The Canary Islands are a very special destination in Europe. Their climate and safety make them a safe choice at any time of the year. On the islands you can benefit from absolute tranquillity, magnificent landscapes and a wide variety of beaches for all tastes. I will focus on Gran Canaria, as it is the main island and the island with the best tourist offer.
Unfortunately, the number of visitors is high all year round, so most of the usual excursions and attractions are usually overloaded and it is rather unlikely to offer the visitor a quality and personalized visit. There is a clear difference between typical tourist places and those visited by locals. If you leave the tourist area, you can even save money on your trip and at the same time discover how wonderful and authentic life on the island really is. Most of the tourists who visit us leave with a wrong idea or have missed things that I think are really important. A pity!
I definitely recommend you to get to know the islands on your own. In order that you also lose your shyness, I have the following advices for you so that you can organize your trip and do not miss none of the most beautiful and authentic details of Gran Canaria.
Rent a Car in Gran Canaria
The island has many corners worth seeing, but without a vehicle it is almost impossible. For this reason I recommend you to rent a car during your stay to explore the island.
There are several car rentals, but I have two favorites: CICAR and AutoReisen. Both stand out from the others because they have a fully comprehensive insurance, a second driver for free, unlimited kilometers and many other things included in the price. I also always liked the fact that the cars were in perfect condition whenever I rented them. There are several places to pick one up. Airport, Las Palmas, Playa del Inglés or Agaete. It depends on which company you ultimately want to rent the car from. Concerning CICAR, a big plus is that the car can be returned at any of the offices, it does not have to be the pick-up point. Below you can see a photo of a great excursion for which I rented a special model called Manrique (a dedication to a famous artist from the island of Lanzarote).
This is a short description about the climate, in my article The weather in Gran Canaria: months and areas you can find more details.
The climate on the islands is very stable and pleasant throughout the year, which is why Gran Canaria is also known as the “Island of eternal Spring“. I recommend the months from May to October, as later the risk of rain and wind is higher. September is usually the best month as there is no wind at all and you can also enjoy the best sunsets. Click here to view a better description of the climate.
If you want to make an island round trip I advise you to always carry a jacket or sweater with you, no matter when you come. Even if it’s sunny on the beach, you may get a surprise when you go to the mountains. You may encounter rain or cold, which (due to the high humidity) can get into your bones.
I am used to cold from Germany and I mean the one that drops down to -20 degrees, but I must admit that the worst cold I have ever experienced, surprise, was at night in Gran Canaria with “only” 14 degrees. Do not underestimate the humidity on the Canary Islands :). In the winter months you often find snow on the peaks. While it rains in the rest of the island, it snows in the mountain region due to the big difference in altitude. If you want to convince yourself and decide to look at the snow, remember that most Canarians will have the same idea, as they are not used to seeing snow. Full roads and traffic jams are preprogrammed.
Gran Canaria is a perfect destination all year round. Temperatures range from 26 to 30ºC in summer and 18 to 24ºC in winter. You should know that the trade winds blow all year round (except in September, as mentioned above), so don’t worry if you see a breeze blow, the situation usually calms down at night.
One more little detail that I am sure you will like: The Canary Islands have an average of 12 hours of light per day, which makes it one of the places with the most hours of sunshine in the world. Las Palmas is considered the city with the best climate in the world. The possibility of having bad weather is very low.
Differences north and south
In Gran Canaria, there is a big difference between the north and the south in almost all aspects: in the climate, the tourists or the geography. Here we usually call it the “miniature continent”.
The climate is very interesting, as we can have up to three weather phenomena at the same time: Rain in the north, sun in the south and snow in the mountains. This is because the trade winds sweep over the island and create a very different effect: the south has little wind and is very dry, while the north is just the opposite, wetter and windier.
Most of the hotels are located in the south of the island for this reason. Whether in the north or in the south, if you see that the weather is bad in your area, it is probably clearer on the other side of the island. Sometimes the usual wind direction also changes, and in this case the north is better. However, this happens less often.
As I said, the tourist area is the south (Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés, Puerto Rico). I am sure you already know this or have heard about it in travel agencies. In this area, practically no Canarian lives. To be honest, I always avoid to recommend it, unless you only wants to spend your holiday in a big hotel with a swimming pool and the beach beside it. Not a bad plan, but there are other parts of the island that are much more beautiful and calmer.
If you are a nature fan and don’t mind being a little further away from the beach, I recommend the inner part of the island: cities like Artenara, Tejeda or Agüimes are so beautiful and authentic! In the north, near the beach you will find natural swimming pools or beaches with round rocks instead of sand. A place to recommend is Agaete with several bungalows and a very nice hotel.
In Las Palmas, the capital, there are also many places to stay, but it is also the most touristic part of the north. The beach, Las Canteras, is one of my favorites because it is very comfortable and has a natural barrier that turns the sea into a large swimming pool.
The geography of the island is very different, we have places with volcanic cones, some with canyons, some with cliffs and some others with plains and coasts. It is a total mixture and I can only recommend you to take advantage of it.
The people on Gran Canaria are very friendly and always try to help if they see that you are lost or somehow do not get along (I speak from my own experience). The only problem is that almost nobody or very few speak English. Therefore I recommend you to have a small guide at hand to help you if you want to point something out and it is necessary to show you the way.
Pets – the big problem
We “foreigners” are used to travel to many European countries with our pets, I am referring to dogs in this paragraph. In our country it is common to see them in public places such as restaurants, public transport or green areas. Unfortunately, in Gran Canaria it is forbidden to take them to almost all places.
If you want to bring your pet to the island, you should 1. consider booking accommodation that allows you to leave it “at home” during your excursions and 2. find out if it is allowed to take your best friend with you where you plan to go. There are very few places that can be entered with pets, usually they are restaurants with owners from other countries where it is common to take your pet everywhere. Exceptions are places where there is a terrace. Remember that they are also forbidden in many parks or some promenades like the one on Las Canteras beach and also on the beach. I have a small dog, if you need help, I can give you some advice.
Life in Gran Canaria is not expensive. If you let away the accomodation costs, you will have to calculate with 25 euros to 30 euros per day. To give some examples: A coffee can cost you between 0.80 and 1.20 euros and a meal between 10 and 20 euros per person if you eat in restaurants that are good and not overpriced. It is not necessary to give a tip, but people are always happy if they get one. You usually let between 1 and 5 euros per table, depending on the amount. Concerning supermarkets, I recommend Mercadona or Hiperdino. They are the cheapest.
Protect the drinking-water
Since it hardly rains on the islands there are no rivers. The tap water is obtained from the sea with the help of electric desalination plants. This water is drinkable, but tastes bad because of the chlorine. I recommend you to buy bottled water for drinking and use the tap water for cooking. The water for watering the garden plants is normally treated waste water, so do not drink or touch it! Please respect the environment and do not waste the water when showering or bathing.
The Canary Islands have lower taxes than the peninsula (7%), but there are only a few things that compensate for this advantage: Tobacco, alcohol (I recommend you to visit the Arehucas rum factory in Arucas) and perfumes. The price of petrol is also lower, so it is worth to rent a car (see the section Car Rental in Gran Canaria).
Canary Islands gastronomy
Gran Canaria has its own, very extensive gastronomic offer and I recommend you in any case to make use of it as often as possible. The Canarian cheeses have been awarded several international prizes and are always offered as a starter. You can also buy them at flea markets (a visit is highly recommended). Gofio (very finely ground corn) can be enjoyed with milk or in different dishes like gofio escaldao. The wrinkly boiled potatoes (papas arrugadas)with mojo are a typical starter or are usually served as a side dish. Be careful, the mojo can sometimes be spicy. Close to the water I recommend you the dishes including fish and seafood with the green mojo. Of course there are different local fruits like avocados, papayas or the Canarian bananas, which have a unique taste. To drink I can recommend you local wines, especially the ones from Lanzarote.
As you can see, there is everything! If you want to try as much as possible, I recommend you to order a mixture of starters, even half portions (we call it picoteo), as they are usually very big. If you ask the waitress, he will certainly help you choose, let him guide you and you will be convinced.
What fascinates me most about the island is the nature, so I hope that my advice encourages you to see as much of it as possible. Finally, to tell you a secret, the Canary Islands are one of the three places in the world with a “calm” atmosphere, so they have one of the most important observatories in the world. So, even in a remote place without light pollution, you can see the infinite number of stars, constellations, the Milky Way and, with a little luck, a shooting star. The flora is also very diverse, with the fireproof Canary Island pine and native flowers such as the Tajinaste. Pay attention to this beautiful nature, do not step on protected areas, do not throw your rubbish on the ground and recycle everything you can (blue for paper, yellow for containers and green for glass).