Gran Canaria is the third-largest of the Canary Islands and often referred to as a continent in miniature. And it is easy to see why: the island has a dramatic variation of terrain with a rugged coastline in the north and golden sand dunes in the south. Inland, you will find mountains, canyons and volcanic craters along with diverse vegetation.
The Spanish island, situated around 150 km off the northwestern coast of Africa, has become a popular tourist destination over the past decades. The whole year round, (mostly) European tourist enjoy the resorts, nightlife, and beaches in the south.
However, you will experience the real beauty of Gran Canaria by leaving the south behind and exploring the rural mountain landscapes, tranquil villages and coastal towns in the north.
In September and October 2018, I had the chance to spend some time in Gran Canaria – mostly hiking and diving. I traveled all over the island, followed local’s recommendations and managed to find a lot of beautiful places as well as some hidden gems far away from the crowds.
In this post, I tried to break it all down to 5 Gran Canaria travel highlights that I consider must-visit spots when you find yourself on the island. Some of these are definitely some lesser known sights to see when visiting the Canary Islands.
1. Puerto De La Aldea
Located in the province of Los Caserones, north-west of the mountain town Aldea de San Nicolas is Puerto de la Aldea with its black pebbly beach, small harbor, and some seafood restaurants. While the beach is frequented by locals on the weekend, it is a pretty quiet and authentic spot during the week.
The Parque Ruben Dia with stone benches and tables is an excellent place for a picnic. The lure here is, however, to climb the steep hill opposite the tourist information center. From up there, not only do you have a panoramic view of Los Caserones but also you can go on one of the numerous hiking trails that start here.
If you move to the other side of the platform, you will see a beautiful, hidden beach. You can trek to this small, sandy beach by following the hiking trail to Playa de El Puerto. Be sure to take loads of water and appropriate shoes as the ground is pretty stony. Nevertheless, you will enjoy epic views and likely find yourself the only person in the bay.
How To Get There: Following the GC-200 by car, make your way towards Aldea de San Nicolas. From here, continue north to Puerto de la Aldea. You can park your car at or near the tourist information center.
2. Barranco De Las Vacas
One of my favorite spots on the island of Gran Canaria is the hidden canyon Barranco de las Vacas, which I only learned about by talking to locals and reading blogs.
What looks a lot like a mixture of both the Blue John Canyon and the Antelope Canyon in the US is actually located only a few kilometers from Agüimes in the southeast of the island.
There is no road sign nor a proper parking area, so it’s best to use Google Maps to navigate to it and find parking somewhere along the curvy road.
Descend into the parched riverbed, from where you need to trek for about 10-15 minutes. Go through the underpass and follow the riverbed until you reach the ravine with its flowing curves of reddish stone. The canyon’s colors change with the sunlight depending on the time of day, which is why it is also referred to as Toba de Colores by locals.
While I also enjoyed hiking to and from the ravine, Barranco de las Vacas is probably most famous for its perfect photo opportunities.
How To Get There: From Agüimes, follow the GC-550 for about 5 minutes until you reach a little gravel platform on the left. It’ll be best to park here and continue on foot for a few minutes. There’s a small path descending into the river bed. Follow this path on foot until you reach the canyon.
3. Presa De Las Niñas
Although the road leading to this place is not for the faint-hearted, the drive to Presa de las Niñas is undoubtedly worth the effort (and anti-vertigo pills 😀 ). This spot is a real nature gem and far off the beaten touristy paths from the southern coast.
What you get here is a beautiful blue lake surrounded by differently colored meadows, diverse vegetation and goats wearing bells that make a bit of a clanking sound. Other than that, this place is tranquil and peaceful. You can get incredible views and photo opportunities while hiking around the lake.
Also, Presa de las Niñas is excellent for a picnic or BBQ – some people even come here for camping. If you forgot to bring your own food, consider driving to the nearby mountain village of Tejeda where you’ll find various scenic restaurants.
How To Get There: Make your way to Mogan. Follow the GC-200 to Pie de la Cuesta. At the end of the village, there’s an intersection. Take the curvy GC-605 until you reach Presa de la Ninas. There will be a parking sign directing you to the recreation area.
4. Playa De San Augustin & Seafront
Of course, this post would be incomplete without naming at least one of the various beaches Gran Canaria has to offer.
Playa del Ingles, Puerto Rico and Puerto de Mogan are among the most publicly praised beaches. However, they are crowded with tourists, especially in high season.
Therefore, I decided to list Playa de San Augustin in combination with its gorgeous seafront promenade as one of the favorites. San Augustin’s black sand beach is significantly less touristy and a great place to spend a few relaxing hours sunbathing or swimming in the calm, shallow waters.
The seafront promenade runs all the way to the famous dunes in Maspalomas, passing other beaches, such as Playa de las Burras and Playa del Ingles. It offers cozy beach bars, ice cream shops, and some decent seafood restaurants. Strolling along the promenade is peaceful and especially romantic at night when everything is lit, and temperatures have dropped.
How To Get There: From Maspalomas, you can either take a bus or your car to get to San Augustin. Just follow the GC-500 for about 10 minutes.
5. Diving In Arguineguin
Whether you’re already a diver or not, the Canary Islands offer some of the best diving opportunities in Europe (well, not precisely IN Europe, but you know what I mean). So, one or two dives should definitely be on your list.
After checking out different dive sites, I consider Arguineguin a pretty decent spot with a variety of marine life to discover. Many dive sites around Gran Canaria are home to morays, stingrays, barracuda, and trumpetfish.
Both the Arguineguin Reef and the nearby dive site Pasito Blanco are also (usually) home to large schools of bastard grunts, which is indeed an eye-catcher and perfect for underwater photography.
How To Get There: Sign up with a dive center in Gran Canaria. I may recommend diving with the team of Diving Center Nautico in San Augustin (or their subsidiary Diving Center Sun-Sub in Maspalomas). They’re the oldest dive center on the island, very professional and knowledgeable about the different dive sites around Gran Canaria.