Gran Canaria’s lesser-known north: Authentic adventures await

Upon leaving Gran Canaria airport, most turn left, travelling in the direction of the Spanish island’s southern resorts. But take a right instead and you’ll find yourself in the historic, cultural north…

Team Wanderlust
11 July 2022
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Gran Canaria

Upon leaving Gran Canaria airport, most new arrivals make a left turn, travelling in the direction of the Spanish island’s southern resorts. However, take a right instead and you’ll find yourself in the historic, cultured north, the heart of Tamarán, the ancient name of the island before its 15th-century Spanish conquest.

Back in time

The Neoclassical Iglesia de San Juan Bautista; Gáldar’s Iglesia de Santiago is where the island’s camino finishes

Gáldar, in the north of Gran Canaria, is a veritable time machine and where you’ll find the Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park. Digs have revealed more and more about the Canarii, the island’s original inhabitants, who have links to North Africa’s Berbers, and its rock paintings and museum make a great historical primer.

The town is also home to arguably the island’s prettiest square, Plaza de Santiago, which is a welcoming sight for any walker finishing the Camino de Santiago de Gran Canaria. This pilgrim trail begins 66km away in Maspalomas and culminates here at the elegant 18th-century Iglesia de Santiago de los Caballeros.

A 15-minute drive away lies Maipés de Agaete Archaeological Park. These volcanic badlands were where the Canarii buried their dead. Most ended up beneath cone-shaped mounds, while those of higher standing would be afforded a grander, more ornate final resting place.

The next stop is Arucas, known as the “Pearl of Gran Canaria”. The town’s most iconic sight is its cathedral-like church, Iglesia de San Juan Bautista. It was designed at the turn of the 20th century by Manuel Vega March, a contemporary of Gaudí, whose Sagrada Famalia clearly inspired his fellow Catalan, and it was built using magnificent local blue stone.

Finish in the small town of Firgas. Here they produce a famous local mineral water, which you will find in restaurants and shops across Gran Canaria. Take a stroll up the Paseos de Gran Canaria y de Islas Canarias, streets of stairs fringed by a waterfall that tumbles down stone steps, then rest your weary feet on benches crafted from attractive Andalucían tiles.

Local flavour

The sheep’s milk used in the island’s flower cheeses comes from a tradition of nomadic shepherding

They are hearty eaters in northern Gran Canaria. Like their Asturian compatriots on the Spanish mainland, the islanders are a mountain people and share a love of cider, which is largely produced in the Valleseco area.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Firgas is feted for its watercress. They even hold a celebration in its honour here, known as the Fiesta del Berro. Dine on watercress butter, bread, liqueurs and stew (the iconic potaje de berros) until you’re full.

In Santa María de Guía, it’s cheese that gets the party started. The Fiesta del Queso festival recognises the flower cheeses (queso de flor de guía) of this north-westerly municipality. These are made by curdling cow, goat or sheep’s milk with the head of an artichoke thistle to create a product that is not dissimilar to nettle cheese.

Elsewhere, the soil in the north of Gran Canaria is so fertile that anything grows here. This is particularly true of the Agaete Valley where avocados, papayas and gigantic Washington Navel oranges flourish. Visit Finca La Laja, a coffee plantation, tropical fruit farm and vineyard, to taste the results first-hand.

Gáldar is also famed for its sweet red onions, which are used as handy scoops to spoon up mounds of gofio escaldado (toasted cornmeal mixed with fish or meat stock). Gofio is to Gran Canarians what spinach is to Popeye, imbuing them with a fabled strength. You’ll even find it in desserts such as mousse and ice cream.

Lastly, you can’t miss the Arehucas rum factory in Arucas. Sugar cane was one of Gran Canaria’s first cash crops, and this is the island’s oldest distillery. Take a tour that ends at a bar where you can try the likes of its celebrated honey rum.

Unspoilt nature

Paddling the waters off Agaete

Exploring northern Gran Canaria is an invitation to reacquaint yourself with the beauty of Mother Nature. The coast is hugged by the GC-2 road, to the extent that you’re often driving through the ocean spray. It also passes a number of unspoilt beaches, including El Juncal and wild Guayedra with its friendly lizards.

The north coast also features natural swimming pools. The first one you’ll see on the GC-2 is El Puertillo, a great stop-off to eat fresh fish and seafood. Another popular one with locals is Charco de San Lorenzo, just before the San Felipe turn-off. When you reach the end of the GC-2, you’ll find plenty more piscinas naturales to splash about in around Puerto de las Nieves, Agaete’s port.

Along with the aforementioned three-day Camino hike, which ends in Gáldar, there are many interesting trails to explore in the north of the island. One of the most scenic is found along the Barranco de Azuaje, which is riddled with small waterfalls. Following this route through the Azuaje ravine from Firgas to coastal San Andrés takes around three hours and 40 minutes, but allow an extra hour for time to admire the views.

Nature isn’t the only star here. Gran Canaria is also a Starlight Destination, a UNESCO-supported initiative that guarantees excellent conditions for observing the cosmos above. Its post-sunset skies are some of the best in the world, given the low levels of light pollution. Try stargazing at astronomic viewpoints across the north of the island, including La Degollada de Las Palomas and Pinos de Gáldar. Proof that northern Gran Canaria really is out of this world.

Feeling inspired?

Discover more incredible things to do in Gran Canaria by heading over to the official website.

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