Europe’s Atlantic Islands: Grand Canary, Spain

The expanse over Grand Canary at sunset won me over.

The Canary Islands of Spain dot the Atlantic, attracting beachcombers from Europe. I selected the main island, Grand Canary out of pragmatic needs, a quick arrival from the US via Madrid and out the next day bound for Cabo Verde.

The south of the island is dessert, all-inclusive resorts and wind farms. I saw little of it from the flight approach and had little interest in more.

Rental cars are pricey, particularly at the airport when mainly European agencies with scammy fees cluster. Cheapest one-day rental I found was US$80. See the complex Goldcar fuel model fee system with massive minimum charges if you decline to purchase the full tank. I came across off-airport Orlando rent a car for $32. Their shuttle came when I summoned and the representative explained, “At airport, money to King of Spain. At Orlando, money to Orlando.” Orlando is well signposted for return.

It was approach midday and I quickly drove to the nearby ravine and cave houses of Barranca de Guayadeque. With more time, a cave lunch would have been fun.

The road passes through hilltop town Agüimes. Like much of the island, it was so windy it was difficult to move forward into the gusts.

Chasing daylight hours I returned to the coast and drove the capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The drive passes distribution centers tied to tax advantages of the islands.

Parking in the historic core is not easy. The side roads have bafflingly complex meters and vigilant traffic police. The main roads have young touts claiming spots and collecting fees. If you are obsessed with free parking drive out and you see the main expressway-like road lined with cars, at a certain point the touts stop and locals park for free. Join them and enjoy the 15 or so minute walk back down to the center.

The old town is typically beautiful for Spain. Several prime museums and churches listed in guidebooks as free now charge entry, modest for Europe at prices like 3 euros. Those determined to use points for hotels can use Marriott Rewards for two unremarkable AC Hotels in Las Palmas.

I left the coast and ascended the mountain bound for Cruz de Tejeda. The mountainous interior is resplendent. Mainly visited by tourists day tripping from the big resorts there are relatively few guest houses and restaurants.

I chose the only guesthouse on the peak at Cruz de Tejeda, Hotel Rural El Refugio, which as rooms ranging from US$49-130. They have a beautiful breakfast room and compound.

The cheapo room is a bit perilous. The foyer leads to a bedroom that you need to stoop to your knees to go under the beam. I am amazed, as jet-lagged as I was, that I never banged my head. The room is angled by the roof as well. Towels were provided but no bathroom amenities. It is very cold at night so the little space heater is appreciated.

There is a cluster of cafes and shops. I wisely ate dinner mid-afternoon as I correctly suspected everything would shutter at sunset, with the daytrippers gone.

The views were worth it.

Because of my early flight and the odd time zone, sunrise was not till 7:45 so I missed seeing the island out the sea with the sun rising behind.

The foggy morning decent down twisting switchbacks is not for everyone. Drive only if you are comfotable with narrow, twisting roads, and remember that you’ll almost certainly have a stick shift.

I had no expectations of Grand Canary and departed enchanted by the interior. I want to return.

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  • Looks very interesting, Stefan. I’ve been intrigued by these islands for some time.

  • guera

    The last long-view shot of the interior is absolutely spectacular. Makes you just want to keep driving and explore.

  • Eric

    Interesting post. Timely as my wife is dying to go. How was it to go in March? Trying to figure out when would be best to go. I realize ‘best’ means different things to different people, but I’d be curious how this time of year was.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Eric – the wind farms suggest the heavy winds I experienced are not unusual. Daytime hot sun with chilly winds means layer on, layer off. Day trippers from the beach resorts were in shorts and down there I think beaches are year round. Up on the mountain at night was very cold.

  • John

    Love the photos. What kind of camera did you use? The skies were very photo-friendly that day! Please keep them coming in future trip reports.

    Did you rent a manual transmission? I presume that was the only option available.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – I have a point and shoot Canon Powershot S100, mainly got it for GPS though it takes a long time to locate the signal.

    All manuals, when they heard I was going up into the mountains they switched me to a diesel that worked well.

    Over in Madeira later in the trip I was surprised to be given an automatic by Europcar, “Is it ok to have an automatic?” she asked, perhaps a polite way of saying Americans have screwed up enough of their manuals.