Recently I had a pleasure to live in Gran Canaria, one of the more well-known Canary islands, for 6 weeks. Before I share my travel tips, I will start with some background information about Gran Canaria.
Although Gran Canaria is a pretty popular travel destination for Europeans (especially for English and German people), it’s not very well known to Americans.
Well, I must say that Gran Canaria is one of the most unique places I have ever been to, as it really has EVERYTHING you can possibly think of… sunny beaches ideal for snorkeling, surf towns, nudist beach, desert, sand dunes, forest, greens, beautiful hiking trails… you name it. Europeans call it the “Hawaii of Europe”, and I call it Disneyland for travelers. It blew my mind every time to think that I am standing in the middle of a desert and rocks, knowing that I could drive just 30 minutes to get to the beach. The south side weather is perfect everyday, 30-40 degree Celsius with warm wind coming from the Sahara desert (oh! I should mention that although the Canary islands are technically part of Spain (and therefore part of Europe), it’s actually closer to Africa), the north side is pretty chilly and often cloudy but ideal for surfers as there tends to be bigger waves.
I worked 6 weeks as a volunteer at Volver Beach Hostel, located in Puerto de Mogan, a small town located in the south side of the island. And then I realized I actually really love surfing, and I moved up to Las Palmas, the capital city of the island, for the last 12 days before I left the island and volunteered at Big Fish. They are both amazing hostels with great vibes (also only 14-16 euros per night depending on the type of room), and if you are a budget traveler looking to meet some cool people, I would definitely recommend staying at those places.
(left: Entrance to Volver Beach Hostel in Puerto De Mogan, where I volunteered for 6 weeks. Right: lunch with a view at Volver)
(Chill-out area of Volver Beach Hostel, where everyone comes and hangs out)
Without further ado, here are some tips I have for you, whether you are planning on staying in the island for a couple of days or long term.
Things to do on the Southside (Puerto de Mogan)
Some useful info: Puerto de Mogan has a market on Fridays starting from 8am, where you can get local produce and fresh fruits and veggies. There are two big supermarkets, Spar and Superdino. Two cute clothes shops: Natura inside the big mall and Designed by Chloe next to Mr. India.
1. Visit the Sunset Point with some beers and chips.
The Sunset Point, located behind the harbor of Puerto de Mogan, will never disappoint you. The sunset here is literally picture perfect EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. As you walk towards the cliff, you will be stunned by the bright orange sunlight that colors the whole sky. It is simply breathtaking. If you are visiting Puerto de Mogan, it’s a view you should never miss.
(the view right before you turn to the actual cliff area. You can see ships coming in and out, local people fishing, and tourists chilling by the rocks.)
(Sunset seen from the Sunset Point. You can see Tenerife, another one of the Canary Islands, on the right. We always made jokes about how it kind of looks like a nipple :P)
(Co-volunteers and friends all together enjoying the view. Here you will have the best tasting beers and chips and wonderful conversations.)
2. Go snorkeling & swim to the caves.
Puerto de Mogan has a small man-made beach, but if you go behind the rocks, you can actually go snorkeling and see a lot of different types of fish. I have seen rays, damselfish, gold striped bream, rainbow wrasse, trumpet fish… the list goes on. Some of my friends have even seen turtles and octopuses! The best part is to swim all the way to the caves (picture below) and go swim underneath it. It is loads of fun and the visibility is usually good, although there are some days where it isn’t.
(Can you spot the ray? Unfortunately I couldn’t get closer, but they are magnificent in real life.)
(Selfie taken from the entrance to the cave. Behind is Puerto de Mogan. It is only about 5 minute swim to get here from the beach.)(My friend Alfredo exploring the underwater life. There is a rock with a path inside, so you can actually swim through the rocks. Simply amazing!)
3. Work for a dive shop and get PADI certified!
Scuba diving is a popular activity for tourists in Gran Canaria. The water is usually calm which makes it an ideal spot for beginners to try out diving. There are loads of dive shops around the island, but they are mostly on the south side. I did a one day try dive (~75 euros) which included video & pool training, and about one hour sea dive. I fell in love with it and got an “internship” with a local dive center, which allowed me to work for them and get dives in return. After 4 dives you can get PADI Open Water, which allows you to dive up to 12m deep anywhere in the world. Scuba diving really feels magical, as you let yourself completely underwater, floating. You do not feel the force of gravity, and it kind of feels like you are an astronaut in outer space. If you have time or/and money to do it, I would definitely recommend you to give it a try. It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
(Scuba Friends!!!! Two of my friends who got PADI Open Water with me. Truly an amazing experience!)
4. Rent a car and visit Maspalomas sand dunes and Roque Nublo.
In Gran Canaria, renting a car only costs between 25-35 euros per day (**warning: A lot of rental car companies only have few automatic cars, so if you are planning to rent a car and don’t know how to drive manual, make sure to make a reservation in advance). Although public transportation is not TOO bad in Gran Canaria, renting a car with some people is often cheaper and will save you some time as buses tend to take longer. Maspalomas is famous for beaches (Playa del Ingles, Playa de San Augustin, Playa de Maspalomas… the list goes on), but it also has sand dunes right next to the beach. How cool is that? But it’s supposedly very hot, so make sure to bring water and snacks. And don’t wear flip flops as your feet will burn. I personally didn’t get to visit Maspalomas, but here is a really uncomfortable picture of my friend Alfredo (just kidding if you are reading this) in the middle of the dunes so you guys get the idea of what it’s like:
(Photo Courtesy of Alfredo my weird friend: he poses in the middle of Maspalomas sand dunes. You can see Playa de Maspalomas in the back. You can park your car, and it’s about 30 minute walk through the dunes to get to the beach.)
Another place worth a visit is Roque Nublo, which is the second highest peak of the island. It’s only a 30-minute hike from the parking lot to the top of the mountain, and on top you will see the most beautiful sunset and two giant volcanic rocks. It’s an incredible view! If you like rock climbing, apparently you can also climb the rocks to get to the top. I went with four people I met at the hostel (from Brazil, Italy, Serbia, and the USA) , and I can safely say it was one of the best moments of my stay in Gran Canaria. We had beer and sandwiches on top watching the sunset and had the best conversations… Traveling enables you to meet so many people from all over the world and share such unique moments together, and I was so thankful for that.
Although photos really don’t do justice, here are pictures of us in Roque Nublo:
The island is pretty small and you don’t have to start the road trip from the south side; Now I will move onto Las Palmas, where I stayed for the last few days.
Things to do on the Northside (Las Palmas)
Las Palmas is definitely a city rather than a town. Unlike the south side where it is full of resorts and tourists, Las Palmas has much more local vibes and is more lively with full of students and surfers who actually live there.
Some useful info: Las Palmas has a flea market on Sundays (but also sells some baked goods) by Parque de Santa Catalina. They tend to price things up for tourists, so watch out for that. Ellingson Delicatessen has one of the best carrot cakes I have ever tasted. The gelato shop Peña La Vieja has over 30 flavors and are very good.
1. Take surf lessons (JUST DO IT!!).
Guys, I cannot begin to tell you how fun and amazing surfing is. I suck at sports, and I was always too afraid to start surfing because I thought I would look dumb. But I did it. And I love it. And now I can stand up. And it’s the most rewarding thing in the world. In California, where I am from, surf lessons cost about 150 dollars (~130 euros) per hour (I know, it’s extremely costly). However, in Las Palmas, a typical group surf lesson, including all equipments + 2-hour session with an instructor, costs only 25 euros on average. It’s a steal! Mojo Surf Shop offers a 12-euro class for women (2 hour lesson + equipments) in the evenings during the summer. Just to rent a surfboard + wetsuit typically costs about 7-8 euros per hour, so this is a really good deal. Even if you have friends who surf who can teach you, I think it’s definitely worth taking a lesson from a certified instructor. They will show you the techniques, hold the board for you so it’s easier to stand up, and push you into the waves. These are extremely helpful if you have never surfed before (like meeeee)! There are a couple of beaches where you can surf near Las Palmas, but I only went to Playa de Las Canteras, and their white water waves are perfect for beginners. October-November is apparently an ideal time to come here for surfing, as the waves are good, the weather is nice, and the island isn’t so full of tourists.
(Playa de Las Canteras during the sunset. It’s a perfect spot for surfers!)(Me standing up for the second time! Still super awkward but hey, it’s a step-by-step process.)
2. Go to Vegueta for Thursday Tapas Night.
Vegueta is an old town of Las Palmas, located only ~10 minutes by bus from the city center. It’s nice to take a stroll around the old town during the day and visit museums (there is a house of Christopher Columbus) and go shopping. Every Thursday, they start Tapas night around 7-8pm, where all restaurants prepare tapas for 1 to 1.50 euros per plate. They stop serving food around 10pm, but the streets stay lively and bars stay open until about 1am.
(Pictures of Vegueta during the day.)
3. Practice Spanish at Aloha Bar on Wednesdays and Go to Plaza de Musica on Fridays.
Aloha Bar has Spanish nights where you get to meet people and practice your Spanish while getting drinks. Plaza de Musica is very fun to check out on Fridays, but the clubs and bars really pick up after 1am, so don’t go too early (like I have).
- There are fiestas (spanish word for “party”) throughout the year in different locations in the island, and you guys should look into which fiestas are happening while you are visiting the island.
- If you love hiking, I recommend you to check out Gui Gui beach. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to visit the beach, but it’s a 2.5 hour hike to get to the beach. There are no shops and it’s pretty quiet, so you should bring tons of water and food. I recommend spending one night there (you either need a tent or sleeping bag) and I heard you can see the milky way and it’s absolutely stunning.
- Agaete is a cool town to check out for a day. They have a natural swimming pool which is very cool. There is also a harbor where you can take a ship to Tenerife, another one of the Canary Islands. Tamadaba National Park is also worth checking out and it’s only about a 20-minute drive from Agaete.
(Roque Nublo seen from Tamadaba National Park. As you hike up, you can also see Tenerife.)(Natural swimming pool in Agaete. Although it is really cool, the water is usually very cold and the weather is never particularly warm.)
Thank you for reading and I hope that this post was helpful for you! Please share if you have any tips for Gran Canaria, and I hope you enjoy your stay.