Caldera de Bandama

Caldera de Bandama Image by El Coleccionista de Instantes under Creative Commons license.

Gran Canaria is a volcanic island, and for this reason its surface is particularly rugged and uneven. This extreme geography is particularly evident at the Bandama Caldera; a vast cauldron-like crater created after a volcanic eruption. Today, Bandama is an oasis of lush greenery contrasted on volcanic ash in many different hues, and those up for a challenge can descend its steep banks in around half an hour. Hiking the Caldera is a popular pastime on the island, so those wanting to discover it on foot are well catered for with stop-off points, and refreshments are available en route. If you're looking for a more relaxing excursion, take one of the regular bus tours operating on the island, and prepare to snap some spectacular views from the rim.

Roque Nublo

Roque Nuplo Image by Mardeviajes.com under Creative Commons license.

Not so much a 'must-see' as a 'can't miss', Roque Nublo is undoubtedly the most iconic and recognisable landmark of Gran Canaria. With its name meaning 'cloudy rock', this strange and other-worldly volcanic formation rises from the almost lunar landscape, looming over pine forests and the piercing blue sea below. With its mysterious form and prominent position at the heart of the island, It's easy to see why Roque Nublo was considered a sacred place of worship by Gran Canaria's indigenous population. If you've got an active holiday in mind, there are plenty of organised hiking tours to the roque, but you can also reach it by car if you have the nerve to navigate a few sheer drops and hairpin bends en route.

Dunes of Maspalomas

Maspalomas

Best described as a 'desert by the sea', the spectacular sand dunes of Maspalomas stretch for miles before gently sloping down to the coast, connecting some of the island's most famous beaches resorts including Playa de Ingles, Aguila and Las Burras. The dunes can only be crossed by foot or by camel; a scenic reminder to visitors that they are just a few short kilometres away from the shores of Saharan Africa. While most of Maspalomas in characterised by swathes of rippled golden sand, its Western section is home to a lagoon with lush greenery and palm trees, where migratory birds are known to stop off for a holiday of their own.

Casa Museo de Colon

Casa Museo de Colon Image by El Coleccionista de Instantes under Creative Commons license.

Gran Canaria long been associated with Christopher Columbus, who stopped off at the island during his first voyage to the Americas. While he didn't stick around for long, it's believed that the navigator spent some time at this beautiful and ornate house, which is typical of the extravagant architectural style of the late Fifteenth Century. The house has since been turned into a museum, where you can discover some fascinating facts about Columbus' travels, see some rare artifacts from his ships, hang out with its resident parrot population and marvel at the model galleon based on real-life vessels that once brought visitors to the island. There are also some rare pieces of artwork kept here from the little-known Canarian school, so this really is a great day out for culture vultures.

Adventure sports

Quad biking in Gran Canaria

With sea temperatures averaging 22°C and more than 60km of gorgeous beaches to choose from, there couldn't be a better location for learning a new water sport than Gran Canaria. Would-be surfer dudes and dudesses can pick up beginners' skills at the island's Pro Surfing Company, which also offers improver lessons for those with more experience as well as specialist classes for kids. For those looking for something even more adventurous, kite surfing is gaining popularity on the island, and the Canary Islands are said to have the perfect levels of wind to keep you aloft. You can also try your arm at paddle surfing, wake-boarding, jet-ski or even parasailing if you've got a head for heights.

Gran Canaria's volcanic terrain is best navigated in something a little more rugged than the average family car, so if you're up for some off-road action, there's no better way to see the island than by quad bike. There are several companies based on the island that will loan you a quad bike, buggy or even a Segway to help you discover its less accessible but most extraordinary and beautiful corners, including the dunes and surrounding desert. If you're nervous about striking out alone, there are also guided quad bike tours available, with carefully planned routes that will take you to some of the most extraordinary and beautiful spots in Gran Canaria.

Discover Thalassotherapy

Gran Canaria is particularly big on thalassotherapy, or as we might more commonly say, spas. But these vast palaces of relaxation are nothing like your average health club: they quite simply take pampering to another level. Giant whirlpool baths, hydrotherapy pools, hot and cold tubs as well as specialist 'keep fit' pools are standard issue here, along with every type of relaxation and beauty treatment imaginable. Gran Canaria has sea water in abundance, and this is put to excellent use in the thalassotherapy centres. Pools full of salt water are enjoyed for their skin-healing properties as well being immensely relaxing and indulgent places to spend time.

Go star-gazing

Gran Canaria's skies are unusually clear and free of light pollution, so if you're hoping to pack in some amateur astronomy on your visit (or just love the feeling of gazing up at a sky full of stars), you're in for a bit of a treat. Conditions here are considered to be so good that the skies themselves have been granted a special protected status, which even forbids airline traffic from passing through. Experienced scientists and tourists alike flock to the island's observatories, where you'll see some world-class equipment and learn about the latest cutting edge research taking place on the island. You can also try a guided starlight excursion, where you'll be taken to the best mountain locations for observing the universe: check out AstroGC for more information.

Wine and dine

Gran Canaria has some excellent dining options available to discerning visitors, with an extensive selection of cuisines and influences to choose from. If you'd like to give Canarian cuisine a try (and let's face it, you won't get a better opportunity) head to Restaurante el Herreño, where you can sample fresh seafood and local wines in an authentic and traditional setting. For first rate tapas, head to Wapa Tapa at Playa de Ingles, where you’ll enjoy some superb small plates and a warm welcome. Just a little way up the road the aptly-named Belle Vue offers some of the most breathtaking views on the island, and is the perfect spot for a light lunch. For a fine dining experience to remember, book at table at La Aqualera, which is widely considered to be the best on the island and a must-visit for foodies.


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