Mother Nature celebrates diversity on this extraordinary Canary Island – travel from the rugged Northern coast, through verdant laurel forests, across extinct volcanoes to the central mountain peaks. Then down, through pine woodlands, into deep ravines to reach the desert landscapes and golden beaches of the south.
Here’s a list of the best locations for stunning photographs to wow your Instagram followers.
Located on the north east coast, not only is this the capital of Gran Canaria, it’s also the largest city in the Canaries. Its sprawling sandy beach, Las Canteras, has palms and fishing boats at its northern end, and surfers and sea mist in the south. The charming cobbled streets of the historical quarter of Vequeta are lined with traditional Spanish architecture, ranging from late Gothic to Renaissance. At its heart is the Cathedral of Santa Ana, the first church in the Canaries, dating from 1500. Nearby is the ornate Casa de Colón, where Christopher Columbus was received by the governor when he arrived here in 1492 on his way to America. It’s now a museum dedicated to his life and travels and contains models of his fleet.
Tip: sample the delicious tapas at the many bars in the old quarter.
Puerto de Las Nieves, a cluster of attractive blue and white Canarian houses, is a tiny fishing village on the north west coast. From the harbour, the Paseo de los Poetas, lined with restaurants, craft shops and galleries, leads along the shore, to the natural pools of Las Salinas.For centuries, they were used to harvest salt, but now make the perfect bathing spot. Swimmers are protected from the crashing waves by rock barriers and it’s an exhilarating experience as the sea water rushes in. The three pools are connected by volcanic tubes and there are flat areas for sunbathing. The lush green pine forest mountainside makes for an attractive backdrop.
Tip: try the local speciality - caldo de pescado, a delicious fish soup.
To get here, it’s long drive up the west coast on the GC-200, passing the multi-coloured rocks at Los Azulejos on the way. This spectacular viewpoint juts out from the edge of sheer cliffs, at a height of over 400m, perched precipitously above the Atlantic Ocean. It’s often cloudy here so choose a sunny day for the best views.To the north, you can see all the way up the coast to the small seaside town of Puerto de las Nieves. To the south, there’s a zigzag wall of sea cliffs known as the Dragon’s Tail. Inland is the La Arena Valley and the wide green La Aldea de San Nicolás. And way out west, the peak of Teide volcano on Tenerife, sits on the horizon.
Tip: sunsets here are stunning so make sure your camera’s ready.
Situated in the west, this is the oldest and largest natural park on the island covering an area of 7,500 hectares and part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The landscape was moulded by eruptions of the Tamadaba volcano, more than 14 million years ago, and descends towards the sea in a series of ravines and sheer cliffs.At its heart of the reserve is an enormous forest of indigenous Canary pines containing the largest variety of endemic flora on the island. It’s also a birders’ paradise with woodpecker, blue chaffinch, kestrels and hawks easily sighted. Thrusting above the trees, is the Pico de la Bandera, at 1444m, where the weather is always changeable. In winter there may be snow and warm summer winds bring so much moisture that the pines are often covered in mist.
Tip: when it’s misty, the peak has spectacular views across the sea of clouds.
In the centre of the island, the distinctive outline of Roque Nublo stands stark at a height of 1,813m, and at 80m tall, is one of the world’s largest free-standing crags. It was an ancient place of worship for the Guanches, the island’s aboriginal inhabitants, with its views of Pozo de las Nieves at 1,949m, the highest point of Gran Canaria, and the island’s other sacred rock, Roque Bentayga, at 1,404m.
Bentayga is a natural fortress and generations of Guanches lived here, building community granaries and funerary caves, lined with inscriptions and wall paintings. A short and precipitous path leads to their almogarén, a spiritual ceremonial space where the sun plays a spectacular game of light and shadow.
Tip: at the solstice, a single solar ray strikes a circle engraved on the rock, centuries ago, by Guanche astronomers.
In the south east, are the castle-like La Fortaleza rock formations, rising in layers from the fissured valleys below. It was a fortified Guanche settlement and its eastern side has a large of number of natural and artificial caves. These were used as dwellings, food storage and even burial, all linked by a network of paths and tunnels. It’s recognised as the site of the last stand of the indigenous people against the Castilian conquerors. In 1483 Spanish troops, led by Pedro de Vera, had been besieging the fortress and on the 29th of April the islanders surrendered. It’s said that the leaders, Bentejuí and Tazarte, committed suicide by throwing themselves off the cliff.
Tip: the excellent interpretation centre details the tragic history of the Guanches.
The most westerly resort on the southern coast has a fishing port, a yacht marina and a well-protected sandy beach, perfect for families. The village lies at the mouth of a steep sided valley, its charming white buildings contrasting with the mountain landscape behind. The waterfront features buildings no higher than three floors, all designed in the Mediterranean style. Behind are pedestrianised narrow alleys, lined with small gardens and window boxes bursting with dazzling bougainvillea.A network of seawater canals connecting the marina to the port mean it’s often described as the “Venice of the Canaries”. Linking promenades and small bridges make it perfect for a leisurely evening stroll before eating in the excellent fish restaurants.
Tip: go early on Friday mornings when there’s a sprawling open air market on the fisherman’s quay.
Located at the southernmost point of the island, the beautiful Masplomas Dunes ecosystem is made up of 404 hectares of sand and has been a protected reserve since 1987. It’s a unique mix of dessert and oasis with beach, palm groves and a fresh water lagoon. The dunes were created when sand was blown from the bottom of the ocean during the last ice age.
They’re easily accessible from the well-known tourist resorts of Playa del Inglés, Maspalomas and stylish Meloneras. The Dunas Mirador, at the end of Avenida Tirajana, is where everybody goes, so hike into the desert to find a fresh spot. When it’s windy all the footprints disappear and you’re truly alone in the desert.
Tip: go at dawn for the best textures in the sand.
Top images: Roque Nublo, Gran Canaria © carol.anne/Shutterstock