Gran Canaria is often nicknamed the mini continent island among the Canary Islands. I now understand why due to its surprising variety of landscapes. Last summer, I was lucky to spend a month exploring the capital island of the Spanish archipelago. I had plenty of time to try things up between scuba diving in Gran Canaria and experimenting if Las Palmas could be my dream place to relocate. I could check what was awesome from what was alright.
I summed up my experience into this 2-week Gran Canaria itinerary with all the places I loved the most. I took into account the altitude factor to scuba dive and explore the inland mountains safely. Indeed, every time you drive inland, you quickly get above the limit of 600 m (for 24 hours after consecutive dives).
If you primarily want to log dives in Gran Canaria, you can base yourself in Las Palmas or Puerto Rico. But maybe you’re like me: you just can’t resist the adventure of a road trip across the island. I have good news, Gran Canaria is just breath-taking from its shores to its highest summits. Prepare your fins, your hiking shoes and your driving licence. Here we go!
1 – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: 4 days
Las Palmas is a city with different districts with their own character. Before considering relocating, I wanted to get a feel of each. However, as a scuba diver visiting Gran Canaria on holidays, I recommend focusing on two. This way, you’ll have enough time to explore the dive sites easily accessible from Las Palmas.
According to your level, plan for two full days of diving. By the way, don’t miss the opportunity for a night dive in Playa Tufia, only 20 minutes driving away. As there is no altitude issue on the road to the next stop, Agaete, you can plan your activities as you wish.
What to do in Las Palmas?
The two main areas to visit in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria are Las Canteras Beach in the northwest and the Vegueta historic district in the southeast. My favourite activities in Las Palmas were:
- Snorkelling in Las Canteras Beach
- Hiking to the Cross viewpoint above the Confital Beach
- Strolling around Vegueta historical district
- Eating pinchos at Mercado del Puerto
Las Canteras & El Confital districts
The Canteras beach might be the most touristy area of Las Palmas, but I must say its wide seafront promenade is stunning. The 3-km long sandy beach is clean and equipped with showers and recycling bins everywhere. The northern part is protected by La Barra rocks, making it the perfect area for snorkelling, paddling, and kayaking. The waves of the southern part delight a large surfers’ community.
After an active day in the water, there is just no better place in town for sunset drinks with tapas (Check Taberna Chica, 60 Calle Dr Grau Bassas & The Block, 1 Calle Lepanto). The area is full of fantastic cafés with delicious veggie options; hence I recommend going for brunch in the area too (Check Organic Jungle, 2 Plazoleta de Farray).
However, the streets behind are not the nicest in town, and they can be noisy. At the same time, the area is highly convenient with plenty of restaurants and shops. You just won’t find the best prices here. If you go just a bit further to the central market, less than 15 minutes walking, you can shop at local prices. Note, close to the beach of Las Canteras, in its northern part, Mercado del Puerto is a great place to eat tapas and pinchos, maybe less for shopping since it’s smaller than Mercado Central.
The district just above Las Canteras, El Confital, is quieter and feels more authentic. There is no sandy beach here but a series of creeks where I noticed several people freediving. When I arrived at the Confital beach, it was almost a shock to see this wild area close to the city (about 25 minutes walking). You can also hike to a breathtaking viewpoint (Mirador de la Cruz) above all Las Palmas, which I believe is the best in town.
Vegueta & Triana districts
The historic district of Vegueta, might be small and quiet, but it is the most gorgeous area of the city. If it’s a fantastic place for a walk in the shade of bougainvillaea flowers and palm trees by the Cathedral surrounded by 16th-century buildings. The architectural highlight of the area is the Casa de Colón. The old governor house is believed to have served as a stopover home to Christopher Colombus, hence its name.
Don’t hesitate to plan lunch there. I was almost shocked at how cheap the restaurants were in this part of town compared to Las Canteras Beach. You can get a 3-course menu for less than 10€ (check Taberna del Monje, 27 Calle Espiritu Santo & El Deseo, 23 Calle Mendizabal). If you’re only looking for drinks, head to the elegant Santa Ana Square facing the Cathedral with perfectly aligned palm trees and street lamps (check 8 Canes, 2 Plaza Sta Ana).
For information, I was a bit disappointed by the Mercado de Vegueta, which felt empty. But no regret thanks to a fruit store owner making the show with all his extraordinary tropical fruits selection growing in Gran Canaria. Local mangoes and dragon fruits, anyone?
Just a bit north of Vegueta, Triana is the lively district of Las Palmas among stylish buildings such as the 19th-century Gabinete Literario or the Palacete Rodriguez Quegles built in 1900. Although still away from the beaches, here, you’ll find all the shops and services you need (especially along Calle Triana) and also the trendiest cafés in town (Check Mr Kale, 35 Calle Cano).
Scuba diving from Las Palmas
It was one of the best surprises I had during my trip to Gran Canaria. While most dive sites are not in Las Palmas but rather in Telde, you can quickly go diving thanks to all the dive centres driving you with their van in 20 to 30 minutes. Most dive centres are in the Canteras Beach area or the marina near the Ciudad Jardin district (Muelle Deportivo).
As I stayed in the Canteras area, I joined Virginia and Sergio of 7 Mares, located on the northern side of The Canteras Beach. Walking 15 minutes early morning on the quiet Paseo de Las Canteras, with the soft morning light and pleasant breeze before the crowd of beachgoers arrive, was the best way to start each of my diving days.
- Catedral: The only dive site actually in Las Palmas, off the shore of El Confital, the district between Las Canteras and La Isleta with a stunning rocky beach. Unfortunately, it can’t be accessed from the shore, and the boat was in repair at the time of my visit. This dive site has many overhead passages and is recommended to advanced divers with excellent buoyancy control.
- The Arona shipwreck: My favourite dive site of Gran Canaria is a wreck dive for experienced divers with a deep specialty. The 100 m long cargo ship which sank in the 1970s lies at 35 m deep. The water at the surface can be choppy, but it’s worth every effort. The visibility was around 30 m, massive fish shoals were swirling around the shipwreck, and there were exciting swim-through.
- Playa Tufia: The most scenic location to go diving in Gran Canaria. The troglodyte fishermen village nestled around the small bay makes it delightful to go shore diving in Playa Tufia. However, be aware of the slope between the shore and the parking. Making the return from the last dive fully equipped with the tank on your back can be demanding. From a marine species point of view, this is where I could observe the most remarkable diversity of marine species in all of Gran Canaria.
- El Cabrón Marine Reserve: A bit further south on the east coast after the airport, it’s still possible to scuba dive in the marine reserve from Las Palmas in about 30 minutes of driving. From an underwater landscape point of view, it was the two most exciting dives I’ve done: swim-through, drop-off, caves and arches… it is apparently due to the past volcanic activity of the island. The different routes are accessible to most divers with a maximum depth of around 20 m.
Where to stay in Las Palmas?
As a traveller in Las Palmas, you’ll basically need to choose whether you prefer staying near the beach in Las Canteras or if you prefer history and architecture in Vegueta and Triana.
There are plenty of surfers’ hostels along Las Canteras Beach for those on a budget. I stayed for a couple of nights in Hi-Tide House. Their rooftop terrace has a breathtaking view of Las Canteras Beach, but, to be honest, I got a few bad surprises with them.
If you are looking for something fancier, the stylish city hotels are on the north side of the beach. But for a change of scene, don’t hesitate to try the historic district boutique hotels. I stayed at the Cordial Peregrina Hotel with its fancy rooftop terrace, including a bar and a small pool to refresh in the summer days. My piece of advice? Just avoid having to park a rental car while staying there.
2 – Agaete: 3 days
Agaete is the main town of the northeast of Gran Canaria, with impressive views of the massive cliffs of the Tamadaba Natural Park. From Las Palmas, you can go there in 30 minutes by car with the GC-2 highway or in 1h30 by bus with line 103.
What to do in Agaete?
Agaete can be divided into three areas worth visiting: Puerto de las Nieves, Valle de Agaete and the main town centre of Agaete. Despite being known for its natural pools, by driving a bit more north to Punta del Gáldar, I found the natural pools there to be cuter with a stunning view of El Pico de la Atalaya (the Gáldar town centre is built on the slope of this extinct volcano).
Puerto de las Nieves
If you plan on visiting Tenerife too during your stay in the Canary Islands, this is where you go to catch the fastest ferry between the two islands. But Puerto de las Nieves is so adorable that there is no need to hop on a ferry to come there.
The white fishermen houses punctuated with blue doors, facing the cliffs of Tamadaba Natural Park, became a local attraction with many seafood restaurants. In front of the cliff, El Dedo de Dios rock (God’s finger) is proudly standing and is the symbol of Agaete. Unfortunately, this famous natural monument lost its top thin “finger” rock during a storm in 2005.
The restaurant wearing the same name just in front of it, near the old pier where kids love jumping from a rusted crane, might be the most famous here. Its door is covered with labels and signs from all possible guidebooks. The restaurant is busy, you might wait to get a table, but I couldn’t believe how much fresh and delicious food I had for less than 20€ with wine, dessert and coffee!
Further down the paseo maritimo (seafront promenade), with 10 minutes of walking, you’ll find the natural pools of Agaete. They are former salt ponds. It’s pretty obvious when you see the amount of salt still accumulating between rocks. It is better to come early in the morning before 10.30 am if you want to beat the crowd. If it’s already too busy, by following the path going up to the Roca Negra hotel and going past it, you’ll find the beautiful wild creek of La Caleta down a steep cliff.
Valle de Agaete
By driving through the main agriculture areas of Gáldar, what I mostly saw was concrete block walls and plastic tarp. If visiting a finca (farm) was about that, I didn’t fancy it at first. But it was until I found about the Valle de Agaete, just 5 minutes driving across the charming town centre of Agaete. It’s a dream oasis nestled in a hidden valley.
I chose to visit the Platinum coffee plantation because they opened the latest. They are many more options around. Valle de Agaete is the home of the only coffee plantations of Europe (administratively speaking). For 10€, you get a tour of the plantation and an explanation about the climate of the valley. But if I knew I would taste their coffee, I couldn’t believe how much food (biscuits, cheese, jams) and liquors I tasted in addition to practising toasting my own coffee beans the old-fashioned way.
Punta de Gáldar
My main goal by going into the area was to photograph the lighthouse of Punta Sardina. By finding the spot of Charco de Los Espejos (the mirror pool), I could get great shots of the lighthouse. However, the no-man’s land around it didn’t make me want to stay too long.
Hopefully, I found the area of the natural pools of Punta Gáldar, which are smaller with a more local vibe and delightful view of the volcano of Gáldar (Montaña de Gáldar or Pico de la Atalaya). Talking about local vibes, take the opportunity to have lunch at Chicas de la Finca for an affordable daily menu of Canarian specialities.
It’s a perfect day trip to relax at a lower altitude after scuba diving before heading to the island’s south through the mountains.
Scuba diving in Agaete
The area around Agaete is primarily famous for shore diving at the beach of Sardina del Norte. Unfortunately, while most dive centres go there by van, by staying in Agaete, it was planned to go there by boat, but the winds decided otherwise. I’ll need to come back to review this famous dive site of Gran Canaria
- El Juncal: The dive site is below high cliffs north of Agaete and features a large sea cave with an air bell. I’d like to recommend this dive to at least advanced divers. I must say getting in the giant cave was exciting. There is a tunnel to access the air bell, and I still don’t get where the current I faced came from. There is no particular marine life inside and around the cave, but the blue glow at the cave entrance is quite mesmerising.
- Las Merinas: Most of the interest of this shore dive is to swim from the old pier of Puerto de las Nieves in the direction of the famous natural monument El Dedo de Dios. The dive site is shallow but starts with quite a long surface swim. So, it can be a good site for beginners but with a good fitness level. The highlight of the dive is a small swim-through cave. It’s also the only spot where I got a decent nudibranch picture in all my dives in Gran Canaria.
Where to stay in Agaete?
I had the opportunity to stay for 3 nights at the Hotel Roca Negra. The 4-star hotel is located on the top of a hill right above Agaete natural pools and Puerto de las Nieves. I had fantastic ocean views from my balcony. One night, I could see the lights of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. On a clear day, it must be possible to see the whole island of Tenerife, as I was able to see Mount Teide later during my trip.
Food-wise, I can easily say they had the highest quality breakfast of all the hotels I tried during my one month stay in Gran Canaria. Churros with fresh fruits and chocolate, anyone?
3 – Puerto Rico: 4 days
The south of Gran Canaria is where people relax, even locals. Half of the Spanish people I met there were from Las Palmas. Going from Agaete to Puerto will be difficult without renting a car. By bus, you’ll have to come back to Las Palmas and then take line 91, which is going all the way to Puerto de Mógan. It would take about three hours. However, I promise the most scenic road trip through the Tamadaba Natural Park and the Mógan Valley. Don’t forget to bring your driving licence and your best mountain driving skills!
What to do in Puerto Rico?
The seaside resort town and its large marina are located in the middle of the southwest coast. It is a short driving distance to everything worth doing, thanks to the GC-1 highway: the dunes of Maspalomas, the dive sites of Pasito Blanco, the whale watching cruise and the flowered marina of Puerto de Mógan.
GC-200 road trip
I recommend getting up early to have enough time to make as many stops as you wish on the scenic GC-200 road going from Agaete to Puerto de Mógan. This road reaches an altitude of 600 m, so make sure you fully decompressed after scuba diving to avoid any problem (ideally 24 hours).
My first recommended stop is only 15 minutes driving away from Puerto de las Nieves. The Barranco de Guayedra and its beach are worth staying about 1 hour with its stunning view above Puerto de las Nieves and El Dedo de Dios rock. By going down to the pebble beach (be aware it’s a nudist beach), you can get some of the best views of the cliffs of Tamadaba Natural Park from sea level (the cover picture of this article was taken there).
If you don’t feel like going down the dirt road with your rental car, there are a couple of parking spaces along the CG-200 road. It takes about 20 minutes to walk down to the beach.
My second stop is a famous viewpoint of Gran Canaria. However, the access is not so easy, so you shouldn’t be overwhelmed with people (it might change the day the tunnel below the Tamadada Park will be finished – one portion is already open, the one you will have to take as one part of the GC-200 is currently closed).
The Mirador del Balcón gives the impression of flying with the clouds over the ocean near the stunning Tamadaba cliffs’ summits. The glass guardrail reinforces the feeling. For photographers, it’s much better with the morning light. In the afternoon, you’ll get backlighting looking at the cliffs (which was my case, unfortunately).
For the third stop, you’ll get to see first-hand the beautiful effects volcanism can have on rocks. The Fuente de Los Azulejos displays colourful rock strata, including a surprising soft blue. There are a few spots where you can park the car to enjoy different views.
The most adventurous will take the hiking trail, which starts with some rock climbing. So don’t be surprised if you see the sign pointing to a rock! There is usually a small waterfall and some ponds up, but everything had dried up at the time of my visit in early September.
Further down the road, you’ll get a choice of beautiful viewpoints over the Mogan Valley, such as at Mirador de Veneguera.
Puerto de Mógan
At the end of the GC-200 road, you’ll find Puerto de Mógan. I loved its white, blue and yellow marina covered in bougainvillaea flowers. You can go scuba diving from there but I recommend also stopping there for lunch or sunset drinks (Check Taberna del Puerto). There is a small sandy beach east of the marina if you need to relax after your road trip, but I bet you’ll spend most of your time taking pictures in its colourful alleys. Too bad I missed climbing up through the village to the viewpoint above the marina!
Whale watching cruise
Every day, twice per day at 10 am and 1 pm, you can board the Spirit of the Sea boat in Puerto Rico. I boarded the morning one, as I wanted cooler temperatures, and morning is usually better to see marine animals.
We got off the shore for the first hour, allowing us to see the Roque Nublo from the ocean. First, we didn’t see much but a couple of flying fish. But then, quickly, we crossed paths with a pod of short-finned pilot whales. Later we also saw a pod of common dolphins. With a clear blue sky, calm waters, and Gran Canaria’s mountains in the background, we had all the ingredients for a successful cruise!
The incredibly kind staff of Spirit of the Sea made all the possible efforts at educating passengers about how to do whale watching responsibly (Note, getting in the water with whales and dolphins is not allowed in the Canary Islands). I cannot recommend them enough! This is a fantastic way to spend your decompression day on the ocean after scuba diving, for only the price of one dive.
The “Spanish Sahara” located in the island’s south tip must be the number one attraction on Gran Canaria. Despite being bordered by countless hotels and resorts, the area is surprisingly a well preserved and protected natural area.
I visited it twice, once in the late morning and a second time at sunset. The first time, I was amazed at how quiet the area was. My first idea was because it was even wider than I thought. Then I realised the beach right in the middle between Playa del Ingles and Meloneras, the Oasis area, is a nudist beach. But it’s more when I came back with quite painful sunburnt (I hadn’t put sunscreen on my legs thinking it would be alright!) that I understood 10.30 am is already too late. There were way more people at sunset!
Be careful with what you bring, because even with a tiny bit of wind, you’ll be covered in sand (I had to carefully clean my camera afterwards).
It might be the most popular place to visit in Gran Canaria, but the atmosphere is magical whatever the moment you decide to see it. No wonder this view of the ocean through the dunes is so iconic in Gran Canaria. To explore the area, you can come from the lighthouse in Meloneras (where the buses drop you) or go to the entrance near the Hotel Riu (there is free parking near it). I feel the views were slightly better at the second spot.
If you’re looking for drinks and food in the area, I definitely recommend Tipsy Hammock (24 Paseo Costa Canaria) in Playa del Inglès!
Scuba diving from Puerto Rico
The south area is all about boat diving in calm and clear waters, whereas the rest of the island is a mix of boat and shore diving in sometimes sporty conditions. You can go diving there from many locations along the south coast of Gran Canaria. In my case, I joined the team of Scuba Sur based on the gorgeous flowered marina of Anfi del Mar in Arguineguin.
- Pasito Blanco: With relatively shallow depths (you can stay above 18 m), almost no current and plenty of marine life, Pasito Blanco is delightful whether you’re an Open Water diver or a seasoned underwater photographer. It’s actually a double dive site. On the first dive, I went to the artificial reef, and on the second one, the natural reef of Pasito Blanco. The amount of marine life these reefs gather is incredible. I saw many stingrays, large schools of grunts, a cuttlefish and even a sea turtle!
- Cermona II shipwreck: It is a shallow wreck dive site. I couldn’t go below 17 m, even by almost lying in the sand for some shots. If you are a beginner diver, that’s the perfect opportunity to try wreck diving with clear waters and little to no current. There is so much life around it that my dive buddy and I had a fantastic time taking pictures.
Where to stay in Puerto Rico?
I stayed for 3 days at the Gloria Palace Amadores in Puerto Rico when I explored the south coast. It’s a massive 4-star resort along a cliff with a view of the ocean like if you were on a cruise ship. Despite its size, I never felt overwhelmed by people thanks to all the different spaces, bars and pools at different levels. If you add to this, you can stay in a room with a private swimming pool; what not to dream of between dives… except maybe a thalassotherapy pool? It was perfect on my decompression day before hiking to Roque Nublo, higher in altitude.
For those on a budget, you can find pensions in Puerto de Mógan, above the lovely marina, like the Pension Playa with its stunning terrace.
4 – Tejeda: 3 days
Once you’re done with the best of diving in Gran Canaria, wait for 24 hours on the south coast by relaxing at your hotel pool and doing one of the activities not involving diving. Then you’ll be ready to go to the highest summits of Gran Canaria. I drove in many areas inland, and I just came to the conclusion that the area around Tejeda is the most breathtaking of all of Gran Canaria. So, on a short holiday, don’t look further and don’t believe you’ll be able to do it on a one-day trip. Stay in the area for at least one night.
What to do in Tejeda?
It’s pretty interesting how I found myself discovering Tejeda. On the first day I got the rental car, I made the mistake of believing I’d be able to make a day trip from Las Palmas to the Roque Nublo while visiting many viewpoints and villages. While it was nice to explore Arucas, Firgas and Teror, I forgot that driving on the curved roads up in the mountains was burning more petrol than usual.
Having left Las Palmas with less than half a tank, I quickly had to find a petrol station somewhere in the mountains. At that point, I had decided to skip some places, including Tejeda, if we wanted to make it to Roque Nublo before nightfall. The petrol emergency took me right to Tejeda, and I’m so grateful it happened this way. I could discover the incredible Grand Canyon lookalike view from Cruz de Tejeda and the charming streets of the village of Tejeda.
Cruz de Tejeda
I had to come back a second time to finally stop there. So now you read these lines, park your car following the chickens and give it at least 30 minutes to admire the view from the terrace next to the hotel Parador de Cruz de Tejeda. There is also a tiny farmer market next to it (keep following the chickens), prices aren’t that cheap, but you’ll get to taste some of the best Canarian goat cheese. The view of Tejeda Valley and Bentayga rock in the middle remains my favourite on Gran Canaria.
Just to tell you how much I loved it, I went hiking there twice. Not having planned to bring my headlamp, I had to leave before sunset the first time. Anyway, I was amazed at how well maintained the trail was. You can easily park your rental car a bit further up the road. It takes about 40 minutes to climb to the top. It’s well indicated, and the path is clear. You’ll go from crossing a pine tree forest to a lunar plateau while enjoying some of the best views of the valley around Tejeda.
Depending on the time of the year, it can be hot like freezing; I was shocked at how different the temperature was between my first visit at the beginning of September and the second one at the end of the month. I was too warm the first time, too cold the second (duh!). Just bring everything clothes-wise, including a good wind jacket and a warm hoodie. If you’re too hot due to the climbing, just put it in your backpack. Think also about bringing plenty of water and a snack.
Pico de las Nieves
At 1949 m of altitude, Pico de las Nieves (snow peak) is the highest viewpoint in Gran Canaria. On clear days, you can see the dunes of Maspalomas and even Mount Teide of the island of Tenerife behind Roque Nublo. It might involve playing hide and seek with the clouds, which sometimes engulf the entire summit. 15 minutes can make a tremendous difference between seeing nothing to everything! I was surprised at how accessible the viewpoint is. You arrive at the parking, and here it is!
Hikers in the know walk back down a bit. There is a trail below the parking going to the Ventana de Morro. This “rock window” includes some vertiginous parts along the path, but it only takes about 10 minutes to get there. Just take your time and be careful. If you see the Señor Champiñon rock (Mr Mushroom, you’ll quickly get why), you’re in the right direction.
Where to stay in Tejeda?
There are many gorgeous luxury hotels in Gran Canaria, but the hotel of El Parador de Cruz de Tejeda has this killer view no other hotel on the island can compete with. Imagine swimming in a pool floating over the Grand Canyon. The hotel has a mix of traditional and modern decoration in a tasteful way.
Personally, I was staying a bit further away in a beautiful house I rented in Ingenio (50 minutes driving to Pico de las Nieves). But if you want to find budget accommodation in the Tejeda area, have a look at the Finca La Isa hostel in Tejeda.
How to get around Gran Canaria?
There are plenty of direct flights from mainland Europe (UK, France, Germany) and obviously mainland Spain with many different departure cities available all around the country. For affordable flight offers, I highly recommend checking out Kiwi.com.
Once at the Gran Canaria airport, you can easily take the express bus for 4 to 5 € to Las Palmas in the north, or the resort area in the south, from Maspalomas to Puerto de Mógan. If you prefer riding a taxi, note Uber and other apps are not available on Gran Canaria. A taxi ride to Las Palmas is from 30 to 35€. If you stay in Las Palmas or in the south, it is pretty easy to only use the buses for very reasonable fares. The most expensive I paid for was the return ticket Las Palmas-Maspalomas for about 13€.
However, I also recommend renting a car as the inland side is absolutely gorgeous. Just make sure to wait for 24 h after diving before going in altitude. Roque Nublo is at 1813 m, and Pico de la Nieves, the highest point, at 1949 m of altitude. If you prefer booking your rental car ahead, look at car rental prices in Gran Canaria online.
When is the best season to visit Gran Canaria?
The Canary Islands like to nickname themselves the islands of eternal spring. Indeed, the water conditions are very stable all year long. The warmest it gets in Gran Canaria at the end of August is 24°C, and the coldest it gets in February is 19°C. So, diving in September is the most comfortable season to scuba dive in Gran Canaria.
If you really want to get a chance to see one, the angel shark season is in winter, from November to March. Those fond of whale watching will prefer to see the pilot whales passing by in the summer. To do this, hop on the fantastic whale and dolphin cruise leaving from Puerto Rico twice a day (make sure to book in advance).
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This article was written in partnership with the Gran Canaria tourism board. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.
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