Discover Lanzarote / Fuerteventura / Lobos / La Graciosa
Discover the spectacular Canary Islands on board your Yacht, truly the best way to see all that this beautiful territory of Spain has to offer!
6 day sailing route setting off from Lanzarote, and visiting the breathtaking beaches and sights along the way.
Declared a “Biosphere Reserve” by UNESCO in 1993, Lanzarote is home to beautiful landscapes: volcanoes of the Timanfaya National Park, vineyards of “La Geria”, golden sand beaches of Papagayo, cactus fields in the area Of Mala and the impressive Risco de Famara with its endless beach. The annual average temperature is 21 ° C, the sky of Lanzarote is blue almost every day and the wind is not missing. A wonderful island that you must discover
Weekly cruise between the Atlantic islands, to the warm climate that characterizes the Canary Islands in our winter season. Summer is around the corner, just a few hours away! The cruise includes the entire circumnavigation of Lanzarote touching the north slope of Fuerteventura. We will navigate along the east coast of Lanzarote, the most sheltered and rich in quiet and heavenly bays. We will stop in equipped ports, to give the opportunity to take advantage, in an autonomous way and according to own needs, of the numerous attractions of the island such us: the suggestive national park of the volcano Timanfaya, the characteristic vineyards of La Geria and its good wine, the semi-submerged crater of El Golfo and its green lagoon, excursions by camel or bike, … etc. You will reach the small islands of La Graziosa (nature reserve) and Lobos. For the return the engines will be turned off and will sail in a load-bearing way along the west side of Lanzarote, from north to south, taking advantage of the constant and moderate Portuguese trade winds that will accompany us in port.
YOUR CRUISING ROUTE
Day 1 – Marina Rubicon
Start your week-long cruise around the Canary Islands from the modern and well-equipped marina Marina Rubicon Embark from the island of Marina Rubicon to La Graciosa. This marina is a hub for all nautical and nautical activities. Close to Fuerteventura and the islands of lobos it is a very pleasant step. You will find many shops and services. You should also take a walk along the harbor and visit some of the many shops and art exhibits.
Day 2 – Corralejo
Next stop on our itinerary is Corralejo, located to the north of Fuerteventura. It is one of the most popular tourist spots on the island, thanks to its never-ending white sandy beaches and dunes. On your way there, why not take a quick break at the deserted island of Lobos. If you are lucky enough you might even have the chance to swim with water turtles.
Day 3 – Puerto Calero
This third leg of your trip will take us back to Lanzarote and the port of Calero. This is the ideal place for the seaside and will delight all lovers of the sea. Along the way, do not miss the many beautiful beaches of Papagayo. There are 6 beaches nestled in this rocky coast. They are all spectacular, with white sand and turquoise waters.
Day 4 – Arrecife, Lanzarote
Visit this perfect coastal resort, with stretches of unspoilt sandy beaches. It is less well-known than other resorts so you can be sure to enjoy a peaceful stop over. There are plenty of great sea front restaurants where you can try some locally caught sea food and watch the sun set.
Day 5 – La Graciosa
Today we head off in the direction of the island of La Graciosa. Make sure to take a trip inland to see the incredible plant life, including the unique grey-green plants of this arid landscape. Also admire the mountains of Bermeja, in the north of the island, and the sandy beach of Playa de la Conchas below. You can anchor at the beautiful Playa Francesa!
Day 6 – Arrecife
Your sailing holiday in the Canaries is sadly drawing to a close and it is now time to return to the departure base of Arrecife, which is only 9 miles along the coast from Puerto Calero. Make the most of this last day of sailing and enjoy the beautiful scenery of this island.
Lanzarote / La Graciosa / Fuerteventura / Lobos / Gran Canaria…
WHY CRUISE THE CANARIES?
Of course, the Canary Islands have been a stop-off for Americas-bound yachts for time immemorial, but there is much more to be found here beyond simply service, repair and refuelling.
With varied scenery and nature, warm climate, top class sports and leisure facilities, viniculture and booming gastronomy, they are a perfect cruising destination for yachts not crossing the Pond for the winter. Last, but not least, the volcanic air is highly therapeutic for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis, MS, psoriasis and other ailments, making it a great place to winter.
There are eight main islands in the archipelago — (largest to smallest) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa — each offering something different, and there are smaller islets to discover, such as Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, and Roques del Este and Oeste.
Formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the western group of islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro) consists of mountain peaks that rise directly from the ocean floor. The eastern group (Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and the smaller islets) sits on the ‘Canary Ridge’, a single plateau 1,370 metres above the ocean floor, giving a distinctly different topography. Mount Teide, on Tenerife, is Spain’s tallest peak, at 3,718 metres.
The subtropical climate sees temperatures average between highs of 28°C in summer to lows of 20°C in January, while southern Tenerife and Lanzarote tend to see more sunshine than the others. Rainfall is sparse and usually concentrated in November and December. One weather event to watch out for is ‘Calima’, which tends to occur in the winter months, turning the clear air yellow as a sandy, easterly wind sweeps across from the Sahara.
Sandy beaches (white and black), mountains, forests and parks provide a great variety of landscape, with a unique range of flora growing here. As two thousand plant species thrive, a quarter of which endemic, they make the Canaries to botany what the Galapagos are to zoology. It also hosts many bird species, as well as lizards, while its waters are famously abundant with cetaceans and other marine life.
The easternmost of the Canary Islands with its charred landscape may not have seen violent volcanic activity for two hundred years, but crevices in Lanzarote’s ’Fire Mountains’ remain hot enough to fry an egg.
This scorched piece of the earth’s surface is arid and mountainous and has been immortalised in films such as ‘One Million Years B.C.’, featuring Raquel Welch. NASA trained for Apollo moon missions here, to prepare astronauts for the unearthly scenery they would encounter in space.
Some 360 volcano cones protrude from black sand in the Timanfaya National Park, established in 1974 around the Islote de Hilario volcano as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Timanfaya is certainly worth a visit, though there is more to Lanzarote than just its volcanic topography and black sand. In the remote north there are small coves to explore and surfers’ favourite spot, Famara, while there are several golden stretches of beach such as Papagayo, in the south.
Even if they are a popular sailing area for bareboat sailors, the Canaries so far have not yet developed as cruising area for luxury crewed yacht charters. But as there is a rather busy holiday season during the European winter months due to the warm climate and the demand is increasing, at least some catamarans have made their home port in winter now in Lanzarote, among them a Sunreef catamaran, a Lagoon and a big Fountaine Pajot. All of them have a proven record as great crewed charter catamarans and are looking forward to cruise around Lanzarote. The island offers everything: hidden bays, the national park Timanfanya, picturesque nice yacht harbours like Marina Rubicon, great beaches like at the Costa de Papagayo, and of course touristic spots with everything tourists are looking for. Art lovers will be happy to enjoy the architecture, monuments or gardens of the famous artist César Manrique. Sailing distance from Lanzarote to Graciosa Island in the North of Lanzarote or to the busy town of Corralejo on Fuerteventura, lying in the South of Lanzarote, is just a short hop.
THE ISLAND’S GREATEST INFLUENCE ON THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT IS THE VISIONARY ARTIST, DESIGNER AND ARCHITECT, CÉSAR MANRIQUE.
Born in the capital, Arrecife, in 1919, the architect-turned-artist had travelled to New York by the mid- 60s and became established on the Bohemian art scene on the Lower East Side. However, Manrique observed that living in New York was for rats.
“Man was not created for this artificiality”, he said. “There is an imperative need to go back to the soil, to feel it and smell it.” He returned to Lanzarote in 1966 and spent the next 25 years on a mission to turn the island into “one of the more beautiful places on the planet.”
While Manrique had a reputation as a ‘party guy’, he worked tirelessly to develop his vision for his homeland. He was not only a painter, sculptor and architect, but also an ecologist, conservationist, urban planner, landscapist and designer. His name adorns the airport and his influence is visible all over the island, including in the absence of high-rise development.
Manrique’s home in the village of Haría is now a museum. Hewn out of volcanic rock, ‘Palm House’ is an evocative arrangement of shapes and curves, as is his trademark. Preserved exactly how he left it on the day he died in 1992, the studio is scattered with unfinished canvasses, overalls draped over a chair and paint tubes left untouched.
The photogenic, whitewashed cubed village itself is set in the ‘Valley of a Thousand Palms’, where a new tree is planted each time a baby is born in the area. Here, Manrique set about developing ‘sustainable tourism’ long before the rest of the world cottoned on to the idea, with the ear of the island President, who was an old friend.
Advertising billboards were banned, telephone cables were pushed underground and mass tourism was restricted to just three main coastal regions, with build height restrictions imposed. The mantra was ‘Art-Nature, Nature-Art’, with the philosophy of harmonious, environmentally-friendly development. Shutters on properties inland were painted green, while sea-facing shutters were painted blue. Even the public waste bins were designed by Manrique. “Lanzarote is like an unframed, unmounted work of art,” he said. “I hung it and held it up for all to see.”
There are many buildings and spaces by Manrique to visit, but Timanfaya National Park and Jardín de Cactus in Guatiza are top of the must-see list. Another Manrique creation is what is today shamelessly referred to as Casa Omar Sharif, named after the actor (and card shark) who had bought it on a whim while filming ‘The Mysterious Island’ in 1973. He promptly lost it in a costly game of bridge, after unwittingly accepting a challenge by the developer, who happened to be a world-class competitor himself. Sharif never got to occupy the house, which is now a museum in the town of Nazaret. Another attraction are the caves at Jameos del Agua, designed to showcase the harmony between nature and artistic creation, which Rita Hayworth called “the Eighth Wonder of the World”. Dotted around the island are playful Manrique sculptures and wind toys, making his enduring presence unmissable.
More-recent additions to the Lanzarote landscape have been facilities such as Marina Lanzarote (28.964.842N, 13.537.492W) at Arrecife, and the upscale Blue Flag marina Puerto Calero (28.54.922N, 13.42.417W) and Marina Rubicon ( 28° 52′ 27.606″ N 13° 49′ 21.101″ W )to the south. Aside from essential facilities such as fuel supply, chandleries and shipyards, visitors can enjoy a wide variety of shops, bars, restaurants, fitness clubs, gardens and designer boutiques.
As popular stop-off points for passing yachts and with busy social and sporting programmes, they are a lively and safe place to be stationed for cruising or throughout the winter. On-site concierge services ensure that captains, stews, chefs and engineers can arrange anything they need.
Over recent decades, Lanzarote has become an increasingly upmarket destination. Aside from the established holiday resorts, rising numbers of visitors now come for upscale boutique hotels and ecocentric accommodation. On-land sports facilities have long drawn elite athletes for winter training, while lovers of watersports come for superb surfing, wind- and kite-surfing, as well as some of the best scuba diving in Europe. It has also long been a major centre for sport fishing.
http://www.cbcmfuerteventura.com Watersports School
Tenerife wines are the most commonly available outside of the Canary Islands, though Lanzarote’s viniculture methods aren’t seen anywhere else, except in Santorini.
In contrast with most of the vegetation growing before the month-long volcanic eruption in the 1730s, the grapevines survived intact. The same vines also escaped the phylloxera disease that decimated Europe’s vineyards around a hundred years later, meaning that Canarian wines come from the oldest vines on the continent.
While Lanzarote’s soil is less fertile than others, the ash coating helps it to retain what limited moisture there is, which is crucial in the absence of spring water. It protects subsoil from erosion, stems evaporation and retains thermal warmth. Above ground, the vines are dug into a shallow hole, protected by semi-circular stone walls that shelter the plants from the wind.
Grape varieties are mostly white, with lots of Malvasia grown here, as well as Gual and Marmajuelo, though Listán Negro and Vijariego Negro reds are also harvested. There are a number of wineries that offer guided tours, which are certainly worth visiting for their uniqueness.
The Lanzarote Wine Run
Another unique aspect is the annual Wine Run, a half-marathon staged through the vineyards of the La Geria wine region. Held each June since 2009 (the 2020 edition is on 13/14 June), this fun two-day festival combines running, gastronomy and oenology, along a course that offers (optional) wine at each aid station. Running is not obligatory and walkers are welcome to come and enjoy a tipple, while admiring the volcanic scenery at their leisure.
Lanzarote has remarkable dry-farming prowess, where it comes to cultivating its own produce. Cereals, vegetables and other crops are grown on volcanic hills, while a major fishing industry is to be expected. It may come as a surprise to learn that, combined, the Canary Islands count seven Michelin-starred restaurants in total, versus the one that Sardinia and Ibiza each have.
Set in a house designed for his brother by César Manrique, El Risco is an understated seafood restaurant in the north of the island, with great views over La Graciosa. Local fish and seafood, alongside contemporary dishes and a good selection of rice options, served with some fine local wines.
Timanfaya National Park
If you are travelling with children, a great place to take them is El Diablo (the Devil), set inside Timanfaya National Park, which uses geothermal heat from the volcano to cook its food. On a tour of the kitchen, it is explained how nine layers of basalt rock form the grill and you can feel the heat for yourselves.
Overlooking the marina in Arrecife, this modern Canarian restaurant serves contemporary versions of regional classics, such as black suckling pig or seasonal tuna.
Balagué / Restaurant & Bar at Lagomar,
The Balagué Lagomar restaurant is the ideal place to enjoy truly magical moments. Just before sunset, our volcanic stone beauty transforms into her royally rich red evening gown. they serve a full a la carte menu and daily tapas. Specializing in Mediterranean cuisine, the chefs have earned a reputation for offering one of the finest and most exquisite dining experiences on the island.
La Graciosa was recognised as a ‘Canary Island’ in its own right only in 2018, so the archipelago now counts eight. Just a hop across from the northern tip of Lanzarote, this eleven square-mile, roadless rock with its 721 inhabitants is a popular day-trip destination.
On offer are unspoiled golden beaches, clear waters for surfing or diving, and simple amenities for those who just want to ‘get away from it all’, if only for a day or two. Ferries drop trippers off at the only town on the island, Caleta de Sebo, but the beaches to aim for are Playa de las Conchas in the north and Playa de la Cocina in the south.
There are no facilities to speak of, but visitors come for peace and tranquility. Getting about on land is on foot or by bike, while the only cars allowed are jeep-style taxis, which are rickety and are driven hell-for-leather across the sands.
La Graciosa is a perfect spot to get out the water toys and mountain bikes, to ride the 20-mile trail around the island. The isle’s 266-metre volcanic peak, Las Agudas, is a great place for hiking.
As part of the Lanzarote Biosphere Reserve, La Graciosa is also a Special Protection Area for birds, so twitchers should be on the lookout for Scopoli’s shearwater, white-faced storm petrel, kestrels, owls, Eleonora’s falcon, the western osprey, and sea hawk.
For divers, La Graciosa is home to the largest protected marine area in Europe. The island is said to be the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, ‘Treasure Island’, based on reports that a pirate galleon landed here in the 1760s and her crew buried their booty somewhere. But the real treasure lies underwater.
With more than 300 varieties of seaweed present, these are rich feeding grounds for a wide variety of fauna. The marine reserve holds more than 20 dive sites, which have caves and volcanic formations to explore, accompanied by sea life that can include angel sharks, hogfish, stingrays, groupers, amberjacks, tuna and more.
Geologically the oldest, and second largest, of the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura shares a similar history to its nearest neighbour, Lanzarote. Guanches, Berbers from North Africa, were the first prehistoric people to settle here in the 5th century BC, to be displaced eventually by Phoenician and European colonialists.
The demonym for today’s locals of Fuerteventura is ‘majorero’, as a reference to the ‘majos’ or goatskin shoes worn by indigenous ancestors. In those times, the island was known as ‘Herbania’ and was divided into two kingdoms by a 6km wall built across the narrow section of the island down south. The Romans referred to it as ‘Planeria’, as a reference to its mostly flat landscape.
An interesting factoid is that while two kings ruled early in the 15th century — Guize in the north (Maxorata), Ayoze in the south (Jandía) — they were heavily influenced by mother and daughter priestesses, Tibiabin and Tamonante, who conspired against them when the Conquistadors came. Women held the upper hand in this polygamous society, where each woman had up to three(!) husbands. The majo was on the other foot, back then…
Today’s Fuerteventura is all about beaches, with some 150 kilometres of coastline, wide and golden in colour, and arguably the finest of the Canaries. Its close proximity to Western Sahara means a warm climate, while steady winds make the island a year-round destination for watersports lovers.
Goats remain a major part of the ‘majo’ culture and the island is renowned for its award-winning cheeses. Like the rest of the Canaries, Fuerteventura has a strong fishing tradition too, but tourism is by far its biggest industry, mostly in the form of large resorts that are worth avoiding.
BEST BEACHES & BAYS
In the northeast of the island lies the Corralejo Natural Park, with the dunes and beaches of Corralejo overlooking the nearby, uninhabited island of Los Lobos. Surfing, diving, kayaking, kite- and wind-surfing are the order of the day. In the nearby fishing village, there remain a handful of decent local seafood restaurants around the port.
On Los Lobos, a recently unearthed Roman settlement used to produce an exclusive Tyrian purple dye, extracted from predatory sea snails. As it took tens of thousands of snails to produce even a tiny amount of dye, it was expensive and just the preserve of the aristocracy. It was also a rather smelly process, which is why it was carried out off-shore. Excavations continue today.
On the western coast lies El Cotillo, a secluded beach that is rarely overcrowded, next to an attractive seaside village with a decent selection of local shops and restaurants. It’s a popular surfing spot and a great location to watch the sunset.
The black sand of Ajuy Beach is perhaps not the most photogenic, but on this wild, west-facing beach is where you will find a trail leading to the dramatic Ajuy sea caves. Atlantic waves crash onto the most ancient rocks in the Canary Islands, formed 100 million years ago, before the American and African plates separated. Just north of Ajuy village is Monumento Natural de Ajuy, where you will find fossils of extinct marine creatures in the layers of ancient rocks.
If you like your beaches rugged, wild and remote, Cofete, in the Jandía Natural Park in the south, is for you. This 13 kilometre-long stretch of golden sandy beach can be accessed only via a single unsealed track, for which rental cars are uninsurable. From inland, it takes commitment to get here, but the reward is this stunning piece of coastline, which has in the past been voted the ‘best beach in all of Spain’. Swimming and surfing are generally not advised.
Fans of ‘Star Wars’ may recognise the area as a location where scenes from ‘Han Solo’ were filmed.
If Cofete is too wild to test your surfing skills, head instead to the marginally calmer waters of Playa La Pared, which can still be wild at times. It is also a favourite spot for advanced kitesurfers, looking to get away from the sometimes overcrowded Sotavento Beach, where kitesurfing traffic can sometimes resemble Piccadilly Circus. Hikers should clamber up to the top of the cliffs at La Pared, and reward themselves with one of the most glorious sunsets anywhere on the island, over Punta Guadelupe. Nearby stables offer horse riding, a great way to explore the coastline.
Playa del Matorral at Morro Jable in Jandía, is popular particularly with German visitors and while the beach here is an inviting 4km stretch of golden sand with shallow turquoise waters, this part of the island is highly developed with nearby hotels and apartments.
The Corralejo Natural Park and Los Lobos island were designated a protected zone in 1982 and are home to a number of deserts and bird species. Chipmunk-like barbary ground squirrels were introduced here and can be found in many areas, while overhead, watch out for Egyptian vultures, shearwaters, petrels, Houbara bustard, egrets, spoonbills and kentish plovers.
Another reserve is Vega de Rio Palmas, to the west of Betancuria in the centre of the island, where a dried-up reservoir has become a haven for a variety of birdlife, including the endemic Fuerteventura Chat.
The pretty town of Betancuria was founded in 1404 and is a maze of whitewashed houses set among lush gardens and palm trees. It was the first capital city of the Canarian archipelago and housed its first cathedral, the church of Santa María.
Jean de Bethencourt chose this location for its freshwater streams and fertile land, while surrounding hills provided protection from attacks, though eventually the town would be raided numerous times by various invaders.
The standout attraction in this fairly touristic place is the church (it was consecrated as a cathedral for only seven years, from 1424), of which only the bell tower is original, as the rest of the structure was destroyed by a legendary Berber pirate, Xabán Arráez, in 1593.
One of the items ransacked by Arráez in 1593 was a small statuette of the Virgin Mary, which is depicted in a painting now hanging in the tiny Hermitage de la Virgen la Peña in Barranco de Mal Paso. ‘La Peñita’, as the statuette is known, is held in mythical esteem to this day.
It had been brought here by de Betancourt and its presence was considered to have miraculously ended four years of drought. Arráez stole the statuette in revenge for the enslavement of hundreds of his Berber people. La Peñita is Fuerteventura’s patron saint and is celebrated in the island’s largest religious festival, when locals dressed in traditional Canarian garb come from all corners.
For one of the best views on Fuerteventura, go up to the viewpoint, Mirador Morro Velosa, above Bentancuria, designed by César Manrique. The landmark is hard to miss, as it features two giant bronze statues of kings Guize and Ayoze.
Towards the north, La Oliva is an attractive small town that was once the administrative headquarters of the island. From 1476 it was governed by the Spanish military and the house built for the colonel in charge in 1708 is now an art gallery. The town also has a grain museum.
In Jandía stands a villa that is an important piece of recent military history, though one that remains shrouded in myth and mystery. Villa Winter was built by German engineer, Gustav Winter, who arrived in Fuerteventura in the 1930s with a suitcase full of cash. Winter was allegedly a close confidant of Hermann Göring and was charged with building a military base for the Third Reich, under the watchful eye of an impotent Franco.
Winter acquired and fenced off the entire peninsula of Jandía, where secret construction was rumoured to include docking facilities for submarines, gun emplacements and bunkers secreted inside volcanic caves. Today, the presence of a deserted WWII-era airfield and discarded railway tracks do nothing to dispel the rumours.
One of the most outlandish theories is that Villa Winter is also where several high-profile Nazi war criminals underwent cosmetic surgery before fleeing to South America. After Franco’s forces destroyed the remaining military installations, the real estate was sold to developers by Winter’s family. German journalist and author, Alexander Peer, is set to unveil the truth in a forthcoming book, entitled ‘Mythos Winter’.
A noted scuba dive site, the Cathedral, is located just off the coast of Ajuy, though it is only for very advanced divers, due to the rough seas and strong currents. Stunning volcanic rock formations of canals and grottoes, along with overhangs and drop offs make it a great diving location. Rays, groupers, barracudas and angel sharks are often spotted here amongst the plethora of marine life.
Sport fishing off Fuerteventura is among the best in the Canary Islands and it is one of the world’s top spots for Atlantic blue marlin. Close to shore depths plunge to 1,000 metres, while in some places to the west there are depths of up to 3,700 metres, making for ideal conditions. The subtropical climate, oceanic currents and a great supply of baitfish draws marlin here between June and mid- November. Also caught are white marlin, yellow-fin tuna, big-eye tuna and skipjack.
Each September, the port village of Gran Tarajal hosts an annual deep sea fishing contest, attracting enthusiasts from around the world. Fans of shark fishing should visit from the end of September, which is a good time for catching hammer shark of up to 600lbs.
Over centuries of goat keeping, ‘Majos’ have developed deep expertise in the making of goats’ cheese, for which Fuerteventura is renowned. Majorero cheese is a pale, milky award-winning variety, with a white texture and aromatic, nutty flavour, produced in large wheels. Majorero cheese comes either in its natural rind, rubbed with oil, or with paprika, or with roasted Canarian flour called ‘gofio’. To learn more about the cheese-making process, visit the goats cheese museum at Centro de Artesania Molino de Antigua.
It’s fair to say that the gastronomy scene in Fuerteventura does not come close to that of its neighbours, though here are three suggestions for decent places to dine out; one in the north, one central and one down south.
The Ugly Duckling
The Ugly Duckling in Corralejo, being a Danish-owned restaurant, is named after a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. This eatery is very popular and can get booked up months in advance, which probably speaks to a lack of variety on Fuerteventura. But if looking for somewhere local in Corralejo, a short menu and friendly service await you.
Casa Santa María
In Betancuria, Casa Santa María is a welcoming restaurant set in a carefully renovated 17th century farmhouse in the centre of town. Its lovingly decorated interior wins most of the plaudits, but it offers a traditional, but creatively presented menu, for lunch only. Closed Sundays.
In Jandía, Restaurante Marabu offers simple, locally-sourced Mediterranean cuisine, in an airy dining room or on the sunlit terrace, accompanied by an extensive wine list.
Lying in the centre of the Canarian archipelago, Gran Canaria is the third largest of the islands, but its most diverse. Mountainous in the centre, with an almost alpine landscape to the north, while desert-like to the south, Gran Canaria is sometimes referred to as a ‘continent in miniature’.
Micro-climates mean it is possible to experience four seasons in a day, though the south tends to be warm year-round, with minimal rainfall and less wind than the easterly Canaries.
Like its neighbours, the first prehistoric settlers here were the old ‘Canarios’ around 500BC, who purportedly named it ‘Tamarán’ after date palms that grew here, though recent academic studies dispute this. ‘Tamarán’ also translates as ‘Land of the Brave’, but whatever the truth, it is undisputed that it was the Romans who later dubbed it ‘Canaria’.
The history of Gran Canaria after that shares many similarities with the other islands and the Mediterranean region, with a number of settlers taking over, until the Spanish conquest of 1478 settled matters.
Aided by the aboriginal Canarian king, Tenesor Semidán, a 600-strong force led by Juan Rejón, on behalf of the Castillian monarchy, landed and founded the city, ‘Real de Las Palmas’. Some beheadings and several bloody battles later, the islanders’ final surrender only came a long five years later.
Christopher Columbus stopped here in 1492 and was not the last venturer to do so, as Gran Canaria became a major sugar exporter and was an important centre for trade with the Americas. It was also a major source of agricultural produce for the region.
LAS PALMAS DE GRAN CANARIA
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, to give the city its full name, today is the ninth-largest city in Spain by population, with 380,000 inhabitants (one place behind Palma de Mallorca) and is a thriving, cosmopolitan, multi-cultural city. Tourism and agriculture are the island’s biggest industries, while Las Palmas is a busy trading centre, with a commercial port, a cruise terminal and a number of marinas.
The city’s old colonial quarter, Vegueta, dates from the 15th century and is a lovely area to wander around, with colourful buildings and squares to discover. A particularly photogenic street is Los Balcones, which features many multicoloured houses with brightly painted balconies.
Head for Pelota or Mendizábal streets for bars and restaurants and try the local specialities, ‘papas arrugadas’, washed down with a glass of fine Canarian wine, followed by ‘polvito uruguayo’.
’Papas’ is the South American word for potatoes, which first blew into the Canary Islands from the Andes, after which this variety was cultivated here. Historically, they were cooked, skins on, in seawater, giving them a distinctly salty finish. The wrinkly spuds are still a local delicacy, served with ‘mojo picón’, a piquant red salsa on the side. Local goats’ cheese is also a must of course, as is the typical Canarian desert, ‘polvito uruguayo’. This dish of powdered meringue with cream, caramel and chocolate sauce, was the creation of a Uruguayan lady, Susana Lanús, who brought the recipe with her to Las Palmas.
Casa de Colón (Calle Colón 1, 35001 Las Palmas), or Christopher Columbus House, is a 15th century building that now houses a museum dedicated to the explorer’s voyages and to the relationship between the Canary Islands and the Americas. Columbus is said to have stayed here during his visits and this attractive, well-appointed, museum chronicles his travels and those of other explorers.
TIP: Don’t be tempted to stroke the macaws that inhabit the courtyard, as they bite!
Close by stands Catedral de Santa Ana, on which construction started 22 years after the foundation of the city and took four centuries to complete. With four architects having overseen the project, it is a classical mishmash of styles and while well-maintained, its best feature is the stunning view from the south bell tower (there is a lift).
On the south side of the square stands the Canario Museum (Dr Verneau 2, 35001 Las Palmas), which is devoted to the aboriginal population, the Canarios. Exhibits explain the way of life for Berbers who inhabited the islands from the second half of the first millennium BC to the 15th century, up to the Spanish conquest. Also nearby is the San Antonio Abad hermitage, the first church in the city and where Christopher Columbus prayed in 1492, before starting his first American voyage of discovery.
AWAY FROM THE HUSTLE AND BUSTLE, LAS PALMAS IS FLANKED BY TWO SANDY CITY BEACHES.
Away from the hustle and bustle, Las Palmas is flanked by two sandy city beaches. Las Alcaravaneras, on the eastern side is next to the port, while Las Canteras in the west is a 3km long well kept beach, with clear waters and a pleasant promenade lined with cafés and restaurants. The reef off Las Canteras is a good spot for snorkelling, while further south is popular with surfers. Beach lovers should note that Gran Canaria has another 80 around the island to explore, while there is plenty else to see.
VIERA Y CLAVIJO BOTANICAL GARDENS
It is sometimes said that Gran Canaria is to botany what the Galapagos islands are to zoology. The Canary Islands have long been a reference point for botanists around the world, as the archipelago has many plant species extinct elsewhere, killed off during the Ice Age.
Central to these studies are the Viera y Claviío Botanical Gardens (28.064.296N, 15.466.127W), a 15-minute drive from the city and worth a visit. In addition to the five hundred varieties that are found on the other islands, Gran Canaria has over a hundred that only grow here.
The rugged mountainous region around the village of Tejeda is a breathtaking landscape of volcanic
A hour’s drive inland from Las Palmas to the centre of the island brings you to the rugged mountainous region, with the pretty village of Tejeda at its heart. Topping out at 1,956 metres, the area is a breathtaking landscape of volcanic cliffs and gorges, bedecked with almond trees, fruit orchards and green vegetation. It is a popular spot with hikers and climbers, with a number of signposted trails leading to peaks with stunning views of Roque Nublo, an 80-metre tall rock that is Gran Canaria’s unmistakable landmark. Tejeda itself is a picturesque small town that is at its finest in early February, when the almond trees have blossomed and the village comes alive for several days of almond-themed festivities. One speciality particular to Tejeda is a sweet dessert topping called ‘bienmesabe’, a sugary almond-based paste made with eggs and cinnamon, used as a topping for cakes, ice cream, on toast, whatever takes your fancy.
The highest village on Gran Canaria provides another perspective, looking out over the volcanic crater from Mirador de Unamuno, a viewing platform near the church. The area is also known for its Berber caves, which were inhabited by the island’s first settlers from around 500 AD.
Some of these caves were occupied continuously until the 1970s, making use of the natural landscape for shelter, as workshops and storage. Farming Berbers used the caves for housing, as well as drying and processing crops, such as tobacco, coffee, cereals and sugar cane. Today Gran Canaria is best known for its tropical fruits, particularly bananas, as well as potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables.
In Artenara, the small-but-worthwhile Museum of Cave Houses has a range of caves, each devoted to a different use, showing visitors how they were used, from aboriginal times up to last century. The village also has a cave restaurant and cave guesthouse, for those wanting the complete cave-dwelling experience.
MOGÁN, PUERTO MOGÁN
Driving down south from the hills towards the flatter, warmer south, head for the pretty village of Mogán through a valley of avocado trees, on to the coastal town of Puerto Mogán. While the southern beaches of Maspalomas may have the widest sands, their downside is their heavily developed tourism. The south-western corner of the island has no such affliction and is a pleasant, welcoming spot, with vibrant seafront promenades, inlets and fine beaches.
This piece of coast has a number of marinas with waterside cafés, boutiques and some excellent eateries, including a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants. This corner of Gran Canaria also gets the best sunsets.
If you don’t have a submarine on board, consider taking the tourist submarine, which tours the seabed and bypasses two wrecks at 20m that are rich with marine life. Alternatively, this part of the coast is a very popular location for scuba diving, with roncador, barracuda, trumpet fish, damsel and puffers hanging around. Divers also report sightings of lobster, moray eels and octopus. Further out, sardines are chased by amberjack, while turtles, rays, manta rays and wahoo are also spotted.
The finest dive site in Gran Canaria is the ‘El Cabrón’ marine reserve, to the south east of the island, off Arinaga. This area includes caves, arches, walls and volcanic reefs teeming with sub-tropicals, from seahorses to rays and angel sharks.
Above water, this spot, Pozo Izquierdo, is popular with windsurfers and hosts a round of the annual PWA World Cup tour each July ( http://www.pwaworldtour.com). One of the windiest places in the world, waves can reach up to three metres and conditions are ideal for jumps and aerial acrobatics.
Maspalomas, at the southern tip of the island, is out-and-out holiday resort and is well developed with large hotels and apartments, though is still not without merit. There is plenty of sand to go round, so even on a moderately busy day, beach bums will still find enough space for a bit of privacy.
The unusual feature of this resort is 1000 acres of sand dunes that lie directly behind the beach, designated as a nature reserve thirty years ago, to prevent hotels creeping forward towards the water line. The dunes are beautiful, particularly at sunset, offering a desert experience without venturing into the Sahara.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED
With a tender at your disposal, you will be able to avoid the crowds, even at busy times. Here are four secluded beaches in the south that are mostly used by locals. Many beaches in Gran Canaria are designated as nudist beaches, but it is, of course, entirely optional…
Playa Medio Almud 27.801.827N, 15.747.968W
This half moon beach in a 90-meter bay between Playa del Cura and Puerto de Mogán is a local nudist spot, with a mix of pebbles and light sand, protected from the wind by rugged cliffs.
Playa de las Mujeres 27.748.507N, 15.634.498W
Known locally as ‘Pasito Bea”, this secluded beach is often deserted, but it’s a popular spot for locals to let their dogs run about. On a busy day, you may find a few dozen sun worshippers here, but there’s plenty of room for everybody. There is a hotel under construction nearby, so the peace may not last.
Montaña de Arena 27.750.787N, 15.638.445W
The name translates as ‘Sand Mountain’, for the enormous dune that sits directly behind this secluded strip of beach. This spot was for a long time the preserve of local nudists in the know, but has become more popular in recent years. However, at most times you will still find it deserted. The surf can get up, but it’s perfectly safe for swimming.
Playa de Pasito Blanco 27.749.218N, 15.620.762W
Tucked directly behind Pasito Blanco Marina, this beach is accessible by car or by boat only, to residents or to yachts moored here, so it tends to remain a very quiet stretch. It is also a great spot for snorkelling at the far end away from the marina.
With a farming tradition that is as old as the hills and everything grown, reared or caught locally, food in Gran Canaria is of the highest quality. Below are some of the very best restaurants, two in the south-west, four in the city.
Set inside the Hotel Cordial Mogán Playa, offers a range of creative dishes, ranging from traditional Canarian to more exotic fusion dishes.
Unusually, this Michelin-starred restaurant is set in an apartment complex overlooking a swimming pool. On offer is a highly creative menu prepared with the finest local produce.
El Equilibrista 33
Close to Las Alcaravaneras beach, this contemporary restaurant offers a creative take on classic local dishes using local ingredients.
This small, informal gastro bar in central las Palmas is all about the show, from the open kitchen to the plate, where quality is high, but presentation is intended to wow.
World cuisine, high on technique with an Asian touch, is presented in a stripped down dining room. A short, creative menu, with dishes made for sharing means you should just order the lot.
High level Canarian cuisine influenced by the island’s connection with the Americas, set in a welcoming stonewalled dining room.