Gran Canaria (Spanish pronunciation: [ɡɾaŋ kaˈna.ɾja]; originally meaning “Great [Island] of Dogs”) is the second most populous island of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago, with a population of 838,397 which constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Located in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 kilometres (93 mi) off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 1,350 km (840 mi) from Europe.
Gran Canaria was populated by the Canarii, who may have arrived as early as 500 BC. The Canarii called the island Tamarán or Land of the Brave. After over a century of European (French, Portuguese…) incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29, 1483, after a campaign that lasted five years, by the Crown of Castile, with the support of Queen Isabella I, a conquest which turned out to be 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.
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 is 2.2 million (2,200,000). 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, that they emphasize 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.
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 about 290 caves, Cueva Pintada the most important archaeological park in Canary Islands and the botanical gardens Jardin 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 on November 2005.
Other well-known rock formations are El Cura (also known as El Fraile), The Frog (La Rana), Bentayga, the Roque de Gando, and the Peñón Bermejo. The highest peak of the island is the Pico de las Nieves, at 1,950 metres (6,400 ft).
The capital city is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Canteras Beach lies in the heart of the city, it is a protected area and diving zone. 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. His 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 around 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 hillside 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, very well known due to the sales of hot dogs on the Salinetas coast, and Vecindario (within the municipality of Santa Lucía de Tirajana) and Gáldar 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 Cueva Pintada or Cenobio de Valerón’s communal silos, ancient tombs, 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).
Heading west along the southern coast is the fishing city of Arguineguín in the Municipality of Mogán.
Protected natural areas
Nearly half of the island territory — 667 km² (42.7% of island) — is under protection from the Red Canaria de Espacios Naturales Protegidos (Canary Islands Network for Protected Natural Areas). Of the 146 protected sites under control of network in the Canary Islands archipelago, a total of 33 are located in Gran Canaria, the second most protected island in the group. There are seven different categories of protection:
- Six nature reserves — El Brezal, Azuaje, Los Tilos de Moya, Los Marteles, Las Dunas de Maspalomas and Güigüi (total 7,153.1 ha)
- Two integral nature reserves — Inagua and Barranco Oscuro (total 3,955,5 ha)
- Two natural parks — Tamadaba and Pilancones (total 13,333 ha)
- Two rural parks — Nublo and Doramas (total 29,893.4 ha)
- Ten natural monuments — Amagro, Bandama, Montañón Negro, Roque de Aguayro, Tauro, Arinaga, Barranco de Guayadeque, Riscos de Tirajana, Roque Nublo and Barranco del Draguillo (total 5,264.9 ha)
- Seven protected landscapes — La Isleta (in the capital Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), Pino Santo, Tafira, Las Cumbres, Lomo Magullo, Fataga and Montaña de Agüimes (total 12,680.9 ha)
- Four sites of scientific interest — Jinámar, Tufia, Roque de Gando and Juncalillo del Sur (total 276.2 ha).
The island is home to CB Gran Canaria – a basketball club playing in Liga ACB at the Centro Insular de Deportes, with a capacity of 5,200.