7 lesser-known gems of Gran Canaria

written by Joanne Owen

updated 31.01.2024

Heavenly beaches. Elemental landscapes. World-class wine. Oh, and an abundance of unique cultural attractions. It’s clear why Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands has a habit of compelling repeat visits. With that in mind, we want to bring you attractions that’ll gratify first-time visitors and dedicated Gran Canaria devotees alike. Namely, lesser-known gems of Gran Canaria that reveal fresh aspects of an island that’s undeniably diverse, and dazzling with it. 

Risco Caído and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria

Few places deliver such a captivating combination of cultural treasures and natural splendour as Risco Caido and the Sacred Mountains of Gran Canaria. In one fell swoop, this UNESCO-designated site lays bare the island’s incredible archaeological legacy and jaw-dropping landscapes.

Nestled in Gran Canaria’s mountainous interior, the site presents itself as a dramatic panorama of cliffs, ravines and volcanic formations. In addition, visitors can witness remarkable ancient culture in the form of a staggering number of troglodyte settlements. These include 21 pre-Hispanic cave dwellings, replete with vivid art adornments.

Meanwhile, two temples (almogarenes) — Risco Caído and Roque Bentayga — once played host to sacred seasonal ceremonies. Still exuding soul-stirring power today, it’s clear why Risco Caído and the Sacred Mountains deserve a top spot on your Gran Canaria itinerary.

Caldera de Tejeda, the sacred site of the ancient islanders © Gran Canaria

Los Azulejos 

More natural majesty awaits at the Los Azulejos mountains. Here, sweeping bands of teal, ochre, jade and coral in the volcanic rock seem to have been conjured by the brush of a master abstract artist.

Created by the oxidation of the mineral-rich rock, this natural Gran Canarian canvas was unveiled gradually by the process of erosion.

To witness this wonder, you’ll need to take the GC-200 road from Mogán to Aldea de San Nicolás. Fear not if you don’t have your own wheels — board bus 38 or 86 from Puerto Mogán.

In our view, though, the best way to experience the living natural history museum of Los Azulejos is to put your best foot forward on a hike. 

A 16km trail (open October–March) snakes through the wildlife-rich Inagua Nature Reserve. Here aromatic pine forests host some of the island’s endemic birds, among them the beautiful Gran Canaria blue chaffinch.

Los Azulejos © Gran Canaria

Los Azulejos © Gran Canaria

The northern rock pools  

If you spent childhood summers exploring rock pools around the British coast, you’ll be blown away by the monumental examples that can be seen along a 25-mile stretch of northern Gran Canaria. 

Staggering in scale, these geological gems were formed by the mighty Atlantic crashing against Gran Canaria’s volcanic coastline. When the tide retreats — hey presto! — the vast pools emerge. 

Sublime scenery aside, the rock pools are also perfect for swimming in. Take El Altillo, for example. Located near the quaint and colourful town of Moya, this large rectangular pool is beloved by families. Meanwhile, Las Salinas — a trio of cascading pools near Agaete — offer a magical swimming space.

Natual Pools - Caletón de los Cangrejos - Galdar © Gran Canaria

Natual Pools - Caletón de los Cangrejos - Galdar © Gran Canaria

El Mirador del Paso de Marinero viewpoint

Shh…don’t wake the dragon! If you venture to Gran Canaria’s wild west coast, you’re in for an extraordinary surprise.

Here, along the steep, craggy coast of La Aldea de San Nicolás, Gran Canaria emerged from the ocean in a succession of volcanic eruptions. Some fifteen million years later, a long ridge of basalt pyramids snakes around the shoreline, resembling — uncannily — the tail of a dragon. It’s not difficult to imagine the beast’s body coiled at rest beneath the waves.

Known as El Mirador del Paso de Marinero viewpoint, or the Mirador del Balcón, on cloudless days you’re afforded views of Tenerife. Come night-time, it’s an enchanting star-gazing spot.

Free from light pollution and elementally beautiful, this is another lesser-known gem of Gran Canaria that’ll have you under its spell.

El Mirador del Paso de Marinero viewpoint © Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria Wine Route 

Love fine wine and great grub? There’s no better way to discover the island than following the Gran Canaria Wine Route.

With the island’s mineral-rich soil providing the perfect nourishment for 20+ varieties of grape, Gran Canaria’s wine has long been celebrated by those in the know. 

To see (and taste) what all the justifiable fuss is about, the Ruta del Vino de Gran Canaria highlights the island’s top vineyards. That and artisanal cheese makers, bochinches (traditional food and wine cellars), and gourmet restaurants. 

Also pinpointing charming places to stay, the route serves gastronomic goodness and glorious scenery in equal measure. 

Winery Route in Gran Canaria © Gran Canaria

Winery Route in Gran Canaria © Gran Canaria

Mercado del Puerto

Staying on the culinary theme, Las Palma’s Mercado del Puerto is a must-visit feast for the senses. 

Hailed as one of Spain’s best food markets — which is really saying something — here you can sample local specialties at their tastiest, along with global flavours. We’re talking everything from traditional tapas and Canarian papas arrugadas (“wrinkled” potatoes), to Japanese cuisine and Scandinavian nibbles.

The market is housed in an historic Modernist building, created by the folk who came up with the Eiffel Tower. Mercado del Puerto is close to Las Canteras beach, and we recommend picking up picnic supplies here before strolling to the golden sands for a decidedly delectable afternoon.

Pinchos at Mercado del Puerto © Gran Canaria

Arucas

A world away from the resort-heavy south, the north of Gran Canaria boasts a bounty of traditional towns and villages that are quick to captivate, and nigh impossible to draw yourself away from. 

One such gem is Arucas. This sixteenth-century stunner invites visitors to lose themselves in a maze of quaint candy-coloured buildings. Sitting proud and pretty at the heart of town is the Church of San Juan Bautista, a neo-Gothic masterpiece that dominates the skyline.

While in the area, active types could ascend La Montana de Arucas. Alongside delivering breathtaking views of the island and a blanket of banana groves, it also has historic significance. Aboriginal settlements here date back to the 4th century.

Back in town, we suggest you sample a glass (or two) of Arehucas rum, an esteemed local speciality. Head to the 19th-century distillery to discover where the good stuff is made. We especially recommend the signature honey rum. Salud!

 

Interested in exploring the Gran Canaria? The Mini Rough Guide to Gran Canaria contains expert recommendations about the island, from the best places to stay to where to find fascinating under-the-radar locations.

We may earn commission when you click on links in this article, but this doesn’t influence our editorial standards. We only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

This article was brought to you in partnership with Gran Canaria

Historical quarter of Arucas © Gran Canaria

Joanne Owen

written by Joanne Owen

updated 31.01.2024

Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her @JoanneOwen on Twitter and @joanneowenwrites on Instagram.

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