It’s easy to turn a blind eye to what lies beyond the Gran Canaria coast. With golden beaches and azure skies, the sun on your face and breeze in your hair, 2.2 million tourists flock to Spain’s Canary Islands each year for the ultimate sand-in-your-toes experience.
But Gran Canaria holidays don’t have to be all about the beach. While tourists are sunbathing, swimming, sailing and snorkelling, the “real” Gran Canaria is just waiting to be discovered. Dubbed a “miniature continent” for the dramatic variation of landscape and terrain, real rewards await those able to tear themselves away from the mass beach-front tourism to explore this incredibly diverse island.
Here are the top things to do in Gran Canaria which do not involve the beach!
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Walk the cobblestone streets and discover narrow alleys filled with museums, tapas bars and restaurants. Explore Vegueta, the city’s historical district, with traditional Spanish buildings dating back 500 years, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990.
A highly fashionable city where shopping could be considered a sport, head to the shopping district of Triana for both designer brands and small souvenirs.
Dance throughout the night as the city “blends its cosmopolitan and urban atmosphere with fine weather and great music.”
Jardin Botanico Canario
Explore Spain’s largest botanical garden, featuring 27 acres of highly diverse plant species, and including a famed waterfall with shallow caves in the cliff face where large lizards bask in the sun.
Everyone heads to the beach of the same name, however be sure to explore Maspalomas Dunes. This enormous expanse of golden sand dunes next to the sea is absolutely spectacular at sunset and sunrise, and makes for incredibly memorable photos. For an even more memorable experience, visit the dunes on a camel!
Explore the Mountains
Rent a car for a few days and head out into the mountains. Totally rugged and wild, with spectacular scenery consisting of pine forests, canyons, and endless valleys, there is ample opportunity here for hiking, biking and horse trekking.
Take a short stroll up to Roque Nublo (Cloud Rock) or plan a lunch break at Cruz de Tejeda.
Hike the Gran Canaria Camino
The Camino de Santiago is a network of centuries-old pilgrim routes which stretch across Europe and come together at the tomb of St James (Santiago in Spanish). While the most popular route is the Camino Frances, stretching 780km from St Jean-Pied-du-Port in France to Santiago in Spain, there is a 75km path which crosses Gran Canaria from Maspalomas in the south to Santiago de los Cabelleros in the north.
Pack plenty of water – gorgeous scenery awaits!
With stunning historic buildings and a strong religious heritage, Teror is a place of pilgrimage for the residents of Gran Canaria. One of the most historic centres on the island, you can’t visit Teror without visiting the 16th century Basilica; stunning arches, columns and pilasters along with vivid stained glass depictions of the Mysteries of the Rosary. Other noteworthy religious buildings in Teror include the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Chapel Ermita de la Pena, and the la Ermita de San Isidro.
There are also a number of protected natural areas in Teror which offer spectacular scenery. Visit Pino Santon, La Finca de Osorio, la Caldera de Pino Santo and El Palmar or El Parque de Sintes.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
A 15 minute drive from Las Palmas lies the Caldera de Bandama – the volcanic crater made famous by 16th century Flemish merchant Daniel Van Damme. A half-hour journey will see you descend 200 metres to the bottom of the crater where lies volcanic ash, widespread vegetation, and even an abandoned farm.
Stunning views await visitors at the top of the crater, stretching as far as Las Palmas. Organize permission in advance through the official tourist board – guided walking tours are also available.
Live in the Stone Age
Artenara is full of archaeological sites allowing visitors to witness the way of life of the native Canary Islanders. Gran Canaria’s highest village, the native Islanders live in cave houses as a means of staying cool in summer and warm in winter.
Traditional caves are available for holiday rental, and there is even a cave restaurant; Restaurante El Miradoe de la Silla which requires a visit. Also not to be missed is the chapel Ermita de la Virgen de La Cuevita – an 18th century chapel dug into a cliff face not far from the town centre. The real draw of the area however is it’s natural surrounds.