Gran Canaria is a Land of mystery. Geographically part of a group of African islands, it has a long history of European colonialism and boasts incredible views that will make you feel you’re in Latin America – from volcanic rock surf reefs and desert sand-dune beaches to rustic mountainous midlands where time stands still.
With the evening sun casting shadows on the beautiful cactus-coated landscape, my first impression was that this haven for nature and traditional life, with its magnetic and mystical powers, invites exploration by the type of traveler who loves the journey as much as the destination.
Although we drove the steep and narrow road to our first dinner in a pre-Hispanic 2500-year-old cave in the Barranco de Guayadeque, I was fascinated to see the pro cyclists racing up the ‘Valley of Tears’ in training for the Tour de France. It seems like Gran Canaria is quite a haven for two-wheelers, as clearly shown by local Sunday motorcyclists, crisscrossing routes that were historically the footpaths of kings, enjoying the light traffic, perfect weather (average temperature is 25 degrees Celsius), and twisting roads.
As we continued driving along the winding roads, taking in the colors, we took short breaks in pretty villages such as Tejeda and Teror, a magical place where, legend has it, a virgin appeared on top of a pine tree in 1491. Teror’s market and village streets provide a perfect place from which to admire the colorful facades and typical engraved balconies made of Canarian pine wood (also known as Canary ebony).
At night, these remote places are incredibly dark, providing the best clear skies with no light pollution, so if you’re taking a family trip, I highly recommend joining a Star Gazing Tour to truly experience nature’s wide-open window to the skies and the island’s incredible mountains casting shadows in the light from the night sky and distant towns.
Following our itinerary en route back to the beaches of Maspalomas, where we stayed on our 5-day trip, we passed the NASA space station, the first place on earth to receive Neil Armstrong’s famous words from the moon in 1969: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
We stayed in Maspalomas at one of the island’s most famous tourist attractions, the great family-friendly hotel, the Lopesan Villa del Conde Resort & Thalasso. The 5-star resort is designed with traditional high ceilings and an inviting reception area in a Canarian neoclassical church style, with two main towers, a bell tower, and a central dome. Because of its unique design, guests walk through the gate and feel like they are in a typical Canary Island village. The rooms are laid out like a stately home connected by long (and at times confusing) corridors, and breakfast is served in the central square, on café tables circling a fountain, overlooked by balconies of typical and colorful Canarian façades in the same style as those in the villages you will see over the island.
The service and food were great, and the hotel is a short walk from the beachfront, where you can walk from the Lighthouse onto the Sahara-like sand dunes, hang out at the nudist beach, or if you’re lucky, and visit Gran Canaria at the right time of year, spot Pink pelicans who are not the only birds that flock to Maspalomas yearly.
Between the beaches of Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés, a group of seven chiringuitos, small beach bars, or kiosks are spread along the coast of this large part of the island. One of the most popular chiringuitos in the area is Kiosk No. 7, located on what is locally referred to as ‘the Gay Beach.’
My personal favorite was Las Palmas. For those in search of inspiring architecture and ‘instagrammable’ views, the island’s capital city has a vibrant business center and important shipping and cruise port, great surfing over volcanic reefs, fabulous tapas, or other dining al-fresco options, where you can while away the hours sipping wine and people watching on pretty squares.
And for those searching for excellent duty-free shopping, Gran Canaria has only 7% tax compared to 21% on the mainland. With relatively low-cost living, Gran Canaria, in general, and the capital Las Palmas in particular, are very popular with digital nomads and a favored remote work destination worldwide.
With an entrance fee of 1.5 Euro to the viewpoint from the top of the bell tower, the Cathedral of Santa Ana, the historical area’s focal point, has a striking neo-Gothic façade and will reward you with great frames of the old town, including the harbor and especially the colorful residential houses in the northern neighborhood of San Juan – mucho instagrammable.
I asked our guide about the colors, and she shared an old wives’ tale behind these multi-colored, geometrically rigid houses, which tells of fishermen who would paint their boats and then each of their homes in their personal hue, creating a kaleidoscope of saturated color. Consequentially, these Lego-like color blocks made their whereabouts more manageable for their wives.
Las Palmas is considered to have some of the best surf beaches in Europe, with the La Barra reef that runs parallel to the coast and creates a softer wave along three kilometers. This is undoubtedly one of the best urban beaches in Europe, with a promenade inviting you to do some people-watching or have a gourmet break. There are a couple of cool locations for remote work near the promenade, and in general, the island offers around 30 coworking spaces and several coliving places.
As a travel writer who also happens to be an interior designer, my experience would be incomplete had we missed out on the most luxurious icon, the Santa Catalina Hotel.
Walking up the steps with the Palm trees rising overhead and the soothing sound of running water calling me to the perfectly old-world styled furnished terraces, it felt as if time had stopped still 130 years ago when the hotel was originally built to satisfy the growing demand for a comfortable place to stay for those en route to Africa. I could enjoy this royal hideaway all afternoon, as this is one the most inviting, meticulously designed classical places to sit and sip an espresso or martini. And the rooftop bar is the best place in Las Palmas to watch the sunset – my favorite time of day.
The author was a guest of the local tourism board.