The festivities are well and truly behind us but there are still a few more months of cold weather to come. So, now is the perfect time to plan a break to warmer climes. One of the most popular winter sun destinations for Europeans is the Canary Islands. The hot summers and warm winters make it a favourite getaway spot at any time of year.
These volcanic islands are an autonomous community of Spain, situated in the Atlantic Ocean 100km west of Morocco. The Canaries were once an important port of call for Spanish galleons taking advantage of the trade winds on their way to the Americas. One of the largest islands in the archipelago, Gran Canaria, is known as a “miniature continent” due to its diverse landscapes. With long beaches, clear waters, green ravines, picturesque villages and mountainous interior, Gran Canaria has something for everyone. Best of all, it only takes around four hours by plane from the UK.
Over the years I’ve visited the Canary Islands several times and have never been disappointed. Whether you’re seeking sun and relaxation, sporting adventures or a fun family holiday, these sun-drenched islands are the ideal medium haul holiday destination. I’ve compiled a list of 8 Things To Do and See in Gran Canaria:
Gran Canaria has more than 120 miles of coastline with an abundance of beautiful beaches. The south of the island is where you’ll find the longest beaches, including Maspalomas, which is best known for its Saharan-sized sand dunes. They were designated a nature reserve in the 1990s to prevent the resort from taking over the beach. If you’re feeling adventurous you can take a camel safari across the dunes…and if you’re feeling really adventurous there’s a nudist section on the beach too 😉
If you’re on a family holiday and need to entertain the kids, a day out at a water park or theme park is bound to be a winner. There are several big attractions in the south of the island including Aqualand Maspalomas (the biggest water park on the island), Palmitos Park (an ornithological park with aquarium, butterfly house and orchids), Sioux City (a Wild West theme park) and Mundo Aborigen (a theme park and museum recreating an ancient Canarian village).
The mild climate and diverse terrain makes Gran Canaria a haven for outdoor sports, including windsurfing, kite surfing, sailing, paragliding, trail running, rock climbing and cycling. The trade winds ensure dry and breezy weather that’s perfect for getting active on the water.
If you’re seeking a more gentle form of exercise you might be interested to know that the island is also an exceptional golfing location (just don’t tell Donald Trump!). Here can you play golf all year round, surrounded by magnificent volcanic landscapes.
One of the activities on my bucket list is whale-watching. We’ve all seen them on TV, but to actually see them from a boat would be the most amazing experience. The rich marine ecosystems and warm waters around the Canary Islands attract all sorts of marine life, including a wide range of cetaceans. The great advantage of whale-watching in the Canary Islands is that many of the whales and dolphins are permanent residents so you are almost guaranteed to see them.
Up to 26 species live around the canaries, including blue whales and dolphins. Because they live so close to shore, the islands are Europe’s most popular whale and dolphin-watching spot. Whale-watching boats in the Canary Islands respect the strict laws that guarantee whales and dolphins a hassle-free life. Feeding and swimming with them is not allowed on these trips to ensure they lead a completely natural life.
Maybe getting in the water is more your thing? The Canary Islands are a diving paradise thanks to their warm, crystal clear waters. These favourable conditions make the islands one of the most renowned spots in the world for scuba diving.
The volcanic eruptions which formed the islands millions of years ago has created a fascinating underwater landscape. The waters around the Canary Islands are home to reefs, shipwrecks and caves. The Arinaga Marine Reserve on the east coast (also known as ‘El Cabrón’) is classed as one of the best dive sites in Europe. Barracuda, angel sharks and seahorses are are among the many marine species that inhabit this area.
The Trade Wind breezes which prevent clouds from forming over the islands make the skies here amongst the clearest in Europe. They are legally protected to control flight patterns and prevent light, atmospheric and radio wave pollution interfering with stargazing. The Temisas Observatory in the south east of the island offers talks and workshops, including night time sessions. Or you could just lay on the beach and watch the night sky.
Of course, I couldn’t leave out shopping! Thanks to unique Canarian tax rules the islands have a sales tax rate of just 7%. This is far lower than anywhere else in Europe. As to be expected, the big towns and cities have modern shopping centres with all the big brands. I always shop in Zara and Mango when I’m in Spain because it’s so much cheaper than in the UK. For a more authentic experience, open air markets are great for buying local handicrafts, antiques or costume jewellery. Don’t forget to take an extra suitcase!
*Disclaimer: This post is in collaboration with James Villas. All words and opinions are my own.