This is why you should visit Gran Canaria
With 2700 hours of sunshine each year, temperatures that rarely dip below 20 degrees and enough beaches to keep you busy for the entire duration of your stay, it's not difficult to see why Gran Canaria is such a popular holiday destination. And whether you're after a luxury spa break or a fun-filled family adventure, there are now options available to cater to your every need.
Here are our favourite reasons to visit.
The island is a continent in miniature
It's hardly a surprise that around 40% of Gran Canaria's dramatically different landscape is protected by UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Head to the north of the island, and you'll wind your way along spectacular mountain passes, skirt around the caldera (a volcanic crater), and hike through the interior of the island's subtropical forests. Be sure to check out Roque Nublo, an eerie rock formation at the centre of the island. Its name, which translates as "Cloud Rock", refers to the mist that often hides it from sight.
Head south and the scenery quickly changes. Gran Canaria's coastline is dotted with numerous sandy beaches, but it's at the southern tip of the island where you'll find the famous rolling dunes of Maspalomas. This sun-drenched, Sahara-like landscape is not only the largest Blue Flag beach on the island, it's also a protected nature reserve. It's a large area, too, meaning that even during the busy summer months, you'll still find a spot on the sand. To see the full spectacle of the dunes, stay until sunset and watch them change colour from a warm gold to a burning ochre.
It's committed to conserving its biodiversity
Stroll along Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's marina and you'll find yourself outside the island's newest attraction – the sleek Poema del Mar aquarium. Opened in December, 2017, Poema del Mar houses more than 2000 species under its roof, from electric eels to turtles, and jellyfish to sharks. You'll even find an olm, an aquatic salamander known as the "human fish" – the first time one has been exhibited in an aquarium.
And it's not just the marine life that's impressive. Poema de Mar's different zones include jungle flora and fauna connected via rope bridges, plus a deep-sea exhibition behind the world's largest curved window. And at night, the modern exterior is illuminated with silhouettes of bull sharks.
But there's also important work happening behind the scenes in conjunction with the Loro Parque Fundación, which carries out numerous research, education and conservation projects to help protect marine habitats and preserve the Atlantic's most threatened species.
You can feast on local produce
Juicy cherry tomatoes, ripe papayas and large sea breams plucked straight from the sea – your plate will be packed full of colour and flavour thanks to the year-round balmy climate, which makes for perfect growing conditions. Typical dishes include watercress soup, papas arrugadas (small potatoes boiled in their jackets), cheese using goat or sheep's milk, and bienmesabe -- a sticky honey almond sauce that's often served on ice cream.
Wash your meal down with a glass of Canarian red or white wine. Factoid alert: the Canary Island chain claims some of the world's oldest vines as its isolated location protected the crops from the aphid blight that destroyed the many of mainland Europe's vineyards in the 1800s. And don't forget to finish your feast with a glass of local honey rum -- a speciality of the island.
Only your trainers are required for adventure
Granted, Gran Canaria's annual average temperature of 24 degrees allows for some rather splendid sun worshipping, but it also provides excellent conditions for a whole host of outdoor activities – think of the island as your personal open-air gym and ocean-sized swimming pool. Start the day with yoga on the beach, followed by a late breakfast, and then hit the waves for an afternoon of surfing or kayaking. Looking for something a little more competitive? There are numerous events throughout the year to test your skills and fitness, including the annual marathon, The North Face Transgrancanaria – a 128-kilometre-long race across the island on foot -- and the Challenge Mogán Triathlon.
You can step back in time… and across continents
Given its location, it's unsurprising that Gran Canaria's architecture has Spanish and African influences. Wander the cobbled streets of 16th-century villages such as sleepy Ingenio, and the old town of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and you'll happen upon pastel-hued houses that take you straight back to the colonial era. Our top picks are Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's public plaza, Vergueta, where you'll find the ornate House of Christopher Columbus – reputedly once the home of this famous explorer – and the Church of San Juan Bautista in Arucas, not far from the capital.
And don't be surprised if the wooden balconies and open public squares transport you across the Atlantic to South America – countries like Cuba and Venezuela were heavily populated by Canary settlers and so many of their towns display a similar style.