You probably already know LGBTQ holiday favourite Gran Canaria is one of the best places in Europe for some winter sunshine (hello 20°C in January!).
The island throws the wildest parties at Maspalomas Winter Pride each November, is home to infamous sand spots like Kiosk #7 and renowned LGBTI entertainment at the Yumbo Centre, and yet it’s a dream come true for family holidays too.
But did you also know this fabulous destination’s got even more going for it than the hotter-than-hot gay scene and year-round sunbathing spots alone?
Check out our top ten lesser-known highlights to elevate your Gran Canaria vacay to superstar status, direct from the travel experts at Thomas Cook!
1. It’s great for snorkelling
Underwater life might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to Gran Canaria, but grab a snorkel and fins, and you’ll be amazed what you can see just off the beach. Parrotfish, wrasse, stingrays and octopus are among the vivid array of marine creatures that live in this sweetspot where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet.
The best snorkelling patches include the ever-popular Puerto de Mogan, family-friendly Amadores and Las Canteras in Las Palmas city.
2. You can see wild dolphins and whales …
Sticking with the sealife theme, all those fish make Gran Canaria incredibly popular with whales and dolphins. Head out on a specialist boat trip and you could see fin, pilot and sperm whales, as well as bottlenose and Borneo dolphins leaping in and out of the waves.
If you’re extra lucky, migrating humpbacks and orcas might be passing by, or perhaps an elusive blue whale. Well worth packing your binoculars for!
3. … swim in a waterfall pool …
What could be more exotic than a dip in a natural pool? One of our faves is Charco Azul in the Barranco del Risco valley – go after heavy rain and there should be a waterfall dashing down the rocks.
Or, for a guaranteed cascade, take an easy ramble from the pretty town of Tejeda to Charco de las Palomas. It’s a great option if you’ve got kids in tow, while the cave in the cliff should appease your sense of adventure.
4. … and stand in a volcano crater
Looking for one of the biggest surprises Gran Canaria has to offer? Catch the 311 bus from Las Palmas (or jump in your hire car) and hop off at Caldera de Baldama… where you’ll find yourself on the edge of an ancient volcano.
Green with vineyards growing in the rich ash, it’s a magnificent destination for a picnic – just stay near the top if you’re not up for a challenging trek. Or, book a table at Bodegon Vandama for juicy steaks accompanied by their own wine and a view to die for.
5. The hiking’s awesome
Pack your walking boots because it’s time for an adventure! While you’ll need to be pretty experienced to make the trek to isolated GuiGui beach and back (pssst, you can also get to this former hippy hangout by boat!), other beauty spots are easier to reach.
Clamber up to Roque Nublo for a total jaw-dropper of a panorama over Nublo Rural Park and across the sea to Tenerife. Or explore the lush Barranco de Guayadeque ravine, passing prehistoric burial sites and cave houses – and maybe spotting a Lagarto Canarion lizard or two amongst the cacti.
6. The island’s packed with ancient history
Those hiking trails aren’t just a modern thing – many are also part of the web of ancient sites that lace across Gran Canaria. Why? Well, the island’s settlers, the Guanches, created a network of pathways, so you’ve got 2000-plus years of local civilisation to thank!
Their legacy also includes the intriguing Cenobio Valeron (a huge grain store hewn from rock), the cave paintings at sacred Roque Bentayga, and Artenara – an astonishingly well-preserved troglodyte town.
7. Bananas are not the only fruit
From the sweet ron miel (honey rum) distilled at Arehucas to banana liqueur and even homegrown wine, Gran Canaria offers up more tasty treats than you’d expect of a rocky island in the Atlantic. All that sunshine is great for growing coffee too – a rare sight in Europe! Visit the 18th-century plantation at Finca los Castanos for a tour.
Other local flavours include ‘wrinkled potatoes’, a salty Canarian classic that’s way more tasty than it sounds. Usually served with a hot mojo sauce, you’ll find this moreish delight on the menu as ‘papas arrugadas’.
8. There’s a hidden seaside village you have to visit
You’ll want to rent a car for this one – La Aldea de San Nicolas is one of the most remote villages in Gran Canaria. But it’s well worth the drive to the west coast if you’re into one-of-a-kind places.
Cut off by wetlands and dramatic cliffs, characterful La Aldea doesn’t feel like anywhere else on the island. From 17th-century houses to the heart-stopping Mirador del Balcon viewpoint, it’s a total contrast to the familiar resorts.
9. Christopher Columbus lived here (for a month)
You can find out more about the famous explorer and his time in Gran Canaria at Casa de Colon museum in Las Palmas. And that little slice of medieval history isn’t the only reason to visit the capital of Gran Canaria.
With achingly lovely cobbled streets and squares lined with beautiful buildings, the city’s Vegueta Old Town area is a must-do that’s all too often overlooked. Plus, it’s the place to be for some of the most exciting nightlife on the island – so, glam outfits at the ready!
10. Gran Canaria is party central!
Of course, Winter Pride draws party-goers to Maspalomas in droves but did you know Gran Canaria’s event scene is buzzing all through the season? From the music of WOMAD in November to Tejeda’s traditional Almond Blossom Festival (January / February), there’s always something going on. Special mention has to go to the all-encompassing Carnival (February and March) – think drag queens, exuberant parades and body paint galore!
Where to stay
- 3 stars
- A hetero-friendly LGBTQ+ favourite
- 2 stars
- LGBTQI+ hotel
- Chilled out atmosphere
- 5 stars
- Welcoming to all
- Great for couples and families