffee plantation left on the Canary Islands — and in all of Europe.

Omnivores, don’t forget to taste the Cerdo Negro Canario, the famed black pig. Although many restaurant menus may list this option, very few restaurants offer the real thing, which has to actually be certified by the government as a special pig with a special diet. Taste it at farm-to-table spot Restaurante Granja El Tío Isidro. Its cuisine is grown and cultivated right at the onsite farm.

Bottom line

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. (Photo by F.J. Jimenez/Getty)

Gran Canaria is truly ideal for any type of traveler. Whether you’d like to explore the gastronomic side of the island, hit all the best beaches or enjoy some outdoor activities like whale watching or hiking, the island has something for you.

And, if you aren’t quite sure if Gran Canaria ticks your boxes, check out these guides, which may help you choose another island right for you:

Feature image courtesy of Alberto J. Espiñeira Francés/Alesfra/Getty

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