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Gran Canaria is the third largest and second most populous island of the Canary Islands, an archipelago off the Atlantic coast of Northwest Africa which is part of Spain. As of 2019 the island had a population of 851,231 that constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the island, is the biggest city of the Canary Islands and the ninth of Spain. Gran Canaria is located in the Atlantic Ocean in a region known as Macaronesia about 150 kilometres (93 mi) off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 1,350 km (840 mi) from Europe. With an area of 1,560 km2 (602 sq. mi) and an altitude of 1,956 m (6,417 ft) at Morro de la Agujereada, Gran Canaria is the third largest island of the archipelago in both area and altitude. Gran Canaria is also the third most populated island in Spain.
Gran Canaria was populated by the North African Canarii, who may have arrived as early as 500 BC. The Canarii called the island Tamarán ('land of the brave"). In the medieval period, after over a century of European incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29, 1483, by the Crown of Castile, under Queen Isabella I. The conquest succeeded after a campaign that lasted five years, and it was an important step towards the expansion of the unified Spain. The capital city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was founded on June 24, 1478, under the name "Real de Las Palmas", by Juan Rejón, head of the invading Castilian army. In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the Port of Las Palmas (and spent some time on the island) on his first trip to the Americas. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is, jointly with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands. Gran Canaria is located in the Canary Islands archipelago southeast of Tenerife and west of Fuerteventura. The island is of volcanic origin, mostly made of fissure vents. It has a round shape, with a diameter of approximately 50 km (31 mi) and a surface area of 1,560 km2 (600 sq mi). Gran Canaria's maximum elevation is 1,956 metres (6,417 ft) at Morro de la Agujereada, although the nearby Pico de las Nieves has traditionally been considered the island's tallest peak.
Gran Canaria has roads encircling the whole island and extending into the mountain areas. In the late 20th century, its dual carriageway, among the first in the Canary Islands, were opened and run around Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, and were later extended to the north coast and the airport and subsequently to the south coast in response to increased tourist traffic. The only highway of Gran Canaria are GC1. Dual carriageway is GC2, and GC31, GC4 and GC5. The western and the north-western parts, with the fewest inhabitants, are linked only with main roads.
Public transport around Gran Canaria is provided by an extensive bus network, known in the local dialect as guaguas. The Autoridad Única del Transporte de Gran Canaria (Gran Canaria Transport Authority, TGC) manages the network and operates a number of bus stations across the island, including San Telmo and Santa Catalina bus stations in Las Palmas, Maspalomas and Galdar. Bus tickets may be purchased with cash, and AUTGC also operates a contactless electronic ticket called the TransGC Card, which is valid across the whole network. Inter-urban bus services across the island are operated by the Global bus company. Global was created in 2000 after the merger of two bus companies, Utinsa (which operated in the north of the island) and Salcai (the bus operator for the south). Local bus services in Las Palmas are run by the municipal bus company, Guaguas Municipales de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Gran Canaria Airport (IATA: LPA) is the only commercial airport on the island. The large number of aircraft and passengers passing through it each year make it one of the busiest in Spain. Gran Canaria is also responsible for all air traffic control in the Canaries. By destination island, Gran Canaria is the second island that congregates the largest number of passengers in the Canary Islands.
The most important ports in the island are the Port of Las Palmas (Puerto de la Luz), in the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; Arguineguín, which exports cement from a large factory; and Arinaga, located in the main industrial zone of Canaries and one of the major ones of Spain. The main passenger ports are the Port of La Luz, where Trasmediterránea operates a weekly ferry route to Cadiz on the Spanish mainland, and the Port of Las Nieves, located in Agaete on the west side of the island, where Fred Olsen Express operates a catamaran ferry service to Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Plans for a Tren de Gran Canaria railway network linking the capital with the south have been approved by both the Gran Canaria Cabildo and the autonomous Canary Islands' Government, though the discussion with the central Spanish Government hinges now on budget. The planned 57 km (35 mi) railway line would run between Las Palmas and Meloneras, with the section in the capital running entirely underground as far as the suburb of Jinámar. The line is planned to have 11 stations, including an underground station at Gran Canaria Airport. The scheme was first announced in 2009, with a planned operational date in 2015. A public company called Ferrocarriles de Gran Canaria has been formed by the Cabildo's Gran Canaria Transport Authority. Plans were still being discussed in 2018.
This island is called a "miniature continent" due to the different climates and variety of landscapes found, with long beaches and dunes of white sand, contrasting with green ravines and picturesque villages. A third of the island is under protection as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The number of annual visitors was 3.6 million in 2014 (of which 450.000 Spaniards). Most of the tourists visit the southern part of the island. The north tends to be cooler, while the south is warmer and sunny. The east coast of the island is flat, dotted with beaches, while the western coast is rockier and mountainous. The island possesses 32 Natural Protected Spaces, notably the Rural Park of Nublo, The Doramas Jungle, the Azuaje Ravine, Tamadaba, Pino Santo, etc.
In the south there is a large bird park, Palmitos Park, as well as many beach resort communities. Resorts are concentrated in the central eastern part of the southern coast in the Maspalomas area, which includes the towns of San Agustín, Playa del Inglés and Meloneras. The Maspalomas Dunes are located between Playa del Inglés ("The Englishman's Beach") and the distinctive 19th century Maspalomas lighthouse. Playa del Ingles is home to the Yumbo Centre, which was opened in 1982 and has almost 200 shops, including bars, restaurants, cafes, fashion boutiques, electronic outlets and jewellery stores.
In Tarajalillo, an Aeroclub exists from where tourist flights can be taken over the island. Still further to the west along the southern shore, in the Municipality of Mogán, are the communities of Puerto Rico and Puerto de Mogán, a village referred to as "Little Venice" on account of its many canals. Other attractions include Cocodrilos Park, Roque Nublo (an 80 m monolith), Cenobio de Valerón with more than 350 storage cavities, Painted cave of Galdar the most important archaeological park in Canary Islands, or the botanical gardens Jardín Canario (in Tafira Alta) and Cactualdea (in La Aldea de San Nicolás). El Dedo de Dios, or "God's Finger", was a rocky spire jutting from the sea in Puerto de las Nieves, and was previously the signature attraction of the Canary Islands until it was destroyed by tropical storm Delta that crossed the archipelago in November 2005. Other well-known rock formations are El Cura (also known as El Fraile), The Frog (La Rana), Roque Bentayga, the Roque de Gando, and the Peñón Bermejo. Traditionally, the highest peak of the island has been considered to be the Pico de las Nieves, at 1,949 metres (6,394 ft); however, Morro de la Agujereada is taller, at 1,956 metres (6,417 ft).
The capital city is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Canteras beach, a protected area and diving zone, lies in the heart of the city. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is also known for its annual carnaval. It was the first stop of Christopher Columbus' expedition on his way back from the Americas, a commemoration of which is the Hermitage of San Antonio Abad, where the navigator prayed, and the Casa de Colón. Other attractions in the capital city include the Museo Canario (the most important archaeology museum in the archipelago), the cathedral and the Plaza del Espíritu Santo. In Teror the shrine of Virgen del Pino ("Virgin of the Pine"), patron saint of Gran Canaria, can be found. Its feast is celebrated on September 8. The town of Agüimes, on the eastern part of the island, has been carefully restored and its town centre, centered on its old church and a peaceful square, now evokes the quiet living of a traditional Canarian town. The district also has some of the best preserved cave dwellings, in the protected area of the Guayadeque ravine, where even the church has been built into the mountainside and visitors can find a number of popular cave restaurants. The district also includes the most renowned scuba diving area on the island: the marine reserve at the playa de El Cabrón just outside the town of Arinaga. Other important towns are Telde, known among other things for their surf schools in Salinetas, Vecindario (within the municipality of Santa Lucía de Tirajana) and Gáldar, that contains an important diving zone. In Arucas there is a Neogothic temple, popularly known as "Arucas' Cathedral", as well as a large fertile plain where bananas are grown. In Gáldar and its surroundings there is also a banana-growing plain and some remarkable archaeological remains, such as the Painted cave of Galdar or the cenobio de Valerón's communal silos, ancient tombs (among which the necropolis of Maipés), and the port of Sardina del Norte (one of the island's ports where, as in Las Palmas', Christopher Columbus used to get supplies for his ships).