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Maspalomas – take a camel ride across the dunes

Sunshine Island

Fun on the coast and a fascinating interior are what make Gran Canaria a great destination at any time of year, says Solange Hando

Do you dream of fine sands and swaying palms, warm seas and a deep blue sky? Lapped by the Atlantic ocean just 62 miles from the Moroccan coast, Gran Canaria, at the heart of the Canaries archipelago, has them all.

You’ll be in good company. Christopher Columbus stopped here on his fourth voyage and in the capital Las Palmas, the elegant house where he stayed displays, among other exhibits, models of his sailing ships.

In this ‘city of palms’, the old district of Vegueta claims a World Heritage Site dominated by the stark twin towers of Santa Ana’s cathedral. On the square below, bronze ‘canes’, the giant dogs who gave their name to the islands, stare at the passers-by, unperturbed by the chiming bells.The old town is a quiet maze in shades of lemon and cream while the new city bustles – all boutiques and gold shops.

The idyllic bay of Anfi del Mar

The idyllic bay of Anfi del Mar

A broad promenade leads to the marina and commercial port, shaded parks keep cool under a thousand palms and the village setting of Pueblo Canario is a popular venue for traditional craft and dancing. Don’t miss the memorial to the brave Guanche chiefs who jumped off the cliffs rather than surrender to Spanish invaders in 1483. The Canaries remain part of Spain but have had a degree of autonomy since 1983.

On the western side of the isthmus jutting north from Las Palmas is a sweep of golden sands fringed by clear waters and sheltered by a reef. On the leisurely Playa de las Canteras it is hard to believe you are on the edge of a city.

Swept by the humid trade winds so favourable to Columbus, the north is lush and green, but south of the central mountains, barren cliffs and sun-drenched beaches teeter on the edge of a desert land. In Maspalomas, you can ride camels across the dunes and imagine the Sahara just over the water. Fortunately, even in summer, cool ocean currents pleasantly temper the heat.

From San Agustin to Puerto de Mogan, the southern coast is a cosmopolitan holiday haven catering for every taste. San Agustin has a seawater spa and villas draped in bougainvillea, Maspalomas is for frolicking in the dunes and watching the sunset while Playa del Ingles is for living it up with the crowds, day or night. The beach is vast and rows of orange and blue parasols cast pools of shade on the sand while surfers and banana boats ride the waves.