Planning a trip to Gran Canaria this winter? Our Canary holidays expert, Joe Cawley, gives you the insider information on planning, booking and enjoying a hassle free holiday you’ll never forget.
They call it a continent in miniature due to its variety of landscapes, but it could also be called a holiday island on steroids such are the extreme possibilities of enjoyment. From full-on, bop-till-breakfast clubbing in the south to vertiginous mountain biking adventures along volcanic ridges, whatever your bag, Gran Canaria serves it up loud and large.
When to go
Like all of the Canary Islands, the climate in Gran Canaria doesn’t deviate much from ‘balmy’ all year round. So if you want to swap the grey skies of a British winter for some sunny winter warmth only a four-hour flight away, the archipelago’s third largest island is a great choice.
Getting the best deal
Sign up for the low-cost airlines’ newsletters to receive details of seat sales and offers. Despite the all-year-round season, the summer holiday months are still by far the busiest… and the most expensive. To get the best deal, avoid any school holiday periods if at all possible, especially summer and Christmas. In general, the best offers can be found in late May, June and early July plus early December.
If you’re travelling from the UK or any EU country you won’t need any visas, permits or notes from your mother to visit Gran Canaria, just a passport. Similarly, with no devious diseases lurking on the island there’s no need for special inoculations or health precautions. However, do bear in mind that the sunshine is potent, even in winter, so pack plenty of high protection sun lotion, especially if you’re travelling with children.
Packing and baggage
You’ll find plenty of familiar brands in the supermarkets of Gran Canaria, and what you can’t get with a recognisable label you’ll find locally produced, so don’t bother taking foodstuffs. Having said that, if you’re based in rural accommodation you might want to pack a few extras such as teabags. Also, if you’re visiting in winter, make sure you bring an extra layer to combat the occasional chilly evening.
Where can you fly from?
Although the majority of the UK’s main hubs serve Gran Canaria, it’s often worth shopping around to see if you can get a better deal from a regional airport. You can often get cheap flights to Gran Canaria from Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds/Bradford to name but a few.
Surviving the airport
Heed the luggage restrictions that accompany your flight details. Airlines will ask you to either pay excess or re-pack at the counter if you weigh in over the odds. If you do need extra space, see my secret weapon to carry those extra kilos.
Buses 66, 90 and 91 run regular services to the south (but don’t operate between midnight and 5am – you can find out more, including prices, at the official bus website). Alternatively, several major car hire providers have desks in arrivals. Local companies also provide competitive rates including Record and AutoReisen. You’ll also find a plethora of taxis willing to whisk you to your accommodation – €35-55 (£28 – £45) depending on the distance to your particular southern resort. Find out more at the Gran Canaria taxi website.
Once you are there
Fun on the first night
To get the full-on, ‘hello, I’m on a paradisiacal sub-tropical island’ feeling on the first night, you need the following ingredients: warm evening, palm trees, ocean view, sultry sunset and fresh seafood. Find all of them neatly packaged at Puerto de Mogan in the southwest. Here the clinking of millionaire masts mingles with low-key piano notes from snug-lit restaurants, luring strollers from the quayside promenade. Behind the restaurants, neat rows of townhouses resplendent in their Sunday best whitewash and bougainvillea overlook a working harbour with movie star looks. You could do a lot worse than bagging a table at La Caracola for some very fine seafood but with only 14 covers, reservations are highly recommended.
Practical considerations for planning an itinerary
Having ingratiated yourself with the Gran Canaria dinner experience it’s time to meet the many other faces of this miniature continent. Unsurprisingly sand plays an important part in daytime activities. Several beaches are truly spectacular, particularly Maspalomas and Anfi, and worthy of plenty of towel-based rest and relaxation. Most of the popular beaches provide sunbeds and parasols, but at a price. Park your wares on the sand in padded and shaded comfort and don’t be surprised to be relieved of anything up to €12 (£10) for a day’s hire.
If you prefer a less touristy experience, northern villages such as Agaete allow you to mingle on the shingle with the locals. Start with a coffee or beer in the spit and sawdust Bar Perola where every drink is served with a fistful of monkey nuts thrust onto the dark wooden bartop. Next, head to the neighbouring harbour village of Puerto de las Nieves to seek out the water taxi, which for a small fee will give you a sea-sprayed tour of the rugged coastline and the one-kilometre-high Risco Faneque, Europe’s loftiest cliff. If you’re lucky, you might even spot flying fish, dolphins and turtles. Then take a table in restaurant Dedo de Dios, humming with multi-generational families and famed for remarkable seafood at even more remarkably low prices.
Agaete also provides a gateway to Gran Canaria’s tropical side. Follow the signs for El Valle and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in a fruit bowl valley bursting with oranges, papaya and mango, plus the only coffee plantation in Europe. Pick up a bag in town… you won’t find it for sale anywhere else on the planet.
The interior of Gran Canaria really is a world full of surprises. At least one day’s exploration is necessary to get a true feel of how much can be packed in a 50 by 50-mile fist of volcanic stone. The easiest way is to plan a route from village to village, taking in the view along the way but also allowing plenty of strolling time too.
You could hire a car and drive yourself, but sightseeing while negotiating mountain roads doesn’t make a happy combination for the driver, who isn’t going to get much of an eyeful of the scenery. A better alternative would be to take a taxi from each village (use the taxi website to find out more), or if you’re the timetable type, make use of the Gran Canaria bus network.
A suggested circular route would be Maspalomas-Aguimes-Las Palmas-Teror-Arucas-Galdar-Agaete-Artenara-Tejeda-Pico de las Nieves-Puerto de Mogan-Maspalomas. It would be highly advisable to break the journey into at least a couple of days with beachfront recovery days either side.
Gran Canaria is a great beach and summer sun destination, but it’s much more as well. It’s also an island of discovery and unless you make at least a bit of an effort to get to know its multiple personalities it’ll always remain an acquaintance rather than a good friend.
Gran Canaria Hassle Free – the map
View larger map
Las Palmas Airport (LPA) is the Canary Island’s busiest airport, handling around 9.5 million travellers per year. Naturally things can get a little chaotic in the busiest months of July and August although work is under way to double the current space. These improvements are due to be completed in 2013. Until then, allow at least half-an-hour more than normal to ensure a less stressful departure and head to Zone A for European Union flights, Zone B for International destinations outside of the EU, and C for inter-island flights. The main resorts in the south are around 15-20 miles by motorway from the airport.
Show your travel adventures to friends and family via Facebook, or upload your photos to a Gran Canaria Flickr group.
And don’t forget to share your experiences here or on the Directline Holidays Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/directlineholidays
- Gran Canaria Tourist Board on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/turismodegrancanaria
- Gran Canaria taxis service: http://www.taxigrancanaria.com
- Bike hire and cycle tours in Gran Canaria: http://www.cyclegrancanaria.com
- Fred Olsen ferries for a look at the other Canary Islands: http://www.fredolsen.es
- Gran Canaria weather forecast: http://www.holiday-weather.com/gran_canaria
- Gran Canaria airport transfers: http://www.grancanariataxis.co.uk/
Local tourist offices:
- Official Gran Canaria tourism site: http://www.grancanaria.com
- Canary Islands tourist info: http://www.turismodecanarias.com
Other useful sources of information:
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office Spain advice page: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/europe/spain
- Tripadvisor’s Gran Canaria forum: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowForum-g187471-i457-Gran_Canaria_Canary_Islands.html
- More useful information about Gran Canaria: http://www.gran-canaria-info.com/
- Gran Canaria bus service and timetables: http://www.globalsu.net/index_en.php
- Useful hiking guide compiled by island resident: http://www.ramblingroger.com/