You may be surprised to learn that the canary bird is not the inspiration behind the name of the Spanish island, Gran Canaria. In fact, the original meaning roughly translates to “Great Island of Dogs”, which is a slightly less exotic choice of animal for an island which sits off the Western coast of Africa.
During my week-long trip to the second most populous Canary Island, I have to say there was not an abundance of dogs, or any wild animals in fact, aside from the odd stray cat. However, the beauty of the island more than made up for this, with spectacular sights both on the ground, and almost two kilometres up in the mountains.
My favourite town that we visited would have to be Puerto de Mogán, a fishing village on the south-west coast of the island. One of the most striking things about Puerto de Mogán is the vibrancy of the florae which bloom from the walls and rooftops of so many of the town’s buildings.
Dangling vines of brilliant orange, fuchsia, magenta against the cool white archways of the passages which criss-cross through the town. An extensive market forms in Puerto de Mogán every Friday, drawing in crowds from around the island, and it’s not hard to see why. Locals gather to sell a diverse range of wares from hand-painted pottery, artwork, handmade jewellery, to food and the unavoidable/inevitable touristic sunhat.
However, unless you’re in a restaurant, there aren’t many places to sit down, and the unrelenting sunshine can become unbearable, so a few hours to explore is more than enough time before you hop back on the boat to Puerto Rico.
During a tour of the island, we were lucky enough to visit a very unique destination – La Finca La Laja in the town of Agaete, home to the only coffee plantation in Europe. Located on the north-west of the island, this family-run farm not only grows coffee, but oranges, mangoes and avocadoes too. If you glance upwards as you are walking towards the farm, you will see hundreds of bunches of grapes dance in the wind above your head.
Surrounding the plantation are not only the iconic mountains, but lush green trees and plants which are characteristic of the north of the island. Once inside, we were brought several cups of immensely rich coffee, glass after glass of a variety of wines which were produced on the farm itself, and traditional Canarian lightbites.
I would say that the peak of the trip (both figuratively and literally) for me was our mountainous ascent to Pico de las Nieves, the highest point of Gran Canaria at a staggering 1,949 metres above sea level. Having driven for what felt like hours through scenic, albeit treacherously steep and narrow roads, we reached our destination around fifteen minutes before sunset.
Once standing at the top, trees and mountains, clouds and tiny Spanish towns stretched out seemingly endlessly before me. With a glass of champagne in our hands, we watched the sun gradually disappear behind Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands.
Observable from Pico de las Nieves is the natural monument Roque Nublo – translating roughly to “Rock in the Clouds” – which is the second highest point on the island. I could have stayed there for hours, it felt like I was in a different world.
All in all, whether you’re simply looking to soak up some sun on a beach – the island has plenty of impressive coastlines and ocean views – or to soak up a bit of Canarian culture (and also wine), Gran Canaria combines an attractive subtropical climate with outstanding natural beauty so you’re sure to find something for everyone.