Friday 23 February 2018

Things to do in Gran Canaria instead of sitting by the pool all day

Here I am working in a tall office block in London with spectacular views of mist and fog and ALL THE RAIN. It's days like today where I try and remember what it feels like to have sun kissing at your skin (I tried to remember and failed. It's been too long). And with that, I reminisce about past holidays. One holiday that holds a very special place in my heart is Gran Canaria.

I'll be honest. I'm not someone who can sit on a sun lounger or a beach every day for 2 weeks. I can maybe do 2-3 days tops, but ultimately I live to explore and go on adventures. It sounds simple, but just the act of leaving your hotel can be therapeutic. You can be in the nicest hotel but with the daily struggle of DAWN WARS with the reserved sun loungers (who knew that a towel was legally binding??) and you just want a pool day but there is nowhere to sit and arghhh I'm meant to be on holiday y'know and the tension and knots that were unraveling from your shoulders are coming back in full force...  Sometimes it's nice to step outside and take a breather. So with that, comes my guide of things to do in Gran Canaria away from your resort.

Start slow, explore the local area first

I loved staying in Maspalomas and Meloneras. Seen as one of the more luxurious parts of Gran Canaria, it is a very well kept and nice looking area. Besides their beautiful stretch of sand (more on this below!) there is a great running path alongside the sea with beautiful greenery which reminded me of a mass invasion of succulents (pic below!). This is not solely a criticism of Gran Canaria as this happens everywhere, but resorts that have buffet meal options are usually very much tailored to tourists, meaning that you don't have always have the chance to try local specialties. For this very reason, I like leaving whichever hotel I'm staying in to scope out local food. I tried some lovely Canarian specialties including their local mojo sauce (oil, garlic, vinegar, red pepper and assortment of herbs and spices) drizzled across a potato based dish. There were also some lovely tapas places (I never want a huge meal when it's hot!). I love sizzling hot skillets of garlic prawns with a generous sprinkling of parsley.

Watch a film under the stars

Step outside your hotel one evening and head to Moonlight Cinema for a rooftop open air cinema experience. They usually have some fairly recent titles (you can find their latest film schedule here). Snuggle under the blankets provided, and order food and drinks from the comfort of your seat, by simply pressing a light on the arm of your chair. There is a full array of movie friendly snacks like pizza, nachos and popcorn. Drinks wise, there is an extensive alcohol list, but hot drinks are also available if you happen to visit on a cooler evening!

One for the playas

Playa of course being Spanish for beach. The beaches in Gran Canaria are well worth a visit. I stayed in Maspalomas which has the second longest beach in Gran Canaria. If you follow the sea around, you will reach the Playa del Ingles which is a busier, more touristy beach, but it has more in the way of water activities. It was amusing watching families bobbling along the waves on - I kid you not - a swan pedalo. Mid way between Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles is nature at its very best (revealed below!), so persevere and keep on walking because it's worth it.

And if you REALLY like water, how about a water park?

The Canary Islands are great for water parks and Gran Canaria is no exception. Aqualand is located in the south of the island within easy distance of Maspalomas. Of if you prefer to keep your feet on land, try a different sort of park at Palmitos Park  (more of a zoo).

THOSE sand dunes

If you go to Gran Canaria you HAVE to visit the Maspalomas sand dunes. One minute you're in the Canary islands, the next you are transported to the Sahara dessert. This amazing natural phenomena was formed during the last last ice age where the wind blew sand from the bottom of the ocean towards the coast of the island. Pretty incredible, huh? Word of advice: take plenty of water with you and a water spray if you have. There are food kiosks peppered along the way on the sand of the main beach, but drinks here are extortionately priced. And wear shoes if you go up the dunes. The sand is so much hotter here. I wore cut out sandals, took some quick pictures from the top of a dune and literally ran down from one into the sea to soak my feet! Another way of seeing the sand dunes is by camel safari (you can book this up here) or for adrenaline junkies, a 4x4 tour. However you choose to navigate the dunes, I really recommend you pay them a visit for an out-of-this-world experience.

Visit Little Italy AKA Puerto Mogan

Located in the south of Gran Canaria, Mogan is a beautiful sun dappled coastal town full of white fronted houses with pops of pink from numerous flowers and window boxes, and narrow winding streets made for exploring. Travel guides quote Mogan as a taste of Italy and say that is is Venetian inspired. I would have to agree. As well as beautiful streets, a booming local market, boats and yachts galore and a beach, Mogan have excursions like their yellow submarine tour. The day I went, I climbed to the top of the hill for outstanding views. It was really refreshing to be away from the tourist heavy parts of Gran Canaria and to find an idyllic slice of paradise.

Visit Las Palmas

One year I was royally ripped off by a day excursion to Las Palmas. Hoping for some culture and to actually visit Las Palmas, instead this excursion turned out to be €50 to be driven in a coach to a shopping centre and given some time to spend even more money before being taken back to the hotel later than day. And on the way there "highlights" were pointed to us out of the window like a new shopping centre that was being built that would have a Primark. I mean honestly. So if your hotel offers you a  Las Palmas excursion, double check the small print and make sure it's not this shopping one! The real Las Palmas is beautiful (pics here) and is well worth a visit. The shopping centre (Centro Comercial Las Arenas) I spoke of is decent and has some great shops with firm favourites like Mango and Zara (I found Zara items from back home sold at much lower prices!). I also sniffed out a McDonalds and stopped for a super refreshing smoothie. But my advice: make your own way to Las Palmas. In Maspalomas there is a bus stop where you can take a bus (€6 rather than €50!) to the shopping centre and back.

Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia

In spite of the disappointment from THAT "excursion", every cloud has a silver lining. Without going on that awful €50 excursion, I never would have discovered Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnologia (essentially a science and technology museum) which was just opposite the shopping centre. Easily reached by bus ((€6 rather than the €60 you would need to shell out for a taxi), the museum contains something for everyone and is perfect for those of all ages. I loved how interactive and immersive an experience it was. I'm not sure if and how often the exhibits are refreshed, but when I visited I made rainbows, had all the fun with a green screen and concealed myself into the Gran Canarian landscape.

Have you ever been to Gran Canaria? 

Maspalomas is picturesque and serene and has a more of luxury feel to the resorts, shops and local area. But in this case don't read 'luxe' as expensive. Maspalomas does affordable luxury and gets the balance right. Case in point of how beautiful some of the hotels are...

If you are more of social butterfly, Playa del Ingles is buzzing with nightlife and I would compare this more to Playa de las Americas in Tenerife.

Regardless of where you go, Gran Canaria as a holiday destination isn't expensive and I have always had the best time there without having to shell out a fortune and without having to live on beans on toast for months afterwards. You can travel to Gran Canaria from a little as £149 per person and some examples of good Gran Canaria holiday packages can be found here. I love the look of the Dunas Mirador Maspalomas which has stylish and light and airy bedrooms and also Marina Bayview which has a Santorini feel about it and the most incredible views.

I have only scratched the surface of what there is to see and do in Gran Canaria and I can't wait to go back again one day so I can add to this travel guide. I really recommend going off the beaten track, exploring nearby villages and of course the Maspalomas sand dunes!

Post written in collaboration with Holiday Gems but as ever, all content and opinions are my own!

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