Gran Canaria Island Information

Facts: Gran Canaria is one of the seven Canary Islands (the second in size, after Tenerife), which are located in the south-west of Spain and north-west of Africa, directly in front of the coast of Morocco. The main city, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is the seventh most populated in Spain, with 400.000 inhabitants. These islands share both Spanish and Latin American cultures due to the great movement of people generated between the islands and South America in the last centuries.

Being of volcanic origin, Gran Canaria has a surface area of 1,560 square kilometres and 236 kilometres of coastline. Gran Canaria enjoys a spring climate all year round with average annual temperatures that fluctuate between 18 and 25 degrees centigrade. However, the topography of the island has given rise to a great variety of microclimates and landscapes within the island. The sea is equally warm, with temperatures fluctuating between 18 ºC in the winter months, and 22 ºC during the rest of the year. This, together with the estimated annual rate of 2,700 hours of sunlight, allows you to make the most of the day, whether you are on the beach, playing a sport, on a day trip or enjoying an outdoor activity.

Cenobio de Valeron - Guanche MausoleumHistory: Although there is still debate over exactly when the first settlers, known as Guanches (a name that means ‘white mountain man’ in their own language), arrived in Gran Canaria, it is believed that were already on the island at least 500 years before the birth of Christ and that they were descended from the North African Berbers (name given to them by others, they refer to themselves as Amazigh). The Guanches on the island of Gran Canaria lived mainly in natural caves and homes made from dry stone and they lived mainly thanks to agriculture, although they also kept some livestock, the bulk of which would have been goats.

The Catholic Kings’ desires to conquer the Canary Islands lead Spanish troops commanded by Juan Rejón to disembark onto the Island of Gran Canaria on the 14th of June 1478. The military camp they set up on Vegueta Hill would become the origin of the city of Las Palmas. Despite being ill-equipped for war (the Guanches being a simple people living from the land) they resisted for 5 years, but finally the island would be incorporated into the Crown of Castille at the hands of Pedro de Vera.

As the area was of strategic importance to the sea routes between the Americas, Europe and Asia (even Christopher Columbus is reported to have stopped by on his first journey to the Americas, with the house he is reputed to have stayed at being a monument to this day), the 16th century would see an increase in pirate and corsair activity around the Canary Islands. Pirates would be attracted by the cargo-laden ships passing through or making port in the area and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria would have a booming sugar-cane trade to offer as bounty. Political interest and ideas of conquest would also be on the minds of corsairs.

In 1576, Felipe II would authorise the sale of slaves to America in order to finance the fortification of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and thus protect it from pirate and corsair attacks. In 1599 the Dutchman Pieter van der Doez would best the defences of Las Palmas where the renowned Englishman Francis Drake had been unable to in 1595. Van der Doez would plunder Las Palmas, much of the city being razed and destroyed.

The destruction caused by Van der Doez would lead to the emergence of the typical local style of architecture in the 17th century, a style which shows a blend of Islamic, Portuguese and Flemish influences.

Canary Architecture - MoganThe Borbonic reform in the 18th century is characterised by the centralisation of power and in the Canary Islands this is exemplified by the figure of the Captain General who is appointed by the Crown. This centralisation is the beginning of the idea of creating of a capital city which would spark the famous rivalry between Gran Canaria and Tenerife. The 1812 Constitution sees the Canary Islands become a single province with its capital in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. This unification seeds discontent amongst politicians and the social elite of Gran Canaria as they fear that Tenerife is in a position to siphon all public funding, as all matters with Madrid would have to go through Tenerife first.

In 1851, a cholera epidemic broke out in Gran Canaria which would bring about six thousand deaths and a blockade on all goods coming from the island that would last for several months and would have an enormous impact on its economy. Despite this, Las Palmas would then begin a process of transformation and development characterised by a demographic expansion and an unprecedented economic, social and political evolution. Perhaps an example of this could be the steps that would be taken in 1852 to ensure free commerce, fact which would attract a great number of English ships and companies to the island and which would in turn also signify the beginning of tourism, activity which has become the main activity of the island as the years have gone by.

In 1927, the rivalry between Gran Canaria and Tenerife leads to the division of the Islands into two provinces. In 1936, General Franco travelled to the Canaries to take control of his African army. It would be from here that he would launch the military uprising of the 17th of July and would quickly take control of the archipelago. Although there were a few focal points of resistance in La Palma, there was never a proper war in the islands. Despite this, they were one of the places where the post-war repression was most severe. This repression would lead to clandestine emigration, mainly towards Venezuela, which together with Cuba, has been one of the most popular destinations for emigration throughout the history of the islands.

Today, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, joint capital of the Canary Islands together with Tenerife, is a modern port city which not only attracts a large amount of tourism, but is also one of the most important ports in Spain.

Columbus House Attractions: There’s something for everyone in Gran Canaria, whether you are interested in culture, beaches, architecture, beautiful views, sports of all types, cheap holidays in Gran Canaria, or anything else that takes your fancy.

The cathedral in Santa Ana square was built just a few years after the discovery of the New World. And talking about the New World, Columbus House is a cultural institution and museum that investigates and shows the relationship between the Canary Islands and the Americas. The theme continues with houses typical of the old gentry that are similar in appearance to the Latin-American colonial houses and which can be found in the Vegueta Quarter of the city. And if its typical architecture that interests you, you can also visit the Canary Town (el Pueblo Canario), a creation situated in Doramas Park where in addition to learning about the local architecture you’ll have the chance to enjoy traditional dancing and singing every Thursday and Sunday thanks to the exhibitions held there.

You could also see and learn about the vegetation of the island in the magnificent botanical gardens about 8km away from Las Palmas, containing one of the largest collections of endemic flora in the world. There are also plenty of breathtaking views to be seen on the island, such as in Arucas, Arinaga, Guia, Tejeda or Teror, amongst other places.

And if you’re interested in the aborigine Guanche people, The Canary Museum (el Museo Canario) is home to the most complete collection of their remains and there are plenty of architectural and monolithic remains all over the island.

If you feel like taking time out and enjoying the sun, Las Palmas has two important beaches, Las Canteras and Alcaravaneras and further south on the island of Gran Canaria you can find the famous Playa del Inglés and Maspalomas (where you could enjoy a camel ride amongst the dunes). And for a bit more of active fun there are also plenty of theme parks and water parks.

Carnivals in Las Palmas de Gran CanariaLas Palmas de Gran Canaria also has a calendar full of events and festivals such as three weeks of Carnivals in February and the beginning of March, the Theatre and Dance Festival in July and August, its own Film Festival, a variety of religious and traditional holidays (many originating from the aborigines of the island called the Guanches) so there is almost always something going on.

Going Out: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, like all big cities has plenty of nightlife on offer as well as many other options when going out. Bars are usually open till 2am and discos don’t normally close before 6am. The Plaza de España area seems to be popular amongst the young as the place to have the first drink of the night. Those that enjoy 60’s music might want to try ‘El Coto’ and if it’s live music you’re after, ‘Cuasquías’ is an option. The ‘Museo del Ron’ (RumMuseum) serves all sorts of drinks and cocktails with Rum in them (the island has a long tradition elaborating the drink).

There are also plenty of good places to eat and the local gastronomy, with its Portuguese, Spanish and Latino-American (and specifically probably more Venezuelan) influences, is well worth trying. Spain is unequivocally associated with Tapas, and Gran Canaria is no different. Worth trying are the ‘papas arrugadas’ (or ‘papas arrugás’ as local pronunciation would have them called) which are small wrinkled and salted potatoes normally served with a typical sauce called ‘mojo picón’ (‘mojo’ meaning ‘sauce’ in the local dialect) made with fresh coriander, cumin, hot pepper, sweet pepper, olive oil and vinegar. The local fish, goat, cheeses, wines, sweets and pastries are also well worth trying.