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Introducing Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is the third-largest island in the Canaries archipelago but accounts for almost half the population. It lives up to its cliché as a continent in miniature, with a dramatic variation of terrain, ranging from the green and leafy north to the mountainous interior and desert south. This is a rare Canary Island where you feel that there are still secret places to explore.

To glean a sense of this impenetrable quality, head to the centre where the sheer drama of the mountains more resembles the Tibetan highlands than a relatively small island. Alas, all too frequently, the perception of Gran Canaria is one of mass beach-front tourism, with few visitors ever discovering the riches of the natural hinterland. Considering this diversity in landscape, the good news is that, with your own wheels, you can get a reasonable look at the entire island in just three days or so, while the trip is equally feasible, if more time-consuming, by bus. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is a bustling port town called home by an eclectic mix of people. If the bustle gets too much, head to The North where Arucas offers a laidback atmosphere and a few sights that make wandering worth your while. Also nearby is Teror, with its farmers' markets and picturesque houses.

The flip side to all that bucolic mountainous terrain is a rugged coastline interspersed with white sandy beaches and, more famously (and depressingly), a garish tiara of purpose-built holiday resorts. Fortunately, there’s no need to hang around. For active travellers Gran Canaria can keep the adrenalin pumping, with scope for hiking, horse trekking and water sports. Culture vultures can be similarly satiated by the museums, churches and historic towns, as well as by getting under the skin of the colourful, cosmopolitan capital of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.