Gran Canaria is one of the islands that makes up the Canary Islands which lies off the Morocco coastline. Owned by Spain and a popular holiday destination for Europeans, especially in the winter months as it has the most sunshine and warm temperatures in the whole of Europe (even though the islands are technically in Africa), the islands are all not just about beach resorts and partying. One of the top things to do on any of the islands is to get away from the resorts and check out what there is. Olga and I had the chance to do this when we visited the island of Gran Canaria and hired a car for the duration of the trip and here are some of the top sights we checked out.
In the north of the island not too far from the main city of Las Palmas is Arucas. This is a good stopping place for fuel etc before heading inland as the island is very hilly in the centre. Also here (and what can be seen for miles) is the church of San Juan Bautista which is built with stones from the local area and has stood here since 1909. This is worth stopping off to see the beautiful carved stone columns and heads and the stained glass windows here are amazing.
Ruta de las Cumbres
This is known as the mountain route which takes visitors all over the mountain range and is highly recommended. Most of the major laybys which had a view to take in, we were pulling over to capture the amazing scenery. The photos just say it all.
This is probably the main place to hit up whilst driving around. Roque Nublo (which means ‘Clouded Rock’ and ‘Rock in the Clouds’) is a huge volcanic rock standing at 80m (262 ft) tall and is 1,813m (5,948ft) above sea level. Our advice is to stay here for a few hours (or even more if you want to go hiking) and to get here early for parking as there aren't many spaces. The walk from the car park to the rock itself takes about twenty minutes but it's all uphill and very rocky in places so we don’t recommend people with wheelchairs to attempt this.
The view from the top is amazing and a great opportunity to see the top of the volcano on the nearby island of Tenerife from here. Here is also a great chance to see the strange clouds and the environment of the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria. The cloud is always on the north of these islands and the temperature is much cooler but as soon as the clouds hit the volcanoes they disappear which leaves clear blue skies over the south of the islands and its hear the warmer temperatures are found (and most of the resorts for holidaymakers).
The road from Roque Nublo to Maspalomas
This is one of the main routes into the heart of the island from the south coast and can get quite busy during the peak season. The GC-60 goes through some pretty villages but there is a stop off, half-way between the Roque Nublo and Maspalomas called Mirador de Fataga. This is a perfect place to get amazing views of the southern side of the mountain range and check out the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
The north-western side of Gran Canaria
This is not to be missed. There is a coastal route which goes all the way around the western side of the islands and connects to the highways in the north and the south but it does take a while as it winds and bends along the rugged coastline and mountain ridges. We didn’t have time to do all of this road but we did do a part of this just south of the town of Agaete.
Agaete - this is a pretty little town with white paint-washed buildings and makes the ideal spot to pick up food if thinking of an idea to have a picnic or have lunch here (don’t forget to check the fuel levels!).
Lomo de San Pedro - just bear away from the coastal road for a few minutes and follow the GC-231 from Agaete and check out the beautiful villages along this route, most noticeable is Lomo de San Pedro. This is a great place to have a base and go hiking into the valleys but we found the area to be a great place to get those photogenic views in.
Parque Natural Tamadaba - head back into Agaete and follow the GC-200 which goes through the heart of the Tamadaba natural park. Here there are plenty of stopping off places to see the rugged coastlines and take in the breathtaking mountain and ocean views. We got as far as El Lomo on the westernmost point of the island before heading back north.
Overall, our impression from our drive in Gran Canaria
We wish we had more time to drive all over and even a few more days to do some hiking jaunts whilst we were here. The island is just pretty, breathtaking in many places. Our opinion of this island was thrown out as soon as we headed into the centre and wanted to explore more. We would recommend doing this when visiting the island and there are plenty of cheap car hires near the airport. (Tip: Canary Islands maybe part of Spain and use the Euro currency but they are not part of the European Union and have cheaper tax laws which helps visitors get a better deal). Choose a small car and you are on your way. We never regretted it and had an amazing time.