Pummelled by the Atlantic Ocean and just 70 miles from Morocco, Gran Canaria is part of Spain’s volcanic Canary Islands archipelago. The easygoing capital Las Palmas in the north-east is worth a visit for its UNESCO World Heritage Old Town and café-lined plazas. Edging south brings you to year-round resorts like dune-backed Maspalomas, the kid-friendly beaches of Puerto Rico and the fiesta-crazy bars of Playa del Inglés. In the rugged interior, the highest peak Pico de las Nieves watches over verdant pine forests, palm groves and cliffhanger villages like Fataga.
Year-round sunshine warms Gran Canaria’s volcanic beaches, strung along 236km of coastline. Families and party-loving beachgoers pick Gran Canaria hotels in Playa del Inglés, famous for its broad sands and bar-lined promenade. Atlantic waves thrash the dunes in neighbouring Maspalomas. Further west, lively Puerto Rico lures watersports enthusiasts and families. Here a clifftop path leads to the sugar-white, Caribbean-imported sands of Amadores beach. Windsurfers flock east to breezy Pozo Izquierdo, while escapists seek out craggy north coast bays like Sardina.
Amuse the kids on family holidays in Gran Canaria with bumpy camel rides through Maspalomas’ rippling dunes. Or take them on a Puerto Rico boat trip to spot whales and playful bottlenose dolphins. Children let off excess energy on Aqualand’s twisting water slides and Holiday World’s giddy rides. Flamingos and hummingbirds populate Palmitos Park, home to aviaries, an aquarium and a butterfly house. Discover prickly rarities at Cactualdea cactus park in the island’s west.
Dubbed a continent in miniature, Gran Canaria is an island of climatic extremes, where you can spend mornings sunning yourself on Maspalomas’ Sahara-like dunes and afternoons throwing snowballs on the 1949m summit of Pico de las Nieves. Walking trails called caminos reales weave through the volcanic interior, sculpted by craters, ravines and rock pinnacles like monolithic Roque Nublo. Hikers seek cool respite in the fragrant pine forests in the north-western Tamadaba nature reserve.
The spirit of discovery lives on in cobbled streets lined with 15th-century mansions in Las Palmas’ UNESCO-listed La Vegueta district, where Christopher Columbus mapped out great voyages. The whitewashed, bougainvillea-draped lanes of fishing village Puerto de Mogán exude a laid-back feel. Admire colonial architecture and ornate balconies in the streets of Telde and Teror. Rising dramatically above the Valley of 1,000 Palms and crowned by a baroque basilica, clifftop Fataga moves to a relaxed village pace.
Begin your evening in Las Palmas with a paseo (stroll) and tapas in the Old Town before hitting one of the people-watching cafés on Parque de Santa Catalina square. The colonial-style casino nearby attracts late-night gamblers. All-night discos, karaoke pubs and cocktail bars keep the vibe merry in southern Maspalomas, neon-lit Playa del Inglés, and loud and lively Puerto Rico. Low-key romance draws couples to Puerto de Mogán’s twinkling harbour, where quayside restaurants serve Canarian seafood with sweet Malvasísa wine.