Canary Islands – Gran Canaria included – have developed an unfair reputation for package holidays in often trashy resorts where pale Northern people go to burn themselves in the sun, drink all day and indulge in beige food they’re used to. At least that’s exactly the perception I had until the 2020 Coronavirus debacle narrowed down my cold-season travel options to a mere handful of “travel corridors” that included the Canary Islands. Coming here for a respite in-between UK’s many lockdowns, I quickly realised just how wrong I was. Yes, the trashy resorts are definitely there, but Gran Canaria has surprised like no other!

Gran Canaria is a mini-continent for its spectrum of landscapes and micro-climates all within an hour’s drive of each other.

Gran Canaria is a mini-continent for its spectrum of landscapes and micro-climates all within an hour’s drive of each other, and often less. For those with no interest in spending all day in a resort, Gran Canaria really has something for just about anyone. Lush green valleys, arid canyons, pinewood forest mountainscapes, Atlantic waves, hillside vineyards, desert-like sand dunes, dramatic cliffs, banana plantations, rustic fishing towns – it really has it all.

Having spent 6 weeks here I decided it was time to share with you some of my favourite under-the-radar secret spots of this surprisingly varied island.

Gran Canaria Itinerary Suggestion

Gran Canaria Hidden Gem Itinerary Map

Agaete and it’s Valley

Puerto de los Nieves Agaete

The compact, white town of Agaete (and it’s seaside counterpart Puerto de las Nieves) gave me Greek Island vibes. The Northwestern town that kept it’s authenticity well partially thanks to its distance from the Southern resorts is ideal for fresh and cheap seafood as well as a fantastic hiking and cycling base. Agaete does have its own beach with a beautiful backdrop albeit not much sand. Be sure to check out the natural rock pools – Agaete Piscina Natural. It’s also the ferry port into Tenerife (around 1 – 1 ½ hours each way with Fred Olsen) if you fancy a day trip to check out Teide Volcano.

For great value dining, I particularly recommend the unassuming Terraza Angor in Puerto de las Nieves. For dinner also try the Dedo de Dios restaurant set in a beautiful old building overlooking the black sand beach.

Agaete Valley, Gran Canaria's Cycling & Coffee Hidden Gem

The “gem inside a gem” in this beautiful area is the nearby Agaete Valley. Lush green, the valley has its own micro-climate where temperatures rarely drop below +18 even in winter and make for apparently the only place in Europe which grows coffee. Alongside grapes, delectable oranges, avocados and a host of tropical fruits. You’ll feel like you’re somewhere more exotic like Colombia.

Be sure to visit one of the local winery / coffee plantations (Bodega Los Berrazales or Cafe Platinium). They are wonderfully relaxing venues to spend a couple hours, enjoy brief tours of the coffee plantations but most importantly taste locally wine, coffee, oranges and other delicacies included in the tour. Just take it easy with the wine if you’re driving.

How to get to Agaete

By car (which I really recommend in Gran Canaria), it’s 30 mins by the GC-2 motorway from Las Palmas and 1 to 2 hours from the main Southern resorts, depending if you take the scenic but very twisty route. Agaete Valley is just a short drive up a mostly smooth road from the town.

It also happens to be convenient to arrive to from Tenerife – the capital Santa Cruz (with Tenerife North Airport nearby) has regular car ferries to Agaete that an hour and a bit.

Tejeda

Tejeda Panorama Gran Canaria

Up in the chilly and often more cloudy centre of the island sits a beautiful mountainous village of Tejeda. Up there it’s easy to forget you’re still on the same island full of cacti, palm trees and featuring sand dunes. 

Visiting on a Sunday, we were confused by the lengthy queues of Gran Canarians, seemingly from all over the island, outside some of the cafe / pastry establishments. As it turned out, Tejeda is known for its almond cakes which seem a just reward for braving the twisty roads to get there. Yes, they were very good although probably not worth queueing this long for. 

Sat on the edge of an ancient volcanic crater, the green landscapes here are reminiscent of Andean valleys in Peru with the added backdrop of Gran Canaria’s monumental rock summit of Roque Bentayga. This makes Tejeda a pleasure for a casual walk or a more determined hike. An option I recommend is a circular walk to Cruz de Tejeda which you should save a day for.

For an alternative mountain village, check out the nearby Artenara which while not as pretty itself, boasts a myriad of hiking options and stunning views in every direction.

How to get to Tejeda

It’s up in the mountains so every route up there is twisty. It’s around 1hr 30 from the South coast (GC-60) and an hour from Las Palmas.

Valley of the Tears

(For the thrill-seeking drivers)

The Valley of the Tears - GC-606 Cycling Gran Canaria

The route GC-606 or Valley of Tears, colloquially known for the “joy” it’s ridiculously steep road sections brings cyclists, boasts some of the most stunning driving you’ll have experienced. Disclaimer – only consider this if you’re confident driving on steep, narrow roads rich with switchbacks. Or if you love a tough cycling challenge.

The route really begins as GC-210 in La Aldea de San Nicolas in the remote West end of the island, a farming town worth visiting in its own right. Especially known for its abundance of tomato and banana plantations, La Aldea also features its own quiet beach (Playa de la Aldea) and makes for a great base especially for cyclists and tomato fans.

The GC-210 out of La Aldea quickly narrows and begins following a cliff-line up a picturesque valley giving strong vibes of Grand Canyon. Meeting a car on parts of this road involves a little luck to end up near a passing place wide enough for 2. Worst case means reversing a handful of meters along a switchback. Eventually you reach GC-606 where the fun really begins, a somewhat unnerving steep road carving its way up a mountain that ends up at the top of a ridge with equally incredible vistas on both sides of the road. I hope you practiced those hill starts! As the 12-km route winds its way up, the almond trees replace cacti and the air fells more fresh. Eventually the road meets a more “comfortable” GC-60 route where you can either carry onto Tejeda and its many hiking options, or descend back down a different way.

How to get to Valley of the Tears

Start at La Aldea then make your way up the fun GC-210 to the thrilling GC-60 before returning back down to wherever you’re staying.

Playa GüiGüi

The best secret beaches are usually the ones that are hard to reach, and Playa GüiGüi on the West coast is no exception. With no road access at all, you’re looking at a fairly tricky 2-hour hike each way to reach the quiet beach. So we went for the lazy option of a boat to get us there in 20 minutes from the nearby village of Tasarte, who’ll pick you up in the evening for the return for a ~€20 per person. The guys we used are TaxSea. Alternatively taxi boats can be arranged from the more accessible Puerto de los Nieves (Agaete). It’s just as much about the journey on the way there and back as the destination itself.

As wild beaches go, GüiGüi is almost empty and devoid of facilities. I’m not the type to enjoy lying on a beach all day, but doing so without the annoyance of screaming kids and the fake sunglasses guys was actually a very peaceful experience and a great option for a chill day. Bring food and water!

How to get to GüiGüi Beach

Get the water taxi from Tasarte (see above), or enjoy a 2-hour hike each way from Tasartico village.

Agüimes

Aguimes Camel Gran Canaria

For some reason, the Eastern side of the island doesn’t get as much love. Perhaps it’s the usually stronger winds, or the proximity to the airport. In fact the town of Agüimes and the nearby Ingenio offer a great base for a more local experience with easy access to just about everywhere on the island. Both are great examples of typical Canarian hill towns, although Agüimes carved out more of a reputation for itself.

The rustic, colourful town of Agüimes stands out for its bronze statues, which you seem to stumble across on every street and alley while getting lost in the old town. Much of its life seems to take place on the central Plaza, dominated by a prominent domed church. It’s a slow, easy-going sort of atmosphere still undiluted by tourism.

The town also featured one of my favourite eateries La Bodeguita De La Villa, an Argentinian establishment only open Fridays to Sundays. It’s the sort of place where the friendly owner passionately explains what’s on the menu leaving you in fear of missing out on any option you weren’t able to order. The sort of vibe where you’re likely to have a chat with the owner and other customers, foreigners and locals alike. It’s a must for meat-lovers, vegetarians think twice.

How to get to Agüimes

It’s just off the main circular motorway so easy car access from anywhere on the island. And It’s only 15 mins from the airport.

CactuAldea Park

You really don’t need to be a cactus fan to be impressed by Europe’s biggest cactus park. This family-run attraction is a little off the beaten track (i.e. highways), making it a little harder to reach than the rest of the island. But CactuAldea combines well with a day out to La Aldea de San Nicolas or Agaete.

While the buildings look like they’ve seen better days (we came across a vending machine that accepted Deutsch Mark, Germany’s pre-Euro currency), this takes nothing away from the incredible collection of cacti from all over the world. And the occasional chickens, donkeys and ducks running around, for a little extra variety. CactuAldea was absolutely worth the €7 entry fee, especially that we were lucky to have the entire cactus world almost entirely to ourselves.

How to get to CactuAldea

Reachable by windy but beautiful-to-drive roads from Mogan (40 mins) or Agaete (45 mins). There are also day tours available from the tourist areas like Maspalomas

Mirador del Balcón 

Mirador del Balcon

The West Coast of Gran Canaria is hands down the island’s most dramatic and Mirador del Balcon is possibly the finest viewpoint to picture the rugged coastline stretching for miles – all the way back to Agaete. It’s one of my favourite secret spots on Gran Canaria. Facing West, you can enjoy a phenomenal sunset and even Tenerife’s mighty Teide on a clear day.

The viewpoint is actually located on what was until recently the only road from La Aldea to Agaete, but this part of the remarkably twisty GC-200, often prone to rockfall, was replaced by a new tunnel. The part of it leading to the Mirador and a little bit further remains open, however driving further you’ll find road barriers and “no access” signs. You can see why, as the abandoned road beyond is strewn with rocks, cracks and holes.

How to get to Mirador del Balcon

The road up to Mirador del Balcon takes 20 mins from La Aldea or 40 mins from Agaete. Carved into the lush green Tamadaba Natural Park, it’s also a good starting point for very scenic hikes in the area.

Teror

Teror, Gran Canaria

Another gem up in the inland hills, this one further in the island’s Northeast and with a threatening name which is in no way justified. This picturesque town is as quaint and peaceful as any in Gran Canaria and is absolutely worth at least a day-trip as the sort of place to walk around for a few hours and sit down for a nice Canarian meal followed by a coffee and an almond cake.

Teror stands out for its architecture, the highlight being its traditional wooden balconies lining the streets of its colourful historic town centre. It’s also the Canaries’ main pilgrimage site thanks to its statue of Virgen del Pino in the Basilica, which you’ll fail not to see.

Bonus tip to combine with Teror: If you’re coming from the GC-2 motorway on the Northern Coast, or indeed Las Palmas, the town of Arucas and its enormous dark cathedral is definitely worth a stopover too.

How to get to Teror

Just 30 mins drive from the capital Las Palmas and just under an hour from the Southern resorts as well as Agaete.

Barranco de Guayadeque Ravine

A short drive from Agüimes and Ingenio lies the ancient Guayadeque Ravine dotted with cave homes. It’s absolutely worth adding to your itinerary especially if you’re in the area. 

The surprisingly smooth new road from Agüimes or Ingenio takes you up to Montana de las Tierras, a tiny village of cave houses at around 1,000m elevation with a dramatic view all the way back to the Eastern Coast. Besides the views, the highlights here are the cave restaurants serving up the usual local fare, of which there are 3 to choose from. It’s also an interesting option for a secluded but very unique stay in a cave Airbnb – just keep in mind in the winter months it can get a little chilly up here.

How to get to Barranco Guayadeque

Driving time from Agüimes and Ingenio, themselves well-connected to the island’s circular motorway, is only around 15 minutes so makes for an easy diversion. 

Las Vacas Ravine

Barranco de Las Vacas

Near to Agüimes and Barranco Guayadeque in the East of Gran Canaria is the much smaller Las Vacas ravine. With its volcanic canyon loosely reminiscent of a miniature Grand Canyon, it’s a worthwhile short stopover if you’re in the area.

As the ravine is narrow, to improve the chances of having it all for yourself head there first thing in the morning or in late afternoon.

How to get to Las Vacas Ravine

The raving a little tricky to find, which makes it all the more exciting. Follow the GC-550 from Agüimes to Santa Lucia de Tirajana. Shortly after leaving Agüimes, the road starts to bend around ravines. Las Vacas is the 3rd ravine. There is no official parking, but before the road bends you’ll find lengthy shoulder on the road where you can park your car. You’ll need to cross the roadside railing and walk down a path into the ravine. This then follows a path through a short tunnel that takes 5 minutes reaching the most picturesque spot at the end.

 

Dunas de Maspalomas 

Maspalomas Desert Gran Canaria

OK, this one is no gem as it’s just about in the heart of the endless resort strip of Maspalomas. But the sand dunes of Maspalomas are worth making the exception as they really do add a very different dimension to the island. I mean, it’s hard to think of anywhere else in Europe where you can pretend to be walking in the desert after a 10-minute walk from your car. OK, you won’t exactly be alone given their accessibility but walk another 15 minutes further out towards the sea and you’ll find only the most ambitious of visitors to share the dunes with. Watch out for windy days as the you’ll struggle to have a pleasant time without goggles.

How to get to Maspalomas Dunes

It’s just off the main motorway so easily accessible from most of the island. You can park 5 mins’ walk from the actual dunes in Maspalomas. 

 


 

Where to stay in Gran Canaria

As you can see, the all-year-round Gran Canaria just about has it all to please every tourist. Where you stay depends entirely on what sort of holiday you’re after, time of year and whether you’ll have a car. If you don’t feel like the main resort areas, here are my tips:

  • Agaete is my top pick. Reasonably connected to Las Palmas and the circular motorway, great seafood, beaches, dramatic scapes, not too touristy. Green, access to Tenerife, plenty of cycling and hiking; coffee, citrus and wine farms. Enough reasons?
  • For summer stays, really consider Tejeda or one of the other inland towns up in the mountains. Winter less so – expect it to be too chilly to really make the most of sunbathing outside.
  • Agüimes and Ingenio are also great, well-connected and very authentic options in the East with a huge selection of local beaches to try out alongside the East Coast – if you don’t mind a bit of wind.
  • From the resort areas in the South / Southwest, the eye-catching Puerto Mogan and San Agustin would be my recommendations.
  • For a cycling holiday, La Aldea de San Nicolas is a hardcore base as big climbs are pretty much unavoidable in any direction. But if you like that, it’s ideal. There is also a lovely quiet beach about 10 minutes’ drive.
  • The popular Maspalomas offers more variety of routes from that perspective as well as road bike rentals.

 

Read more: 10 Hidden Gems to Visit in Tenerife

3 Comments

  • Emilie
    Posted August 22, 2022

    Great post! A few of these places I’ve been to, a couple I heard of but a few I didn’t even know. Agaete Valley looks amazing, we’ll definitely visit this winter.

  • Jens
    Posted November 2, 2022

    Thanks for the informative article. We are planning a trip in January – will Tejeda or Arnetara be cold this time of year? Thanks

    • Nikita
      Posted November 2, 2022

      Thanks for the comment. I think in winter months with a bit of luck you will be OK up there on most days, but on the cloudier days it will be chilly to sit outside in a t-shirt, and it’s more likely to rain than on the South/West coasts.

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