Well, this is it -my final write-up on the Seven major Canary Islands, and this one is all about the island of Gran Canaria. Apart from being a part of my amazing 7-island circumnavigation, it is also an island I have had the pleasure of working on for just over one year, and during this time I got to know the island -along with many of its inhabitants, very well indeed. Gran Canaria is actually quite similar in lots of ways to Tenerife, but like all of the islands in this relatively small archipelago, it also maintains a certain individuality that is entirely different from its counterparts. Like all of my previous write-ups I will finish-off this blog -and likewise this chapter on life in the Canary Islands, with a small excerpt from my ‘7-Islands’ travel-journal, which I sincerely hope you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing.
Gran Canaria, which actually means ‘Great Island of Dogs’ is the second most populous island in the Canary Islands, and its capital city is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The port of Las Palmas was the first stop of Christopher Columbus’ expedition on his return from the Americas, a commemoration of which is the ‘Hermitage of San Antonio Abad’, where Columbus used to stop and say his prayers. The island is renowned for its rich variety of microclimates, and is often described as a ‘miniature continent’, due to its great variety of landscapes. These include a mixture of golden beaches and a mass of white sand dunes, along-with endless green ravines and a plethora of picturesque villages. Around one-third of the island has been declared as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
The eastern coast of the island is generally flat, whereas the western coast is very mountainous, and the island’s highest point is the Pico de Las Nieves, which reaches an elevation of 6,400 feet (1,949 m) above sea-level. Like all of the Canaries, Gran Canaria is a volcanic island -and very-much alive, although the last eruptions occurred around 3,500 years ago. There are a total of ’32’ ‘Natural Protected Spaces’ on the island, which includes ‘The Doramas Jungle’, ‘The Azuaje Ravine’, and the ‘Rural Park of Nublo’ -to name but a few.
Situated along the south-western tip of the island is the beautiful harbour of Puerto Mogan, which is affectionately known as ‘Little Venice’, simply because it is made-up of several canals -and within half-an-hours drive of this sleepy fishing village is the bustling tourist area of ‘Playa Del Ingles’ (The Englishman’s Beach’), where bars and restaurants are in abundance -and the night-life is never-ending. Not far from Playa del Ingles are the famous sand dunes of ‘Maspalomas’, along with the distinctive 19th century ‘Maspalomas Lighthouse’, which stands tall at the far end of the main beach. All of the above are major tourist attractions for the masses of holiday-makers which swarm the island every year -along with the nudist beach, which is primarily for all the naturists of this world, but is also open to the general public, year-round.
Other attractions on the island include the ‘Palmitos Park’, which is a huge bird sanctuary, the ‘Crocodilos (crocodile) Park’ and the Cenobio de Valeron, which boasts around 290 caves. There is also the ‘Cueva Pintada’, which is the most important archaeological park in the whole of the Canary Islands, along with the beautiful botanical gardens of ‘Cactualdea’ and Jardin Canario’. Gran Canaria is also famous for its rock-formations, including ‘Roque Nublo’, an 80-metre monolith, ‘El-Cura’ (also known as El Fraile), ‘La Rana’ (‘The Frog’), and so many more -too numerous to mention. ‘El Dedo De Dios’ (‘God’s Fingers’), a rocky spire which jutted-out from the sea in Puerto de las Nieves, was previously the main attraction of the Canary Islands, until it was destroyed by a Tropical Storm Delta, which swept across the archipelago in November 2005. In 2016 I will be visiting friends again in Gran Canaria for a short holiday, but for now let me finish-off my final Canary Island blog with a quick insight into my ‘diary of yesteryear’.
From Las Palmas our destination is Playa del Ingles, which is virtually on the bottom of ‘the rock’, and about a fifty kilometer drive from the ferry-port. The main highway is three lanes wide nearly all the way down to the southern coast, and so we managed to cover the distance in just over half-an-hour.
However, one thing that we had not taken into consideration was the fact that it was now August -and therefore nearly everywhere in this vibrant holiday resort was either packed to capacity – or exorbitantly expensive! After several enquiries, at various places, we finally spotted a very nice hotel on the outskirts of town, which was four-star rated and boasted the most magnificent swimming pool -and so we checked in for the next two nights. The following morning my partner and I relaxed and sunbathed in the ninety degree heat, while the children played happily in the pool, before joining-in with all the party games, which the various holiday rep’s had organized for the guests of the hotel.
With our bodies suitably bronzed by lunch time the six of us took a walk into Maspalomas, firstly for something to eat -and secondly for the women to have a spot of retail therapy (shopping). After the ladies had duly kissed-goodbye to a fair proportion of our spending money, myself and my little entourage wandered up, over and around those infamous sand-dunes until our legs would carry us no-more. Sally and I then offered to take the children to the ‘Holiday World’ amusement park, which boasts such delights as a Ferris wheel, a set of dodgem cars, and a stack of laser games for them to enjoy playing on, but the kids were more interested in getting back to their beloved pool, to try and cool down their now frazzled bodies -and shade themselves as much as possible from the blistering heat of the afternoon.
And so we decided to let them have their own way – thus saving us a small fortune in the process. In the evening we popped into the town of Puerto Rico for a sedate night of temperate drinking -and cheap food, before returning to our rooms for an early night, in readiness for our final day of travelling tomorrow. As we did not have to check-out of our rooms until noon, we spent the morning relaxing by the pool, after which we indulged ourselves in a spot of lunch, before going back to our sun-beds for a few hours -thus giving our bodies plenty of time to digest the (ample) food which we had just consumed. By the time we finally set-off it was approaching the six o’clock mark, and so we thought that we had better get our skates on. As we had traversed the eastern side of the island in only half-an-hour, I naturally assumed that we could do likewise on the western side, but boy was I in for a surprise.
Just like Tenerife , Gran Canaria has excellent highways on the east coast, but nothing but mountain roads on its western shores. On and on we drove, traversing several massive inclines, before descending into endless valleys -and tip-toeing around so many hairpin bends that I lost count of them after the first twenty. An hour soon passed, and we weren’t even half-way to our destination, but on we plodded, up hill and down dale, out to the coast, and then back inland again, as we followed the contours of the mountains to the bitter end. As dusk settled in, I could see our ship in port, but time was rapidly ticking away, and we seemed to be getting no closer to the coast, no matter how many miles we covered!
Within half-an-hour we were driving through mountainous roads in the dark, and we could see the lights of our ship, as she sailed gently away from the harbour -the last ship of the day! So now we would have no choice but to find a hotel for the night. Unfortunately there were only two hotels in the small town of Agaete -and they were both fully booked! However, after seeing how drained we all looked, the owner of the second hotel we called at took pity on our souls, and so he had a large storage room cleaned-out, before putting several mattresses on the floor for us to sleep on. Tomorrow morning we would all be back on my wonderful island of Tenerife, and in the afternoon my three children will be flying back to their hometown of Cardiff -but tonight we are going to wine and dine ourselves in the hotel restaurant -and we are also going to raise our glasses and congratulate ourselves on our “Conquering of The Seven Canary Islands”.