Keen travelers, Liz and her husband have been to the Canary Islands 5 times. Their last visit to North Gran Canaria created great memories.
The Canary Islands are a popular year-round holiday destination for many northern Europeans. Sunseekers are attracted by the warm climate. Keen to escape cold winters, many fly 700 miles southwest of Spain to this group of Spanish islands in the Atlantic Ocean. With the coast of Morocco 60 miles away at its nearest point, the Canaries are closer to Africa than mainland Europe
Although not the biggest island in the archipelago, Gran Canaria, located in the middle, boasts one of the two capitals in Las Palmas (Santa Cruz de Tenerife being the other). The province of Las Palmas covers Gran Canaria and the islands to the east.
Most tourists head south to the beach resorts that, even in the winter can still see temperatures averaging around 20 degrees C. Among the most popular are Playa del Ingles, Maspalomas, and Puerto Rico. Like many, we have enjoyed the warm temperatures in January and February, far removed from the cold and damp in the UK.
North Gran Canaria
Intrigued by the comments in guidebooks about lush green scenery and interesting places to visit, we were tempted to visit the north of the island. But, in the winter, the sun and higher temperatures drew us, like a magnet, to the southern beaches. As if to confirm our decision, each time we headed north to the airport, the skies clouded over and it started to drizzle.
Most of the rain falls in the north, hence the greenery. Trade winds can bring in a sea of clouds (mar de nubes). So we concluded that any exploration of north Gran Canaria was probably best done in the summer months. Our visit took place in June/July.
We still found time for relaxation on an excellent beach in the north, but read on to find out what else we discovered as we explored the area.
Our Top Ten Places to Visit in North Gran Canaria
- Las Palmas
- Playa de las Canteras
- Jardin Botanico Canario
- Rum Factory
- El Jardin de la Marquesa
- Puerto de las Nieves
- Natural Pools
- Finca La Laja
Information about transport and suggestions of where to stay are included at the end.
1. Las Palmas
Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria and joint capital (with Santa Cruz de Tenerife) of the Canaries, is the biggest city in the archipelago. It stretches 9 miles along the northeast tip of Gran Canaria and its port is one of the busiest in Spain.
The first settlement was established here by Juan Rejon in 1478. But it was the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the growth in maritime trade that sparked the growth of the city on this site.
Tours of Las Palmas tend to start in the oldest part of the city, Vegueta, where there are several places of interest.
Plaza de Santa Ana
The cathedral, which gives its name to and dominates Plaza de Santa Ana, faces the facade of the Old Town Hall at the other end. The bronze-effect statues of dogs are much photographed in this palm-lined square. Over the years there has been a debate as to where the name for the Canary Islands came from. One theory is that it is related to the existence of dogs on the islands. Hence the statues. Another theory suggests that a tribe called Canarii lived here. Whatever the truth, the dog statues have become a symbol of the city.
Catedral de Santa Ana
The twin bell towers of the cathedral are Las Palmas' most recognizable landmark. They also make a great vantage point to view the city. For a nominal fee of 1.50 euros, you can take the elevator up to a walkway between the towers, with the option of further steps to climb higher in the tower.
The cathedral was begun in 1497, 14 years after the Spanish conquest. It was a work in progress until the 19th Century and therefore comprises a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical styles.
For a fee of 3 Euros, visitors can enter the Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro, a collection of religious art going back to the 16th Century. The museum overlooks Patio de los Naranjos, a 17th Century courtyard, overlooked by typical Canarian carved wood balconies.
Visitors to the cathedral are struck by the Gothic ceiling. The piers are imitation palm trees. There are 11 chapels, which flank the main body of the building. A 20th Century image of Santa Ana is by the altar, which has Baroque paintings by a Canarian artist on either side.
Casa Museo de Colon
Originally the site of the governor's residence, it is thought that Christopher Columbus stayed in the building on this site in 1492 before he set off on his exploration, which resulted in the discovery of America. Located within a 2-minute walk west and slightly north of the cathedral, this museum focuses on the discovery of America.
Parts of the facade date from the 15th Century. The rest of the building bears little resemblance to the original, but in its typical Canarian style around courtyards, has a charm and attraction of its own.
Highlights of the museum include a reproduction of Columbus's ship', 'La Nina', maps tracing his 4 journeys across the Atlantic, a reproduction of his diary open at the page where he records his arrival in the Canaries, as well as nautical maps, navigation aids and the trade that followed the discoveries.
There are also models and maps of Gran Canaria and Las Palmas as well as a collection of 16th-20th Century paintings.
Located on Plaza de Cairasco, around a 7-minute walk to the Northwest of Casa Museo de Colon, this former first theatre of Las Palmas has an eye-catching Modernist facade. Now a cultural center, it is well worth trying to take a look inside to appreciate the splendor of its Renaissance style. Concerts, exhibitions, and conferences take place here. Check the website to see what's on, or, like us, try walking in for a quick look.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Guanche history on the island, Museo Canario has the biggest collection of Guanche artifacts and gives an interesting insight into early Canarian history. Located just a 2-minute walk southwest of the cathedral, it fits in well with a tour of the historic area of Vegueta.
It is impossible to fit everything into a city sightseeing tour and this is one that is on our list for a return visit to central Las Palmas.
Las Palmas Center
The bronze sculptures in this park caught our eye as we traveled past, so we decided to investigate further. The park, located just under 1.5 miles northwest of Gabinete Literario, on Calle Leon y Castillo, is named after the last Guanche king of Eastern Gran Canaria. The sculpture commemorates the events in 1481, on Montana de Arucas, when Doramas challenged the Spaniards to single combat. He killed his opponent with a javelin throw but was fatally wounded. The Spanish soon overwhelmed the Guanches in this final act of resistance. Many followers of Doramas threw themselves off the cliffs.
Our curiosity was well rewarded. Originally designated as a zoo, this delightful park has much to offer with its interesting water features and well-laid out gardens. It is a tranquil, shaded oasis away from the city. As you work your way up the park, continue over the road that runs across the top to view a cascading water feature. The statue is of Fernando Leon y Castillo, a favorite son of Gran Canaria and Spanish statesman, who was responsible for several developments on the island.
The location of the Canaries in the Atlantic makes them an ideal base for leisure craft. A few hundred-yard walk northeast of Parque Doramas brings you to the marina, packed with boats, with the larger port in the distance.
Playa de Las Alcaravaneras
This beach is located north of the marina in Las Palmas. As city beaches go, it is not the most scenic, located near the large port, which might put swimmers off. Locals come here to practice aquatic sports because of its safe and sheltered position. We saw schoolchildren using kayaks and paddleboards, as a windsurfer glided by on the water. A tug-of-war contest was taking place, as well as ball games on the sand. Fishermen had pulled their boats up onto this sheltered stretch of sand.
Playa de las Alcaravaneras is a useful facility, but it is not the best beach that Las Palmas has to offer. This falls to Playa de las Canteras, which deserves a numbered section of its own.
Castillo de la Luz
Located just over 1.5 miles north of Playa de Las Alcaravaneras, Castillo de la Luz near the city's port of the same name, Puerto de la Luz, dates back to 1478. A tower was built on this site by Juan Rejon, shortly after the Spanish army arrived on Gran Canaria. Over the next century, this was further developed into a fortress.
Towards the end of the 18th-Century, the castle ceased to have military significance and became more of an emblem. By the mid-20th-Century, Castillo de la Luz was declared a Historic Monument. After much restoration, a museum space was created within the castle walls. The Martin Chirino Art and Thought Foundation opened in 2015.
Martin Chirino (1925-2019) was a sculptor, born in Las Palmas. After studying in Madrid, Italy, and London, he returned to the Canary Islands, where much of his work was based on his fascination with the earlier settlers, African influences, and the wind and sands of the islands. The collection consists of ironwork, bronze casting, graphic work, drawings, and other work on paper.
For anyone interested in this type of art, it's an interesting collection. But for those visiting with the expectation of views from the ramparts, it will be disappointing. The restoration of the castle is impressive, but there is no access to the outside space.
For art-lovers, Museo Nestor houses the work of the most famous local modernist painter, Nestor Martin Fernandez de la Torre (1887-1938). The gallery was designed and built in the 1930s by his architect brother, Miguel. It is in the Pueblo Canario, an area of typical Canarian style houses, located by Parque Doramas.
This is on our list for a future visit to the area, as time constraints and the lure of good weather outdoors prevented us from fitting it into our trip.
North Las Palmas
2. Playa de las Canteras
It is not often that a beach deserves equal billing with its city. But, as city beaches go, Playa de las Canteras has the reputation for being one of the best. The beach stretches nearly 2 miles along the coast on the eastern side of Las Palmas.
When visitors first arrived by sea into the port of Las Palmas, early tourism in Gran Canaria began at Playa de las Canteras. The beach is backed by hotels, shops, and bars. Palm trees have been planted in the sand and the Paseo de las Canteras is an attractive promenade.
Clusters of sunbeds are grouped on the northern section of the beach. Foreign tourists still come, but the majority of the beachgoers are Spanish and, at the weekends, Canarians.
To the North
The golden sands of the northern end are protected by La Barra, an inshore reef, which often gives the appearance of a lake. Traditional fishermen moor their boats in the bay to the north or pull them up onto the beach.
To the South
The southern end, with its darker sand, is the domain of surfers, looking to catch the Atlantic waves. The modern Auditorio Alfred Kraus, an impressive concert hall, stands on a jetty to the south of Playa de las Canteras. The large shopping center, Las Arenas is just a few meters back from the beach. This is where modern city facilities meet the coast.
The shelter given by the reef makes this an ideal spot for swimmers, paddle boarders, and those learning to sail or kayak. All are watched over by a team of lifeguards, who also have a training school based at Playa de las Canteras. Surfing lessons take place at the southern end.
There's a constant buzz of activity at Playa de las Canteras. Exercise classes for groups and individuals take place on the beach and promenade from early morning. Beach ball games continue through the day and there are often sand sculptures to admire towards the northern end of the beach.
By day you sometimes see an individual musician or living sculpture on the promenade, but in the evening it becomes the main focus of activity. The number of individual performers increases and at weekends there's a carnival atmosphere with parades along the promenade. It's a great location for a drink, meal, or stroll to see what's going on and admire the sunset.
3. Jardin Botanico Canario
Escape from the city and beach of Las Palmas into the tropical green oasis of Spain's largest botanical garden. Located in Guiniguada ravine, nearly 4.5 miles southwest of Las Palmas, Jardin Botanico Canario is a peaceful spot for a stroll amongst the varied species of Gran Canarian flora.
Access by public transport is nearest to the upper entrance. A circular lookout point gives good views over the gardens and valley over 160 yards below. Paths, which at times are steep and with little in the way of barriers lead down into the lower part of the garden.
Jardin Botanico pays tribute to those who influenced and developed it. A bust of Jose de Viera y Clavijo at the upper lookout commemorates the 18th Century historian and naturalist from whom the garden takes its official name (Jardin Botanico Canario Viera y Clavijo). There are tributes to important local botanists at the Fountain of the Wise.
The garden's first director, Erik Sventenius was buried in the garden after his untimely death in a car accident in 1973. He started work in 1952 on a project to bring together examples of Canarian flora. The gardens opened to the public in 1959.
Exploring Jardin Botanico Canario
You don't have to be a botanist to appreciate the variety of plant species as you wind your way down through laurel trees that once covered the island and a pine forest to the lower level with its collection of palm trees and cacti. The Islands' Garden groups together plants from the 7 Canary Islands. It is very easy to wile away several hours exploring the paths and gardens, interspersed with attractive water features.
Located over 9 miles east of Las Palmas, and set back over 3 miles south from the coast, the town center of Arucas is well worth a visit. The town's wealth came from banana plantations and sugar cane, which in turn lead to the development of a rum distillery. But the most striking building is its church, often mistaken for a cathedral.
Iglesia de San Juan Bautista.
Gran Canaria's most eye-catching church dominates the skyline of Arucas. With its needle-pointed spires and ornate neo-Gothic facade, the church was built largely out of volcanic rock between 1909 and 1977. The impressive exterior is matched by the sculptures, paintings, and stained-glass windows of the interior.
Casa de la Cultura
Walk west from the church and you come to Casa Cultura at the end of Sourie. Call in here to admire the dragon tree in the courtyard and the traditional wooden Canarian balconies. Entrance is free and there are displays relevant to current town activities. The Tourist Information Office is located nearby, further west along Leon y Castilla.
As you walk around the town center, you can't help but admire the street views. The streets around the cathedral have examples of older housing. Leon y Castilla showcases some more elaborate designs heading towards Plaza de la Constitucion and the Town Hall.
Municipal Museum and Park
Across the square from the Town Hall, lie the subtropical gardens of the Municipal Park. The Municipal Museum is used for art exhibitions. Entry is free and it makes a pleasant interlude on a hot day. Arucas is known as the 'Town of the flowers' and the gardens showcase a variety of trees and plants.
From the park, notice also the Heredad de Aguas. This impressive building, topped with a dome, was built in 1912 on the avenue above the park to house The Water Rights association. Water irrigation played a key role during the sugar cane years and still does in the banana plantations, which give rise to Arucas being called 'The banana republic'.