Things to See and Do in Gran Canaria1 ... CASA DE COLON
In the oldest district of Las Palmas you will find the palace of the first governors of Gran Canaria. According to tradition, Christopher Columbus stayed here in 1492 during a break in his voyage while one of his ships was repaired, hence the name Casa de Colón, or Columbus House.
This charming building has beautiful wooden balconies, and was rebuilt in 1777. Since 1952 it has housed a museum that includes models and artifacts relating to voyages made by Columbus.
Ship’s Interior : A reconstructed, full size fragment of the interior of La Niña, one of the ships that sailed with Columbus’ expedition. It demonstrates the living conditions that sailors endured while crossing the oceans.
Santa Maria : Model of the three ships [Santa Maria, La Niña, La Pinta] and navigation instruments, illustrate the equipment available to mariners in the early 16th century.
External Portal : Casa de Colón features a magnificent portal crowned by a Tudor arch. This combines animal and plant motifs, with two lions supporting the town’s crest.
Courtyard : At the centre of the inner courtyard stands an old well. Centuries-old galleries and arcades, in typical Canarian style, keep the rooms cool and shady.
Astrolabe : One of the early navigational instruments, the astrolabe was developed in the 2nd century BC. It was used to measure the height of heavenly bodies above the horizon. The collection here includes a bronze astrolabe from the first half of the 16th century.
2 ... TARIFA ALTA
Set among the hills is the small town of Tarifa Alta which is famous for its beautiful residences surrounded by gardens. These colourful villas, featuring a variety of architectural forms and details, have maintained the original colonial atmosphere of the place. Many houses show the influence of Moorish or Bauhaus style. It is no wonder that Tarifa Alta is a favourite with Las Palmas’s financial elite and with wealthy foreigners.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the British built several elegant hotels here including Los Frailes. This was used as a meeting place by General Franco’s supporters as they plotted to overthrow Spain’s Republican government in 1936.
3 ... CALDERA DE BANDAMA
Just 6km from Tarifa, providing one of the best viewpoints on Gran Canaria. Mirador de Bandama offers a magnificent view over the whole of Las Palmas and the mountainous centre of the island. Below is the vast volcanic caldera of Bandama. 1,000m in diameter and 200m deep, it is named after a Dutch merchant - Daniel von Damme. In the 16th century, von Damme together with his wife Juana Vera [who was born in Gran Canaria] grew vines inside the crater. Today, the area is overgrown with orange and fig trees and palms. Eucalyptus and agaves grow on the slopes, among shrubs and bushes. A golf course, just south of Pico de Bandama, was set up by English residents of the island in 1891, and it is the oldest golf course in Spain.
4 ... FIRGAS
Firgas is famous for its production of sparkling mineral water. The water is drawn from a spring some 5km away in Barranco de la Virgen, and 200,000 bottles a day are produced. Firgas water is very popular throughout the Canary Islands, where there is a shortage of fresh water.
A feature of Firgas is the Paseo de Gran Canaria, where cascades of water flow along passages that were laid out in 1995. On either side of the passage, by the walls of surrounding houses, are benches whose backrests are decorated with landscapes or historic symbols of Gran Canaria. The white walls of the houses feature colourful town crests. The further section of the passage, above Plaza de San Roque, is filled with giant slabs with ceramic maps and views of the individual islands. Still further along the passage there is a fine display of the flags of all the islands.
5 ... CACTUS PARK
A popular tourist attraction is Cactualdea - a park with thousands of cacti imported from Madagascar, Mexico, Bolivia and Guatemala. Other plants include palms, dragon trees and aloe. Other features of interest include a large amphitheatre, using for wrestling matches and a Guanche Cave.
Located in La Aldea de San Nicolás - a fertile, green valley, criss-crossed with ravines, is the setting for this small town. It is surrounded by plantations of banana, orange, avocado, papaya and mango and the slopes are overgrown with cacti and bamboo.
6 ... PALMITOS PARQUE
Located some 10km north of Maspalomas set in a mountain valley, you will find Palmitos Parque. Amid its lush, tropical vegetation live 1,500 birds, including birds of paradise from New Guinea, miniature humming birds and toucans, with their colourful beaks. Bird dhows involving trained parrots, eagles and falcons entertain visitors at intervals.
Other attractions include the Casa de las Orquideas, which houses around 1,000 orchids.The huge aquarium, with its vast tanks of water, has a large variety of fish from all over the world including the Canary Islands’ seas, Indian Ocean and South American waters.
A further attraction of the park is the butterfly house - the largest of its kind in Europe. The park also boats white-handed gibbons, whose natural habitats are the Malayan Peninsula and Burma, and who have been bred successfully here - the first time in captivity.
7 ... SIOUX CITY
Some 10km northeast of Maspalomas at the end of a rocky valley, is the small theme park Sioux City which represents a variety of familiar associations with American culture. At the entrance, next to a wooden cart containing models of the first settlers travelling west, we come across “Cadillac Café” with a genuine 1960s American car.
Visitors drinking in the saloon can enjoy dramatic interruptions from actors staging fights. Apart from such traditional fun there is also the “foam party” - a disco where participants throw foam at each other. The narrow streets of Sioux City provide the setting for scenes from westerns, including mock fistfights, gunfights and bank robberies. The air is filled with country and western music.
8 ... DUNES OF MASPALOMAS
The Dunes of Maspalomas Natural Park is probably the best known image of Gran Canaria and one of the island’s symbols. With more than 6km of beaches, this soft and rhythmic landscape finds it origin in the coral reefs that were polished and converted into tiny grains of limestone sand over a period of thousands of years.
The dunes provide a habitat for lizards, rabbits and naturists. The nearby lagoon provides numerous migrant birds with a stop en route between Europe and Africa.
9 ... INGENIO
Situated in the eastern region, near Barranco Guayadeque, this small town is one of the oldest on Gran Canaria. It owes its name to the local sugar-cane industry that flourished here in the 17th century [ingenio means sugar mill]. Later, the region turned towards rum production but now it is a largely agricultural area, its main crop being tomatoes.
Ingenio is, however, best known for its embroidery. There is a School of Embroidery housed in the Museo de Piedras y Artesania - a white bougainvillea-covered building with decorative turrets. The museum also houses a collection of rocks and minerals, agricultural tools, pottery and basketwork.
10 ... GALDAR
At the foot of Pico de Gáldar volcano stands Gáldar - a sizeable town that was once the centre of Guanche civilisation. Here you will find Santiago de los Caballeros Church. This vast Neo-Classic church has 3 naves and was designed by Antonio José Eduardo. The construction work started in 1778 and was not completed until the mid 19th century. Inside the church is the pila verde - a green font brought from Andalucia in the late 15th century and, since the island’s conquest, used for baptizing the local population.
On the square, opposite the town hall, grows the oldest dragon trees in Gran Canaria - planted in 1719.
The star attraction of Gáldar is the Cueva Pintada. Discovered in 1873, the cave is decorated with rock paintings consisting of geometric patterns. Following conservation works, carried out between 1970 and 1974, the cave was closed in order to prevent the paintings from being destroyed by the increased humidity. A new archaeological park opened at the site in 2003. It features a museum, offering a virtual tour of the caves, a library and a restaurant. A replica of the cave can be seen at the Museo Canario in Las Palmas.