The Eternal Spring Island
As pretty much similar to what we are doing from few years ago till today, travelling to the Spanish islands, especially to the Canaries is great during out of season months between October until beginning of March. It is almost guaranteed you can find a great flight deal, and this time was not different at all. With Gran Canaria, this is another island to tick off from the list, leaving just two more left to visit to complete them all (as of January 2018). But generally finding some further “impossible” to beat deals to at least the islands we’ve already been anytime during these months, it’s impossible to resist temptation. But be quick, such fares do not last long.
This was the third time in the island, and knew this was not a beach holiday at all, but an usual for what we tend do on a weekend trip, a short city break. Back in 2016 this was to the capital city Las Palmas and the nearby villages of the central-north part of the island. Two years later, the southern half of the island making the base in Maspalomas, while now a complete circle trip. But if you are looking for a beach break middle of winter elsewhere in Europe, this is your best option. Here in the Canaries you have a guaranteed weather of 24 degrees every day, while Gran Canaria seems to be the most favourable island in the world for its climate, hence its nickname “eternal spring”. It is common to see the New Year’s celebrations in the news how people is having a bath in the sea. However, sun is not completely guaranteed. This is a very green island too, and very mountainous therefore it’s good you know the northern half of the island is the rainy one, while the southern half is the sunnier one home to the famous resorts of Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles.
It is an unusual fact to discover majority of the tourists coming to the island do never visit beautiful Las Palmas. All they seem to know is Maspalomas, Mogan and nothing else. This were good news to us to be honest, and it applies in the same way to Palma in Mallorca. With millions of tourists coming yearly, it’s great to enjoy the big city without the hordes and instead having a more laid back feeling enjoying the life as the locals do. In the neighbouring islands of Lanzarote, Tenerife or Fuerteventura for example, this is not the case because are islands that people come to visit north to south, east to west for their unique volcanic landscapes.
Now, coming to Las Palmas. It is the largest city of the European Union lying outside the European continent. Founded by Juan Rejón on 24th of June 1478, with the name of “Real de Las Palmas”. This was just matter of few years until Spain would become the most powerful and largest empire the earth have known back in the days, with the Canary Islands playing a crucial part in the history on the colonisation of the New World.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the port of Las Palmas and spent some time on his first trip to the Americas. He would also stop here on his way back to Spain. In the city you can find the now known as Casa de Colon where he stayed, a museum dedicated to his live, the New World and the discoveries. It is also one of the oldest houses in the island, in a fine traditional architecture.
Original Las Palmas is centred in the historic quarters of Triana and Vegueta, completely surrounded on all sides (except the seaside of course) by the ever growing city. First it expanded north towards La Isleta, resulting in the longest beach in the city aligned by the most populated area, while to the south it retained a more traditional urbanism around the small hills. In Vegueta you have the founding city with its cathedral, and Triana is famous for the late 19th century art-nouveau buildings. Overall Las Palmas is a very beautiful city included in the UNESCO tentative list to be named a World Heritage Site.
Elsewhere in the island, the cities and villages are way smaller, very charming full of incredible architecture; plenty of natural parks, mountains and volcanic landscapes everywhere. Great beaches almost anywhere, and the huge resorts at the south, Maspalomas topping any list; and not just famous as the perfect holiday destination, but also for being one of the largest and most open-minded places in the world to cater the LGBT; and the massive sand dunes.
But with regards to nature, it is the major reason for coming (other than the beaches). The island is considered as a micro continent, and has recently gained a new UNESCO World Heritage Site listing: Risco Caido and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria, comprising a mixture of mountains and archaeological sites within the national park towards the northwest of the island.
For more information about Las Palmas check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Las Palmas
Las Palmas: There are several well defined districts in Las Palmas on an orientation north to south. Following this order, is best to split the city in 3, although some of this districts can be farther divided into separate neighbourhoods. Starting from the north in my guide you have:
- Las Isleta-Puerto District The very north of the city is marked by the small peninsula, mostly industrial areas farther beyond, the commercial port at the east and the main beach at the west.
-Castle Built from 1494 on the foundations of a wooden fort by Juan Rejon, the Castilian captain who conquered the island in 1478. It is one of the oldest structures in the city from its “newer” history.
-Las Canteras Beach The best in the city, and also the longest at over 3 km. The promenade parallel to it offers a huge selection of hotels, restaurants, bars and shopping.
- Centro District Where majority of people lives, a newer extension of the city following an orthogonal grid urbanism. Along its western side is Las Canteras Beach all the way, on the eastern side is the much smaller Alcaravaneras Beach and farther south the Leisure Port and main promenade. There’s really nothing around here for sightseeing.
- Old Town The incredibly beautiful historic core of Las Palmas is truly worth it, and it’s often overlooked by the tourists who directly head to the resorts in the southern regions of the island.
-Canalejas Neighbourhood In between the districts of Centro and Old Town. If you’re on a rental car it is best that you park around here to start your walking tour.
-Plaza Fuero Real and Plaza de la Feria These 2 garden squares, although not the prettiest, have around them the buildings of the Government of the Canary Islands which are nice pieces of architecture.
-Triana Historic Quarter Famous for its many art-nouveau buildings that were trend at the time of construction of this area in the late 19th century.
-San Telmo Park Right by the northern edge corner, opposite the Bus station. Don’t miss the old beautifully decorated modernist small coffee kiosk and the orchestra stand.
-Military Palace Headquarters of the small representative Spanish army in the island, easy to spot at the western side of the park.
-Calle Mayor de Triana The main pedestrian commercial thoroughfare north-south across the district. Many modernist buildings align the street and the nearby parallel and perpendicular ones as is Cano Street.
-House Museum of Perez Galdos In Cano Street, parallel to Calle Mayor.
-Alameda de Colon Square In Calle Bravo Murillo, the next parallel to the west of Cano Street.
-Statue of Colon In the middle of the square.
-St Francis of Assisi Church At the northern side of the square, it is one of the oldest in Las Palmas, from the 17th century.
-The Literary Cabinet Built in 1844, meeting place of writers and cultural figures ever since. Very opulent architecture and rich interiors.
-Perez Galdos Theatre At the opposite end from San Telmo Park in Calle Mayor de Triana, by the edge of Vegueta Quarter. The largest in the city.
-Vegueta Historic Quarter The oldest and most traditional in the capital, where every street is a sight in itself. Bearing the points I list below as important, don’t miss a walk through all the streets as it is truly worth it every corner.
-Vegueta Market At the other side of the road from the Perez Galdos Theatre, is good for handicrafts and local products.
-Guiniguada Theatre Another of the large theatre in the capital, on the same street as the House of Colon right in the historic centre.
-House of Colon Used to be the house of the governor of the island, claimed to be the one Colon used before and after his first voyage to the New World. Nowadays is the museum about the explorer, the conquest of the Canary Islands by the Crown of Castile, and the pre-columbine America.
-Santa Ana Square The landmark square in Vegueta, completely surrounded in traditional architecture.
-Cathedral of Santa Ana In Gothic style, you can get up to one of the towers that offers good views for 1.5 Euros.
-Episcopal Palace Easy to spot as the largest building in the square.
-City Hall At the opposite end from the Cathedral,
-Holy Spirit Square Right behind the City Hall, another space where to admire the traditional houses. The square leads to Castle Street.
-Santo Domingo Square The last of the squares in this quarter, three streets south from the Holy Spirit Square.
-Santo Domingo Church Occupying an entire side of the square.
What to see and do elsewhere in the island
Gran Canaria might be a small island, however there is an incredible large amount of great places to keep you busy an entire week (and even more if you plan to have a sun and beach holiday). Las Palmas can be a great base to explore the entire half north. Maspalomas or Playa del Ingles would be the best base to explore the southern half.
- Caldera de Badama At just 17km south from Las Palmas, it is one of the highest points in the island is at the rim of this ancient volcanic caldera, with a diameter of 1000 meters, and a depth of 200 on top of the already higher location coming to a total of 569 meters over the sea level.
- Roque Nublo The natural symbol of the island. This large rock defying gravity is the most visited place in Gran Canaria. Expect every tourist in the island eventually coming here (it is where we found people by the thousands around nearby). When driving towards Pico de las Nieves you will find the sign and the split on the road.
- Pico de las Nieves Approximately in the very centre of the island is the highest point above sea level. Very near Roque Nublo. There are viewing points along the road as you climb up, and a proper viewing platform at the very top from where you can see Tenerife and its Teide volcano in the distance.
- Teror At just 20 kilometres southwest from Las Palmas, it is one of the most neatly preserved old towns in the island, with many of its traditional white houses with their wooden balconies so popular form the islands, especially along Calle Real de la Plaza.
- Arucas 14 kilometres west from Las Palmas, this small village is famous for the production of rum and for its impressive neo-Gothic Church of San Juan Bautista. Built in 1909 entirely in Arucas stone by local master masons.
- Galdar Farther to the west almost by the northwestern-most point of the island is this little village home to the Painted Cave archaeological site and a complete pre-Hispanic village. The colourful houses along the main street is worth to see.
- Agaete On the northwestern coast, from the fishing port you can get a great picture of the mountains and cliffs farther along the coast right at the beginning of the Tamadaba Natural Park. If you follow the road south along the coast you will enjoy spectacular views. The small village is also home to the second largest ancient necropolis of the Canaries dating from the 8th to 10th centuries AD.
- Risco Caido Just east of the Tamabada Natural Park and Agaete, listed by the UNESCO in 2019 as a World Heritage Site due to the archaeological sites scattered around the mountains.
- Maspalomas At the south of the island is the largest resort, with countless hotels and thriving day and nightlife. It is famous for the large sand dunes where you can feel as if you were in the Sahara.
- Mogan Following the southern coast towards the west from Maspalomas you will reach another of the famous resorts, this time in a much smaller scale.
The international airport is 18 kilometres south of the city right along the coast, on the main motorway linking Las Palmas in the north with Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles resorts the lies barely 30 kilometres south from the airport. It is the largest of any of the Spanish islands, the 4th largest in Spain in passenger numbers, with runways long enough that can accommodate the NASA Space Shuttle. Being one of the most touristy island not only in Europe but in the world, the selection of direct flights available is great, especially within the European continent where almost every major city has a link to Gran Canaria. For farther intercontinental routes you will still need a connecting flight via Madrid or Barcelona (if on a Spanish carrier) or other cities elsewhere with other airlines/alliances.
Binter Canarias is an airline inter-insular and a fast way to reach any of the other islands within the archipelago (Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma or Fuerteventura). This is a good option if you want to get in between quicker than by ferry.
From the airport the bus number 60 takes you to the main bus station in San Telmo and the northern area by the harbour in around 30 minutes, with departures every 30 minutes. The fare is 2.30 Euros to San Telmo and 2.95 Euros to Santa Catalina (near harbour). Buses towards the south of the island are plenty, with approximately 45 minutes trip to Maspalomas, and a bit longer to Playa del Ingles.
Coming by boat is as normal as coming by plane. Gran Canaria is a major stop-over for cruising ships, and so is a very busy port with ferries to all the other islands in the archipelago and ports in southern mainland Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Speedboats, although slower than a very short flight, are more enjoyable if you have the time, and are also good economic-wise talking.
Within La Palma capital, although it is a large city, everything around the historic quarter is an easy walk from side to side and mostly enjoyable walking, not needing to take any public transportation. However and depending on where you would like to go, distances can be big, like for example Las Canteras Beach which is over 3km long, or the old town itself between the districts of Triana and Vegueta, 7 km south of La Isleta and Puerto de la Luz districts which are the other areas worth the visit. There is a good network of public buses going everywhere you could possibly need to get, especially along the north-south promenade. All city buses (except the airport route) have an unique fare of 1.30 Euros.
Hotels in Gran Canaria do not come cheap, any time of the year. But especially in three seasons: Easter, Summer months and Christmas/beginning of January period. The good news is the vast choice you have of any king, so if you are up for a hostel-like then of course it will be cheap. However talking about proper hotels it is a different story. In the north of the island there are not that many large resorts, in the other hand the other half south of the island is your best bet if you are looking for your sun and beach break. All the big names in top resorts are in the island, some of them with impressive facilities. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms, Ebookers or TUI.
In the most recent trip we stayed at the Barcelo Occidental Margaritas in Avenida de Gran Canaria, 40, Playa del Ingles (Maspalomas). One of the large resorts in the south with lots of facilities and space, and great pools. At the time where it’s high demand of hotels in the island, this did not come cheap, although surprisingly it was one of the best deals we could find. Still I managed to use some membership discount from hotels.com to offset the total cost and it came to a fantastic choice. Half board, the dinner and breakfast was huge, and so was the bedroom, very comfortable and very well cared everywhere. Nice and friendly staff, not far from the beach (they do provide a free shuttle there anyway), and walking distance to plenty of shopping, restaurants and discos; definitely highly recommend to anyone.
In the trip back in November 2016 where our aim was to visit the northern half of the island, we stayed at THe Fataga, a 4* property in Calle Nestor de la Torre 21 in the district of Centro near La Isleta. From location this was great as the hotel is right in the middle of the commercial and business area of Las Palmas, walking distance from the beaches and port and the main bus terminal. In the other hand be aware you are 8 kilometres away from the old town (Cathedral) so you will need to take public buses to move around unless you are having a rental car. The city is quite long, so after all, it does not matter if you are having a hotel in the north or the south of the city, both ends where the sights are will require some transport in between. For us it was a great decision. It was very convenient in every sense, the staff very friendly, helpful and of course multi-lingual. The room was large, with a very comfortable bed and quiet at night (very important); and something funny, every room has a static bike. Perhaps a bit dated in some areas but well taken care. The breakfast, which was included in the night rate (very rare as none of the other hotels offered this) was nice with a good selection, so we were very happy with the choice over all and will strongly recommend to anyone.
Half north of the island
Half south of the island