My name is Giacomo and I’m a photographer. Welcome to my travel guide on Gran Canaria – a beautiful Canary island that I visited recently for two months as part of an environmental project. I grew up in Pavia, which is a small city near Milan in the north of Italy, and I always yearned to travel. As a child, my parents used to take my brother and I on trips around Europe.
I always looked forward to those trips when I was at school. When I was 18 I traveled to Egypt with my brother and it was the first time I left Europe and got pushed out of my comfort zone. That trip triggered something in me. In September of the same year I started university, encouraged to go by my parents and society as a whole. I consider myself lucky because I enjoyed what I was studying and had time to work to save for my travels as well.
Then I began to read stories from other travelers. Inspired by their stories, I decided to take a trip and so I booked a one-way ticket to Peru. At the time I was 19. I traveled alone to an unknown country. The feeling was one of excitement and fear. In Peru I volunteered for one month in a school in Huancayo and then went backpacking around the country for a couple of months. It was in Peru that I started to develop as a photographer.
Living in Gran Canaria for Two Months
The Canary Islands had been on my bucket list since forever. After a few years of working and volunteering around Europe, doing the most diverse jobs, I wanted to find something that was more aligned with my passion for photography. In Gran Canaria I found a place where I could express my creativity, travel around the island, take photos, create content for an environmental association and meet other photographers along the way.
I fell in love with the island. It had such an incredible variety of landscapes – from impressive cliffs and mountains to vast deserts, and from pine forests to picturesque villages. Simply put, Gran Canaria had it all. I chose to stay for two months and work on this environmental project. Our days were spent trekking around the island and picking up the trash that we found.
We were also collaborating with companies around the islands to promote their business and capture content for them to use on social media. Most of the time I was hiking and taking pictures around Gran Canaria or visiting small villages and hidden beaches. I had the chance to get to know a lot of different places, most of them almost completely unknown by tourists.
There are so many amazing places to discover on the island and such a variety of environments. My favorite spot was a small cave 20 minutes from where we lived. It’s called Cueva del Guincho and it’s located completely off the tourist trail. The path to get there is pretty dangerous though, which is why it’s better to go with a local or somebody that has been there before.
The path to Cueva del Guincho overhangs the sea and you have to pass through an old water pipe to access the cave. The sound of the waves entering the small rift of this massive cave and crushing against the rocks created the most surreal atmosphere I have ever experienced. Below are some photos that I took of the cave. I think you will agree that it’s epic!
10 Best Things To Do in Gran Canaria
1. Stay at a Hostel in Las Palmas and Go Surfing
Playa de Las Canteras is a beach situated next to Las Palmas (the capital city) and it’s the perfect place to learn how to surf. I recommend going with a company called Buen Surf School. The surf instructors of Buen are super professional and you will have lots of fun. Playa de Las Canteras is also just a great urban beach to enjoy some sunbathing and swimming.
2. Marvel at the Incredible Dunas de Maspalomas
These sand dunes are located on the south coast of Gran Canaria, just a few meters from the sea. Dunas de Maspalomas is an immensely beautiful and unique landscape. I suggest visiting at sunset for a magical golden hour. The dunes span across a 400 hectare area and are protected under the government as a Nature Reserve. You could easily spend a day here.
3. Watch the Sunset from Pico de las Nieves
Pico de las Nieves is the highest peak on the island from where you can see Mount Teide in the distance (the highest point in Spain) on the nearby island of Tenerife. If you get lucky you will witness a sea of clouds beneath you. Pico de las Nieves stands at 1,949 meters above sea level. You can reach the peak via a number of routes such as hiking trails, bike paths or by driving up. But I think hiking up is the best option if you enjoy a good trek.
4. Camp on a Beautiful Wild Beach of Gran Canaria
Camping on the beach in Gran Canaria is such a special experience, especially if you can find a wild beach with no one else around. Sunrise is a breathtaking moment when you get woken up by the gorgeous colors and crisp air of dawn. My favorite beaches for this experience are Playa de las Mujeres, Playa Montana Arena and Playa de Guigui. All wild and free places!
I have so many amazing memories from Gran Canaria with all the incredible people I met but if I had to pick one favorite moment it would be the time we camped at Playa Montana Arena and watched the sunrise. Those moments when you don’t have the Internet and are completely one with the present – sharing time with the people you love and just being grateful for what you have. Does life get any better than that?!
5. Visit the Most Picturesque Villages of Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria is home to some of the most picturesque and colorful towns I have ever seen. Here are my favorite villages that I recommend everyone check out: Tejeda, Teror, Tufia, Arucas, Acusa Seca, Aguimes and Artenara. While these are the most beautiful villages that I visited during my two month stay, I’m sure there are even more places that you could find.
6. Hike One of the Many “Barrancos” of the Island
A barranco is a deep ravine, gorge or canyon – and in Gran Canaria you can discover many of these wonders. The most scenic ones are Barranco de Guayadeque, Barranco de la Mina, Barranco de las Vacas and Barranco Hondo. All of them are worth visiting. These ravines make for great day hikes where you can stretch the legs and get some sun on your face.
7. Experience Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival
This is one of the oldest and most famous carnivals of Spain. The event occurs every year in February (apart from exemptions like Covid). Some of the most unique aspects of the Carnival de Las Palmas are the Gala of the Drag Queen and the Cabalgata de Reyes Magos. The six kilometer parade runs around the city and showcases many different floats and festivities.
8. Discover the Amazing Natural Pools of Agaete
The natural pools of Agaete are another hidden gem of Gran Canaria. They are situated directly on the ocean, so depending on the tides you may have waves crashing right over you or calm water perfect for bathing/swimming. There are three different pools you can hop into and each one is like its own fortress but instead of a castle there is seawater. Definitely a hidden jewel!
9. Go Diving with Buceo Agaete Dive Center
Gran Canaria is one of the best places to go diving not only in the Canary Islands but in all of Europe. The variety and color of marine life is just outstanding. I can recommend a place that I tried in Agaete called Buceo Agaete Dive Center. They offer a great range of courses for people of all skill levels and experience. Just get in touch and see what they have to offer.
10. Explore the Variety of Caves in Gran Canaria
Last but not least, I want to highlight the many caves that you can explore in Gran Canaria. My personal favorite ones are Cueva del Guincho (as mentioned), Cueva de San Rafael (which is actually an abandoned water reservoir), Cueva de la Reina Mora and Cueva de Cuatro Puertas. These are cool places to have an adventure and take some interesting photos.
Where to Stay in Gran Canaria
During my travels, I like to stay within a budget and avoid touristy places and expensive hotels. In Gran Canaria I stayed in a house up in the hills, near to Las Palmas, with people that were working on the project with me. Las Palmas is the biggest city where people usually set their base. I met a lot of people that were staying in hostels and I also visited a couple of them.
Ventana Azul Surf Hostel is a pretty sweet spot that offers surf lessons, a large rooftop terrace and an open-air kitchen for cooking. Aguita House is another great option if you want to learn how to surf at their surf school. And Blue Wave Hostel is the place to be if you want to remain on a tight budget while meeting other young backpackers from around the world.
What is the Food Like in Gran Canaria?
Since I’m a vegetarian I missed out on a lot of typical dishes. But I still tried Papas Arrugadas (boiled potatoes with pepper sauce) and Gofio Canario (made with different types of toasted grains like corn and wheat all mashed together in a traditional stone mill). The latter was my favorite. I also had a kitchen in Gran Canaria, so I didn’t eat out much. Being Italian, whenever I was in Las Palmas I stopped by Pizzadillo for pizza. Highly recommended!
Tips for Visiting Gran Canaria
The main thing I wish I knew before visiting: it’s not summer all year around. You will experience rain and cold weather at times, especially in the winter and in the north. If you plan to stay in the south, like Maspalomas, the weather is more stable and warm all year around – but it’s also the most touristic part with lots of resorts overlooking the beach.
Personally, I like the north more. It’s more wild and authentic. If you plan to visit the whole island, and the interior as well, you want to be ready for every situation. Bring hiking shoes to trek in the mountains and swimming shorts to swim in the sea. Most of the time when it’s cold and rainy in the north of the island, if you drive one hour south it will be sunny and warm.
Another thing I want to talk about is transport. Public transport works well. They are on time and you can take it everywhere. Yet, some journeys take a lot of time to reach locations and you will have to change two or three buses. I think the best option is to rent a car. This option is quite cheap and will save you heaps of time. The cheapest ones are Goldcar, Dollar and Thrifty but there are many options when you arrive at the airport.