One of Spain’s Canary Islands, an archipelago off northwestern Africa, Gran Canaria is the third-largest and second-most populous and a long-time favourite destination for the holidaying masses. Unlike its more raucous neighbour, Tenerife, Gran Canaria has a reputation for being more relaxed and family friendly with a diverse range of attractions from gorgeous white sand beaches to boutique shops and quaint little villages. Gran Canaria first appeared on the tourism radar as far back as the 19th century and has flourished ever since. With guaranteed year-round sunshine and fabulous beaches, it’s a great place to recharge the batteries and simply watch the world go by for a couple of indulgent weeks. If, like me, you like to mix things up a little, there are plenty of adventurous activities as well, from mountain biking in the rugged mountainous areas to windsurfing on clear, blue waters.
Maspalomas stole my heart during a week-long stay in the south as part of a longer trip to the island. It’s the antithesis of the resort next door, the big and brash Playa del Ingles, being laidback with a more upmarket vibe. You won’t find any high-rise buildings here, instead there are smart, smaller hotels and a wonderful coastline with wide, sandy beaches and invitingly bright blue water. The famous Maspalomas sand dunes are not to be missed. Yes, I know we have plenty of those in Oman, but traversing through these dunes, stretching on for 400 hectares, on foot or by camel with the sea glistening nearby is an experience to savour. Designated a national park in 1994, the dunes are protected as the island’s heritage as part of a 1,000 acre nature reserve, which includes El Oasis, a seawater lagoon bordered with palm trees. For fun, head to Aqualand Maspalomas (the biggest water park on the island) a few kilometres away or try out the largest golf course on Gran Canaria.
If you want to party, Gran Canaria can oblige with Playa del Ingles, brimming with purpose-built apartment complexes and hotels and big-name nightclubs. The morning after, you can relax on the white sand beach before the sun sets and the partying starts all over again. It also has some great duty-free designer shopping. Gran Canaria is blessed with 230km of coastline, with some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, all offering something different. I recommend hiring a car and discovering the island. Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria, boasts the district of Vegueta – the oldest quarter of the town, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1990 – and some of the best tapas on the island. Visit during the carnival period from January to March. Puerto Rico is great for watersports, from big-game fishing to sailing and diving. Take a boat trip along the coast as the sun starts to set.
It can get crazy busy during peak tourist times – the school holidays from June to August in particular. It’s best to avoid this time if you’re looking for a bit of peace and quiet. But with an average temperature of 24ºC and almost constant sunshine, Gran Canaria is on the holiday radar any time of the year.
The local pottery is made from volcanic ash and the best pots are sold in craft markets and during local festivals. Canarian women used to be famous for making lace, especially in the fishing villages, but the tradition has almost died out. Most of the lace sold in souvenir shops is now made abroad and shipped in, but you can still find some authentic lace work for sale in craft shops. Reed baskets, felt hats and leather pouches are also good buys.
Base yourself in one of the bigger resorts where you can enjoy five-star luxury, such as the adult-only Bohemia Suites & Spa in Playa del Ingles, or go boutique and exclusive. All-inclusive resorts are very popular and there are also plenty of good value self-catering apartments or villas.