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The third largest but most developed of the seven islands in the Spanish-administered Canary archipelago, Gran Canaria has been billed as a miniature continent because of the variety of climates and landscapes that it offers, from the big city bustle of the capital, Las Palmas, to the serenity of its lush woodlands.
The Canary Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean, about 125 miles (200km) from the African coast and almost 800 miles (1,280km) from the closest European port of Cadiz. Gran Canaria is almost circular, with a diameter of about 32 miles (50km), and is characterised by deep ravines that radiate out from the centre down to the coast.
The north of the island is humid and lush, with green valleys and volcanic craters, while the south is arid and desert-like, with vast stretches of sandy beach. The interior of Gran Canaria has steep highlands dotted with small villages, sporting white houses with red roofs, banana plantations, and orchards bursting with tropical fruits.
Tourists generally favour the southern coastline, flocking to the well-known beaches of Playa del Inglés or Maspalomas, where the sea washes soft sands and empty dunes stretch for miles. The capital, Las Palmas, lies on the northeast tip of the island, between two long beaches, Las Caletas, and Alcaravaneras.
The Museo Canario boasts mummies and the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls. The permanent exhibition is devoted solely to the aboriginal population of Gran Canaria, who inhabited the islands from the second half of the first millennium BC up until the 15th century. It covers things such as religion and mythology, funerary practices, economic activity, and the organisation of society. The award-winning museum in Las Palmas houses the most complete and comprehensive archaeological collection in the Canary Islands and should be of great interest to anybody keen on archaeology, anthropology, and the ancient history of the Canary Islands. There is a room full of the skeletal remains of the ancients, which is spooky but fascinating.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have stayed for different periods in the Casa de Colon, in the historical quarter of Vegueta in Las Palmas. The house now serves as a museum displaying relics of early transatlantic voyages and pre-Columbian cultures, as well as acting as a cultural centre for the study of the Canary Island's relationship with the Americas. The building is a famous example of the architecture of the Canary Islands, and has heavy wooden balconies, patios, fountains, and some unusual ornamental features. It was once the residence of Las Palmas's early governors.
The delightful town of Arucas sits beneath a dormant volcano on the northern coast of Gran Canaria, and is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. The neat town is dominated by the majestic Church of San Juan Bautista, which local workers carved in stone. It is possible to take a short walk out of the town to the Montana de Arucas viewpoint for a panoramic look at the northern coastline. The town is scenically situated, surrounded by fields of corn and potatoes and banana plantations, and the Palmitos ravine provides some beautiful vistas. The stunning, UNESCO-listed Gran Canaria Biosphere Reserve is also easily accessible from Arucas.
A colourful and entertaining look at nature is presented at Palmitos Park, a botanical garden, zoo, and aquarium situated four miles (6km) inland from Arguineguin on the south coast. The park is a subtropical oasis containing thousands of birds, fish, animals, trees, plants, and particularly orchids. The orchid house is the largest in the Canary Islands and the range is astonishing. There is a cactus garden too, a huge butterfly house, and an aquarium featuring a recreated riverbed. Attractions include dolphin shows and a number of bird shows including displays by birds of prey, parrots, and exotic birds. Popular displays help fund the park's serious conservation programmes.
Aqualand is a must for all families visiting Gran Canaria, especially those with children. The wide range of slides, pools, and rides will keep the young and the young at heart happily entertained for hours. Those looking for an injection of adrenalin should try the wide array of thrill rides, while young children have their own water playground with fun mini slides and swings. There is a surf beach and a lazy river, which families can enjoy together, and there are plenty of benches and beach areas for relaxing and picnicking. Lockers and sun loungers cost a little extra, but visitors do get free bags to keep their towels and other belongings in. The park is clean and well maintained, generally receiving rave reviews from tourists.
Featuring a wide variety of activities, Holiday World is a fun park that caters specifically to families on holiday in Gran Canaria. Kids of all ages can enjoy rides such as bumper cars, a Ferris wheel, roller coasters, and a pirate ship, as well as games such as ten-pin bowling and things such as pony rides and a parrot show. There is a playground area for children too young to enjoy the rides. A range of restaurants and fast-food outlets are available and, after dark, there are some nighttime entertainment options, with frequent live shows and music concerts, an Irish pub, and some other drinking and dancing venues.
Gran Canaria definitely caters to children on holiday. With many fantastic family attractions, kids will have a great time exploring this island. There are a number of good beaches for kids, although families may prefer to seek out the sandy stretches instead of the dramatically beautiful black beaches, which can be a bit pebbly.
Visitors should take a day trip to Palmitos Park for an interesting day out with birds and orchids, or for thrills, Parque de los Cocodrilo is great for those with a love of predators, while the zoo on the other side is perfect for younger kids to explore. Playa del Ingles is brimming with kid's activities, with everything from amusement arcades and mini-golf to water parks and go-karting, children will find something to keep them entertained.
Another fun day out in Gran Canaria is a visit to Sioux City, which was built originally as a stage set for an American western film in 1972, but developed into a Wild West theme park complete with cowboys, Native Americans, Mexicans, and, of course, a sheriff. There are shows throughout the day, featuring bank robberies, saloon fights, cattle stampedes, rodeos, and gunfights at the OK Corral. Between shows visitors can enjoy a barbeque or taste the culinary delights of the Three Star Saloon.
While Gran Canaria has a wonderful climate throughout the year, the south of the island (where the major resorts are located) enjoys its own micro climate with generally better weather than other parts of the island, although the sea breeze can be quite bracing.
The mountainous regions inland are a bit colder and can experience frost or even snow. The average temperature is comfortable all year round, rarely dropping below 63°F (17°C) and often reaching 82°F (28°C) during the day. The peak summer months are June to August, but May and September are almost as hot.
The warmest month is August, when average temperatures range between 70°F and 80.8°F (21°C and 27°C). Winters are very mild along the coast, especially in the south. During the coldest month, January, average temperatures range between 58.5°F and 69.1°F (14.7°C and 20.6°C).
Rainfall in the summer months is almost non-existent, but showers are possible between October and April. Rainfall is unevenly distributed throughout the island, but the south is generally the driest and most sunny. The best time to travel to Gran Canaria is between May and September, but the island is a wonderful destination year round.
The nightlife in Gran Canaria is energetic and fun, with nightclubs, foam parties, karaoke, casinos, and cabarets dominating the party scene. Most of the nightlife on the island is centred round Playa del Ingles, and the Kasbah Centre here is brimming with pubs and clubs, such as the Hippodrome, Havana, and the iconic Pacha nightclubs, which are open until the early hours.
If travellers are looking for a gay party scene, they should head to the Yumbo centre. Entrance to most nightclubs is free but drinks and cocktails can be expensive. The capital city also has a great nightlife: Las Palmas' Plaza de Espana, in the Mesa y Lopez district, has pulsating clubs and bars that are open until very late, as well as live bands, jazz bars, pubs, discos, and a casino.
The Maspalomas Plaza is great if visitors are looking for a couple of relaxing pints in a bar, and Puerto Rico is one of Gran Canaria's hottest resorts after dark, with all-night clubbing and pubbing at places such as Disco Joker and Snoopy's Bar.
Playa del Cura is a fantastic location for a mellower evening out and, although there is a club in Puerto Morgan, most of the evening entertainment is distinctly low-key in comparison to its neighbouring resorts.
Gran Canaria has a wide range of shopping opportunities for visitors, and apart from the regular souvenir shops and tourist tat there is a fine choice of shops and boutiques in just about every town and resort. The Canary Islands enjoy duty-free shopping and Gran Canaria caters well to tourists. The Yumbo and Kasbah centres in Playa del Ingles and Centro Civicoin Puerto Rico are great for buying almost anything, while electrical shops, photographic equipment, and imitation designer wear stalls abound.
The Faro 2 Complex in Maspolamas is the place to go for designer boutiques, jewellery, perfumes and designer wear, while the 13-storey El Corte Ingles in Las Palmas is Spain's largest national department store and the Las Arenas Mall in Las Canteras is a favourite with tourists. Puerto Morgan's souvenir shops are more arty-crafty and sell less junk than the usual stores dotted around the island's resorts, but everything from fresh fruits and produce to clothing and football shirts can be picked up at the Friday morning market in town. Reputedly the largest street market in Gran Canaria, and a must for shopaholics, is in the south coast town of Arguineguin, held every Tuesday. Popular souvenirs and gifts include banana-leaf baskets, pottery, embroidered goods and felt hats.
Gran Canaria has a plethora of fantastic attractions that will appeal to all kinds of travellers. Tourists travel to Gran Canaria mainly to enjoy the resorts and beautiful beaches, but there is a lot to enjoy besides sun, sand, and sea.
Animal lovers should head to Palmitos Park, Reptilandia, and Parue de los Cocodrilo to engage with all sorts of creatures, while culture vultures should head to the Museo Canario in Las Palmas to admire the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls, or the Casa de Colon, a historic old house that is now a sort of maritime museum. For something completely different, visitors should head to Sioux City in San Agustín for a wild-west day out, while the town of Arucas remains a popular tourist attraction.
Getting around Gran Canaria to explore the varied landscapes and various towns and resorts is easy. There are plenty of cheap, metered taxis available in the resorts and towns. Grand Canaria also has reliable and efficient bus services that operate around the resorts and to all the main towns on the island; there is nowhere on the island that takes much longer than an hour to get to by bus. Local car rental companies have offices in all the main resorts for those who prefer to explore independently.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination
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