Gran Canaria; originally meaning ‘Great [Island] of Dogs’) is the second most populous island of the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago, with a population of 838,397 which constitutes approximately 40% of the population of the archipelago. Located in the Atlantic Ocean about 150 kilometers (~93 miles) off the northwestern coast of Africa and about 1350 km (~838 miles) from Europe.
Gran Canaria was populated by the Canarii (Guanches), who may have arrived as early as 500 BC. The Canarii called the island Tamarán or Land of the Brave. After over a century of European (French, Portuguese…) incursions and attempts at conquest, the island was conquered on April 29, 1483, after a campaign that lasted 5 years, by the Kingdom of Castile, with the support of Queen Isabella I, a conquest which turned out to be an important step towards the expansion of the unified Spain.
The capital city of Las Palmas was founded on June 24, 1478, under the name “Real de Las Palmas”, by Juan Rejón, head of the invading Castilian army. In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the Port of Las Palmas (and spent some time on the island) on his first trip to the Americas. Las Palmas is, jointly with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands.
Gran Canaria is located southeast of Tenerife and west of Fuerteventura. The island is of volcanic origin, mostly made of fissure vents. Gran Canaria’s surface area is 1,560 km² and its maximum altitude is 1,949 meters (Pico de Las Nieves). It has a round shape, with a diameter of approximately 50 km.
About 80% of the volume of the island was formed during the Miocene period, between 14 and 9 million years ago. This is called the “Old Cycle” and is estimated to have lasted some 200,000 years and have emitted about 1000 km3, mostly of fissural alkali basalt. This cycle continued with the emission of trachytes, phonolites and peralkaline rocks. This period was followed by one of erosion, which lasted some 4 million years.
A second cycle of volcanic eruptions, known as the “Roque Nublo cycle”, took place between 4.5 and 3.4 million years ago. This shorter cycle emitted about 100 km3. Most of the inland peaks were formed by erosion from these materials. This period also started with fissural basalts, but ended with violent eruptions of pyroclastic flows. Some phonolitic features, like the Risco Blanco, were also formed in its last stages.
The third or recent cycle is held to have started some 2.8 million years ago and is considered to be still active. The last eruptions are held to have occurred some 3500 years ago.
The changes in volume and, therefore, weight of the island have also caused the island to rise above the previous sea level during erosive periods and to sink during eruptive periods. Some of these “fossil beaches” can be seen in the cliff faces of the more eroded northern coast.
The island has a population of 845,676 with 378,628 (year 2005) of those in the capital city of Las Palmas. Gran Canaria is the second most populous island of the Canary Islands.  Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the capital of theprovince of Las Palmas, and also one of the two capitals of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands, along with Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Gran Canaria Airport (IATA: LPA) is the only commercial airport on the island. The large number of aircraft and passengers passing through it each year make it one of the busiest in Spain. Gran Canaria is also responsible for all air traffic control in the Canaries.
The most important ports in the island are the Port of Las Palmas, in the city of Las Palmas; Arguineguín, which exports cement from a large factory; and Arinaga, located in the major industrial zone of Canaries and one of the major ones of Spain. The ports which transport the most passengers are the Port of La Luz and the Port of Las Nieves, located in the municipality of Agaete. Plans for a railway network linking the capital with the south have been approved by both the Gran Canaria Cabildo and the Canary Islands Government, though the discussion with the central Spanish Government hinges now on budget.
Gran Canaria is noted for its rich variety of micro climates. Generally speaking though, the average daytime high ranges from 20°C in winter, to 26°C in summer. Some cool nights occur in winter, but lows below 10°C are unknown near the coast. Inland the climate is still mild but mountainous areas see the occasional frost or snow. Annual rainfall averages 228 mm, most of this falling in the cooler months, with July, August and September normally rainless. Rainfall is unevenly distributed through the island with some areas being much drier than others. Cloud cover and sunshine is often quite variable during the cooler months, and there can be several rather cloudy days at times in winter. Summers are generally quite sunny however, with the south of the island being most favoured.
This island is called a “Miniature Continent” due to the different climates and variety of landscapes found, with long beaches and dunes of white sand, contrasting with green ravines and picturesque villages. A third of the island is under protection as a Biosphere Reserve byUNESCO.
The number of annual visitors is 2.2 million (2,200,000). Most of the tourists visit the southern part of the island.
The island possesses 32 Natural Protected Spaces, that they emphasize the Rural Park of Nublo, The Doramas Jungle, the Azuaje Ravine, Tamadaba, Pino Santo, etc.
Most tourists stay in the south of the island, which is sunnier and has less rain than the north. In the south there is a large bird park, Palmitos Park, as well as many beach resort communities. Resorts are concentrated in the central eastern part of the southern coast in the Maspalomas area, which includes the towns of San Agustín, Playa del Inglés, Sonnenland, Maspalomas and Meloneras. The Dunes of Maspalomas are located between Playa del Inglés (“The Englishman’s Beach”) and Maspalomas. Another tourist attraction is the lighthouse at Maspalomas situated at the western end of Maspalomas.
In Tarajalillo, an Aeroclub exists from where tourist flights can be taken over the island.
Still further to the west along the southern shore, in the Municipality of Mogán, are the communities of Puerto Rico and Puerto de Mogán, a village referred to as “Little Venice” on account of its many canals.
Other attractions include Cocodrilos Park, Roque Nublo (an 80 m monolith), Cenobio de Valerón with about 290 caves, Cueva Pintada the most important archaeological park in Canary Islands and the botanical gardens Jardin Canario(in Tafira Alta) and Cactualdea (in La Aldea de San Nicolás).
El Dedo de Dios, or “God’s Finger” was a rocky spire jutting from the sea in Puerto de las Nieves, and was previously the signature attraction of the Canary Islands until it was destroyed by Tropical Storm Delta, that crossed the archipelago on November 2005.
Other well-known rock formations are El Cura (also known as El Fraile), The Frog (La Rana), Bentayga, the Roque de Gando, and the Peñón Bermejo. The highest peak of the island is the Pico de las Nieves, at 1,950 metres (6,400 ft).
The capital city is Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Canteras Beach lies in the heart of the city, it is a protected area and diving zone. Las Palmas is also known for its annual Carnaval. It was the first stop of Christopher Columbus’ expedition on his way back from the Americas, a commemoration of which is the Hermitage of San Antonio Abad, where the navigator prayed, and the Casa de Colón. Other attractions in the capital city include the Museo Canario (the most important archaeology museum in the archipelago), the Cathedral and the Plaza del Espíritu Santo. In Teror the shrine of Virgen del Pino, patron saint of Gran Canaria, can be found.
The town of Agüimes, on the eastern part of the island, has been carefully restored, and its town centre, centered around its old church and a peaceful square, now evokes the quiet living of a traditional Canarian town. The district also has some of the best preserved cave dwellings, in the protected area of the Guayadeque Ravine, where even the church has been built into the hillside and visitors can find a number of popular cave restaurants. The district also includes the most renowned scuba diving area on the island: the marine reserve at the playa de El Cabrón just outside the town of Arinaga.
Other important towns are Telde and Vecindario (within the municipality of Santa Lucía de Tirajana) and Gáldar important diving zone. In Arucas there is a Neogothic temple, popularly known as “Arucas’ Cathedral”, as well as a large fertile plain where bananas are grown. InGáldar and its surroundings there is also a banana-growing plain and some remarkable archaeological remains, such as Cueva Pintada or Cenobio de Valerón’s communal silos, ancient tombs, and the port of Sardina del Norte (one of the island’s ports where, as in Las Palmas’, Christopher Columbus used to get supplies for his ships).
Heading west along the southern coast is the fishing city of Arguineguín in the Municipality of Mogán.