The third largest but most developed of the seven islands in the Spanish-administered Canary archipelago, Gran Canaria has been billed as a miniature continent because of the variety of climates and landscapes that it offers, from the big city bustle of the capital, Las Palmas, to the serenity of its lush woodlands.
The Canary Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean, about 125 miles (200km) from the African coast and almost 800 miles (1,280km) from the closest European port of Cadiz. Gran Canaria is almost circular, with a diameter of about 32 miles (50km), and is characterised by deep ravines that radiate out from the centre down to the coast.
The north of the island is humid and lush, with green valleys and volcanic craters, while the south is arid and desert-like, with vast stretches of sandy beach. The interior of Gran Canaria has steep highlands dotted with small villages, sporting white houses with red roofs, banana plantations, and orchards bursting with tropical fruits.
Tourists generally favour the southern coastline, flocking to the well-known beaches of Playa del Inglés or Maspalomas, where the sea washes soft sands and empty dunes stretch for miles. The capital, Las Palmas, lies on the northeast tip of the island, between two long beaches, Las Caletas, and Alcaravaneras.
GMT and GMT +1 during DST.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European-style two-pin plugs are standard.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely understood in areas frequented by tourists. Catalan, Galician and Basque are spoken in the relevant areas.
There are no health risks associated with travel to Spain, and no vaccination certificates are required for entry. Medical facilities are good in Spain, but comprehensive travel insurance is always advised. Spain has a reciprocal health agreement with most EU countries, including the UK, providing emergency health care for EU travellers on the same terms as Spanish nationals. EU travellers should take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
Note that the scheme gives no entitlement to medical repatriation costs, nor does it cover ongoing illnesses of a non-urgent nature, so comprehensive travel insurance is still advised. Travellers should take any medication they require along with them, in its original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Hotel and restaurant bills usually include service charges, but additional tips are welcomed for services rendered. In established restaurants, tips of about 10 percent are expected. In Mallorca, value added tax is usually included in restaurant bills, designated IVA, and may be mistaken for a service charge. Drivers of metered taxis expect small tips and it is customary to tip about 5 to 10 percent for most services, including guides.
Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, except for occasional street crime, which is common in the big cities; travellers are advised to take precautions to avoid theft of passports, credit cards, travel documents and money. Crime is usually petty and violent assault is rare. Be wary of strangers offering or asking for help of any kind, as it is often a distraction for accomplices. There are also scams involving letters for outstanding traffic fines or Spanish lottery winnings. If travellers exercise all the normal precautions they should have a trouble-free holiday in Spain.
Smoking in public places is banned and stiff fines will be imposed for smoking in areas such as enclosed public spaces, areas where food is prepared and sold, public transport, non-smoking areas of bars and restaurants, and any places that cater for children. Drinking alcohol in the streets of Madrid and the streets of the Canary and Balearic Islands is illegal.
Gran Canaria has a plethora of fantastic attractions that will appeal to all kinds of travellers. Tourists travel to Gran Canaria mainly to enjoy the resorts and beautiful beaches, but there is a lot to enjoy besides sun, sand, and sea.
Animal lovers should head to Palmitos Park, Reptilandia, and Parue de los Cocodrilo to engage with all sorts of creatures, while culture vultures should head to the Museo Canario in Las Palmas to admire the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls, or the Casa de Colon, a historic old house that is now a sort of maritime museum. For something completely different, head to Sioux City in San Agustín for a wild-west day out, while the town of Arucas remains a popular tourist attraction.
Getting around Gran Canaria to explore the varied landscapes and various towns and resorts is easy. There are plenty of cheap, metered taxis available in the resorts and towns. Grand Canaria also has reliable and efficient bus services which operate around the resorts and to all the main towns on the island; there is nowhere on the island that takes much longer than an hour to get to by bus. Local car rental companies have offices in all the main resorts for those who prefer to explore independently.
Maspalomas Maspalomas cuisine is best experienced at Pizzerria Piz Paz, Escalerita, El Palmeral or Velero Casa Antonio. Maspalomas has restaurants aplenty, most very reasonably priced, offering a variety of international cuisines. Many of the restaurants provide live entertainment in the evenings and double as bars. Visitors can enjoy live music or DJs while trying out a range of different foods from pizza and pasta to Chinese, seafood and Tex-Mex.
Playa del Ingles The best eateries in Playa del Ingles include Taberna La Cana for fantastic Spanish seafood, Tapas Bar Capaco for their great tapas selection, and Restaurante Hong Kong for something different. Fast food (including McDonalds), Chinese, Italian and local cuisine are all available, as well as rows of restaurants serving something with chips.
Puerto Rico Like most holiday resorts on the Canary Islands, Puerto Rico has various top-rated eateries, including Caballito de Mar, Le Petit Lyonnais, Ma Bakers and El Brasero. The restaurants and fast food outlets cater for a wide range of tastes. Here you can dine on anything from fish and chips to haute cuisine. Most of the restaurants are in the Centro Comercial and those who like to dine overlooking the beach will find some good restaurants on the west side of the bay.
The nightlife in Gran Canaria is energetic and fun, with nightclubs, foam parties, karaoke, casinos, and cabarets dominating the party scene. Most of the nightlife on the island is centred round Playa del Ingles, and the Kasbah Centre here is brimming with pubs and clubs, such as the Hippodrome, Havana, and the iconic Pascha nightclubs which are open until the early hours.
If you're looking for a gay party scene, head to the Yumbo centre. Entrance to most nightclubs is free but drinks and cocktails can be expensive. The capital city also has a great nightlife: Las Palmas' Plaza de España, in the Mesa y Lopez district, has pulsating clubs and bars that are open until very late, as well as live bands, jazz bars, pubs, discos, and a casino.
The Maspalomas Plaza is great if you're looking for a couple of relaxing pints in a bar, and Puerto Rico is one of Gran Canaria's hottest resorts after dark, with all-night clubbing and pubbing at places such as Disco Joker and Snoopy's Bar.
Playa del Cura is a fantastic location for a mellower evening out and although there is a club in Puerto Morgan, most of the evening entertainment is distinctly low-key in comparison to its neighbouring resorts.
While Gran Canaria has a wonderful climate throughout the year, the south of the island (where the major resorts are located) enjoys its own micro climate with generally better weather than other parts of the island, although the sea breeze can be quite bracing.
The mountainous regions inland are a bit colder and can experience frost or even snow. The average temperature is comfortable all year round, rarely dropping below 63°F (17°C) and often reaching 82°F (28°C) during the day. The peak summer months are June to August, but May and September are almost as hot.
The warmest month is August, when average temperatures range between 70°F and 80.8°F (21°C and 27°C). Winters are very mild along the coast, especially in the south. During the coldest month, January, average temperatures range between 58.5°F and 69.1°F (14.7°C and 20.6°C).
Rainfall in the summer months is almost non-existent, but showers are possible between October and April. Rainfall is unevenly distributed throughout the island, but the south is generally the driest and most sunny. The best time to travel to Gran Canaria is between May and September, but the island is a wonderful destination year round.
Spain is a tolerant and progressive place for LGBTI travellers. There are active LGBTI communities and social venues, particularly in big cities. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005. As of 17 March 2007, the law allows a transgender person to register under their preferred sex in public documents such as birth certificates, identity cards and passports without undergoing prior gender reassignment surgery. Spain does not recognise a third gender.
Details of vaccination recommendations and requirements are provided below.