Those who have never been to Gran Canaria think it’s only covered in pretty beaches and popular hotels. But there’s a reason why people call this central island of the Canary Islands a "miniature continent". There are volcanic mountains with caves and outliers, sand dunes, port towns and plant reserves registered on the UNESCO List as well as a diverse culture and cuisine.
On Gran Canaria there are the best-preserved remains of the Guanches, the first residents of the Canary Islands before the era of Spanish colonization. Worthy of particular attention is Cueva Pintada, the Painted Cave, in the town of Gaidar in the North of the island, which is also called the Sistine Chapel of the Guanches - it was probably once a place of religious worship. Inside, one can admire geometrical patterns painted in white, red and black dyes. It's also worth seeing Cenobio de Valeron, a mysterious storehouse forged high in the rocks, as well as numerous casas cueva - cave-homes. In Guayadeque, there is a cave settlement which is still inhabited by people today, living in caves converted to houses.
When listing the attractions of Gran Canaria, it’s impossible not to mention the dunes. Dunas de Maspalomas is a nature park featuring dunes of white sand - a patch of the Sahara on the Atlantic Ocean. These austere sand mountains are located near the popular tourist town of Maspalomas and stretch across an area of 418 hectares. Their beauty, unfortunately, is fading - although the dunes are protected, the sand's natural processes of shifting and becoming overgrown with weeds are inevitable. It’s worth seeing the dunes as soon as possible. Whoever likes warm, clean sand won’t be disappointed on Gran Canaria. The entire Eastern coast of the island consists of endless, sandy beaches which, like the entire island, astonish visitors with their diversity.
In the very centre of the island there are unique rock forms. Worshipped some time ago by the Guanches, today these rocks are appreciated by tourists who like active forms of leisure. The monolithic, free-standing Roque Nublo, of volcanic origin, is 67 metres high and is situated at 1813 metres above sea level. It is the most famous calling card of the island, after the beaches. Not far from it lies the Pico de Las Nieves - the highest peak of Gran Canaria, at 1949 metres above sea level. The place attracts tourists who like walking, trekking or cycling. Numerous mountain trails allow for some thrilling sight-seeing. In the North-West of the island, another rock, known as Dedos de Dos (God's Finger), sticks out of the ocean. It is situated near the tiny, charming fishing village of Puerto de las Nieves.
The post-volcanic landscape of the island looks like a surface burnt by the sun, on which one would search in vain for greenery. But over half of its area is protected by UNESCO’s World Biosphere Reserve. A unique kind of vegetation grows here which can rarely be found in other corners of the globe. In order to see it in its full beauty, it’s worth visiting Parque Los Palmitos - a botanical-zoo-logical reserve created among the mountains in the central area of Gran Canaria. It’s a truly heavenly garden, containing exotic parrots, birds of prey, colourful butterflies, palm trees, flowering cactuses and orchids. Endemic species of pines and several thousand cactuses fill the Jardin Botanico Canario, not far from the island’s capital city - Las Palmas.
Culinary customs on Gran Canaria are a combination of Spanish, African and native Guanche traditions. "Wrinkled potatoes”, papas arrugadas, are a delicacy which one can try in every bar or restaurant. The potatoes are boiled whole in very salty water, in their skins, after which their skins become wrinkled. Papas arrugadas are served with spicy pepper sauce, mojo picon, or garlic-herb salsa, mojo verde. The island’s residents also eat gofio - grits made of corn and roasted grains. They add grilled fish or stewed meat to it. Fresh fruit and vegetables are popular here, as well as cheese, including goat cheese with thistle-flower, which is produced in the town of Guia. After your meal, it’s a good idea to reach for local wines or Canary Island sugarcane rum with palm juice.