What to Do on (Very Windy) Gran Canaria Island
Island weather is famously not to be trusted. You can try studying apps on your phone, but when you’re surrounded by the seas, looking up is much more reliable. The weather in the Canary Islands, in the North Atlantic off the coast of Morocco, is particularly changeable, but whether it was gusty or sunny, it's what put the country on the maps—for centuries, sailors depended on the gusts and they’d stop here for provisions. Now that same weather is what draws tourists by the planeload to Gran Canaria, its central island. Europeans tend to visit more than Americans do, and that’s a shame. There’s a lot to do, no matter which direction the wind blows.
Whether you choose to stay near Las Palmas, the bustling capital city, or the more beach-central Maspalomas, the island is easily drivable. You can jump on the main eastern highway (GC-1) and be on the other side of the island in about an hour. The western coast has no connecting freeway, so from far north to far west can be a slog—though reaching the end of the road is always a good idea for finding great views like this one.
Do the dunes
Maspalomas has some 12 miles of coastline and plenty of beaches, but the dunes of the protected reserve of La Charca are a playground for adventure seekers. You feel a bit like a wandering Tuareg—after all, technically this is a western outpost of the Sahara—but here, beach kiosks are waiting at the end with chips and bottles of water. Crossing the dunes is more like taking a moderate hike than strolling along the beach, although the volcanic sand can get very hot. Bring plenty of water and wear flip-flops at least. To make the trek across the dunes, park somewhere near the Hotel Riu Palace Maspalomas (there are many Riu hotels catering to package tourists, so make sure to pick the right one) and walk through the archway to the entrance.
The Port of Mogán
The western side of the island has scenic coastal towns along the GC-1, ending at the Puerto de Mogán, where boats dock amidst charming colonial architecture. You can find a nice manmade beach area and a boardwalk for shopping and strolling.
Leaving right from the port, an hour-long passenger trip in a 44-passenger submarine, the Golden Shark, takes you past two shipwrecks and through schools of tropical fish. The dock is at the end of the C-shaped pier. Reservations can be made in advance on the Atlantidas Submarine website.
On the GC-200
Heading inland on the GC-200, you’ll travel cliffside roads to some western mountain towns and hiking areas. This is the Fuente de los Azulejos roadside fruit stand on the way to Agaete. Stop for a pink smoothie made from prickly pear and see the kaleidoscopic rock formations. The farther you travel, the more the road narrows. This is an incredibly scenic drive, but the road takes sharp turns, so take it slow and make sure to honk before blind curves. Take the time to pull off at observation areas and appreciate the breathtaking vistas.
The hike to Güi Güi Beach
The western side of the central mountain has some scenic hikes that climb over peaks and let you down onto some hidden seaside coves. The hike to Güi Güi, a remote and deserted dark-sand beach that's pronounced "wee wee," leaves from La Aldea de San Nicolas. It's strenuous (6 hours round-trip) but rewarding—check out this view from the mountain above it. After you summit, there's a 90-minute descent to the beach, where you'll find a little restaurant for refreshments. For a less vigorous version, start your trek in Tasartico, which cuts the hike down to 3 hours round-trip but still gives you a view over the valley.
Fact break: Gran Canaria, from which we get the English version, Canary Islands, is actually named for the type of dog that once roamed here. Some historians think those pooches were in fact seals, but either way, the name stuck. In case you were wondering, yes, the island did inspire the name for the colorful little bird—which means canaries are birds named after dogs that might have been seals.
Every beach is public
When faced with the problem of high winds and hot volcanic sand, luxury resorts set up shop in protected coves and had cool, white sand sent in from the Caribbean. The wind is weaker in the coves, but the lounge chairs can be crowded. All beaches on Gran Canaria are required to be public, so even the ones built by private hotels—like this one at the Avila Beach Hotel—welcome visitors.
The northern side of the island is famous for picturesque mountain towns, and the most enchanting of the bunch is Teror. This village seems like it could have been plucked out a fairy tale. The road to Teror may be terrorizing for less experienced drivers, but anyone willing to take it slow can easily negotiate the curves.
For that iconic Gran Canaria picture, don’t miss the easy hike to Roque Nublo. Created by a volcanic explosion, this was once a holy site for rituals devoted to the sun god. The view is awe-inspiring. Grab some snacks and water before you head out on the trail, which leaves from the main parking area—everyone on the island can tell you how to get there. The round-trip walk takes about an hour.
Gran Canaria cuisine
Should you find yourself on a rainy day with (very rare) strong northern winds, there's plenty of shelter to be enjoyed. The food in Gran Canaria is surprisingly delectable for an island, especially the local cheeses and gofio, a local dip made from corn. An especially tasty version can be found at Deliciosa Marta in the heart of old town Las Palmas.
Island of diversity
Gran Canaria is full of surprises. Ranging desert dunes, mountain cloud forests, and colonial villages—as well as relaxing tapas cafés, like this one in Maspalomas—offer a wealth of diverse experiences that make this little island a destination unlike any other. No matter which way the wind is blowing.
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