Gran Canaria is the third largest island of the archipelago that makes up the Canary Islands, but holds almost half the population of the entire Canary Islands. Visitors who cruise to Gran Canaria during Mediterranean cruises can pretend to be locals for the day as they lounge on one of the island’s gorgeous beaches, visit the oceanfront sand dunes, and explore sundrenched towns and villages. In addition to all the sights, Gran Canaria is an excellent place to try some culinary delights as well.
Las Palmas is both Gran Canaria’s capital and largest city. It is actually the ninth largest city in Spain and gives the island a cosmopolitan, bustling feel that you’re quick to lose as soon as you leave Las Palmas and head into more of nature setting on the island. This makes Las Palmas a fun diversion to a day otherwise spent taking in the scenery or frolicking in the water. While in Las Palmas, you can visit its shopping districts, try some traditional food at one of the many restaurants, or order a drink at one of the bars and do some people watching. Top sites and landmarks to see in Las Palmas include Santa Ana Cathedral and its spectacular views of the city from the south tower, the historic buildings of the Vegueta neighborhood, and Casa Museo de Colón, a museum housed in a stately building that once served as the residence of the island’s military governor in the 15th century and may have also played host to Christopher Columbus during one of his visits to the island.
Playa del Ingles is Gran Canaria’s most famous place to head for some nightlife and dancing until the morning hours. However, those that cruise to Gran Canaria get to experience a different side of Playa del Ingles by visiting during the quieter daytime hours, and stopping in the upscale shops and restaurants, or going for a walk along the curving sandy beach.
Puerto de Mogan is a tiny little fishing village that you might want to take a million photos of. It has a myriad of bridges and water inlets, which gets it the nickname of “Little Venice”. Along with these scenic bridges are Mediterranean style houses dotting the hillside and several restaurants, cafes, and bars to hang out in during your time in this charming village on the southwest coast of Gran Canaria.
If you love interesting architecture, then it’s worth some of your time in Gran Canaria to walk through Puerto de las Nieves, a fishing village that has many interesting buildings to look at and tour the inside of. To see traditional Canarian buildings, amble down the main street of Calle de la Conception. The church along here is also beautiful to behold and features a wooden balcony, which was a traditional element of buildings constructed during colonial times on the island.
Visit the Maspalomas Dunes and you might feel like you’re visiting the Sahara desert instead of a tropical island – except that the gorgeous ocean blue is still visible from many parts of the dunes. That water is shallow in many parts, making it great for families and those looking to do some easy snorkeling. The tops of the dunes are also a great place to watch the sunset. For a more adventurous day spent at Maspalomas Dunes, try some sandboarding from one of its peaks. The tops of the dunes are also a great place to watch the sunset.
This natural wonder is a must-see for many travelers on a cruise to Gran Canaria. The Caldera de Bandama is a massive crater that stretches 574 meters high and 1,000 meters wide with a depth of 216 meters. Making the crater even more enticing to visit is the fact that you can walk along the inside of it. Near Caldera de Bandama, visitors can also find Cueva de los Canarios, which is an archaeological site that ancient settlers used as a granary for storing food. In addition, the caldera is a great place to take panoramic photos of Gran Canaria from the top.
Teror is often called the most beautiful town in Gran Canaria. Whether you agree with that or not after seeing it, there’s no doubting it is lovely with its colorful and historic buildings situated in a picturesque valley surrounded by lush green peaks. Teror is the oldest village on Gran Canaria and many of its locals still work in agriculture and animal husbandry; tourism is also a big part of the economy in Teror these days.
Experience the wonders of the culinary side of the Canary Islands while in port during a cruise to Gran Canaria with a visit to one of its many restaurants or a foodie-focused shore excursion that lets you try some local cuisine.
Gran Canaria is especially known for its fresh fish, which may come as no surprise since it’s an island destination. To feast upon the fish like a local, opt for the caldo de pescado, which is a fish stew, or the vieja sancochada, which is a seabream casserole. If you want the freshest fish you can find, seek out one of the restaurants on Gran Canaria with their own fishing boats that go out each day to catch fish, crab, and even lobster.
Another part of the local diet to try is gofio, a stone-ground flour that is made with barley, maize, and wheat, and is rich in vitamins and minerals. It is added to many recipes and desserts in Gran Canaria.
One more can’t-miss item to feast upon while in Gran Canaria is papas arrugadas. This popular tapas or side dish consists of wrinkled potatoes boiled with their skins on (which gives them the wrinkled effect) served alongside mojo sauce.
Gran Canaria and the rest of the Canary Islands were once part of the Roman Empire, but after the fall of that empire, they were mostly forgotten about and the native people who remained on the islands went about living the island life until the 14th century when Spanish explorers rediscovered the archipelago. The native people of Gran Canaria were known as Gaunches or Canarios and they resisted the sudden incoming flux of the Spanish, but by 1483 the conquest was complete and the Canary Islands became part of Spain. Many Gaunches were killed or forced into slavery.
In the 19th century, a call for independence or a different political setup for the Canary Islands began. In 1927, the archipelago was divided into two separate provinces: Tenerife and Las Palmas (Gran Canaria is part of Las Palmas) and in 1982, the Autonomous Government Statutes were passed, which let the Canary Islands operate its regional government with little input from Spain, though the islands are still not completely independent of Spain.
The culture of Gran Canaria is vibrant and colorful – literally if you happen to be there during a festival. The Canary Islands are known for their grand festivals, and on Gran Canaria, these festivals take place in the form of carnivals or fiestas. The streets are filled with locals dressed in colorful costume who dance through the streets and perform traditional songs that are sometimes humorous and sometimes make a political point. During fiestas there will also be markets set up with stalls selling local crafts and delicious street food. Fiestas are family-friendly with games set up for children to keep them entertained, while adults can enjoy a drink and watch the fun.
Another cultural event that takes place on Gran Canaria each year are the religious pilgrimages, during which locals and visitors who have come for the pilgrimage dress in traditional clothing and walk through the town while singing and playing musical instruments in order to honor a saint.
Cruises to Gran Canaria dock at the Port of Las Palmas. The port is located right by the city center and is made up of two piers located right by each other: Muelle Santa Catalina and Muelle de Transbordadores. Most large cruise ships dock in Muelle Santa Catalina.
The port is located right next to a shopping center called El Muelle, where you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants, though most people will want to eventually make their way into the old town part of Las Palmas, which is a little over 3.5 miles from the Gran Canaria cruise port.
Right outside the cruise terminal in Gran Canaria you can find taxis available to hire. There is also a bus stop for local bus routes that will take you farther into Las Palmas or to other parts of the island. In addition, there are even horse drawn carriages waiting outside the terminal to take you into Las Palmas’ city center and around its main streets.
If you’re on a cruise to Gran Canaria and love to shop, you’re in luck since the Gran Canaria cruise port is located in Las Palmas, which is home to the island’s best shopping. Once you’ve disembarked you can walk right into the city center and start finding some souvenirs, European fashions, and other local goods.
For fashion, head to Las Arenas, which is a typical mall structure and carries lots of high street stores, or Boulevard El Faro where you’ll find designer brands and boutiques.
For local goods and souvenirs, visit one of Las Palmas’ markets or make your way to Teror to browse through the village’s well-stocked craft market.
Bargain hunters may enjoy visiting Las Terrazas, which was just opened in 2008 and is a premium outlet center that offers excellent bargains on a number of well-known brands.
Gran Canaria’s tipping customs are similar to the rest of the Canary Islands in that a tip is generally expected when dining out, but probably less than you’re used to leaving in the United States. A customary tip amount in the Canary Islands is 10% of the total bill when dining in a restaurant or ordering drinks at the bar. When dining out you’ll likely see an IGIC service charge on the bill, but that is not the tip; it is type of tax (called the Canary Island General Indirect tax) that is the equivalent of VAT in the Canary Islands.
For taxis, a tip isn’t expected, though locals will round up to the nearest euro since taxi drivers often don’t have change, and it’s considered polite to do so.