Maspalomas: a nature reserve with a resort attached

by Annie.Bennett

One of the best beach destinations in the Canary Islands, the sun shines almost every day in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria

On the southern tip of Gran Canaria, the sea is warm enough for swimming even in the winter months and the average temperature is 25 degrees. With a wide range of accommodation, Maspalomas is busy all year round, attracting two million visitors a year, and is equally popular with families and gay travellers. It is, however, much quieter than the neighbouring Playa del Inglés.

But this is no run-of-the-mill resort. The large hotels are built around a mesmerising mass of undulating dunes and are partly concealed by hundreds of palm trees. The beach, with fine white sand, stretches for six kilometres and in parts is 100 metres wide, separated from the resort itself by the spectacular dunes.

The sand is punctuated by a string of beach bars, which might look alike from a distance, but attract quite different clienteles. It’s not as if there are borders marked out in the sand or anything, but I just want you to know what to expect.

Starting from the lighthouse end of the beach, families tend to stick to the area around the first two bars. The vibe changes around Bar 3 (the third bar along with a big 3 sign on top), which is a chill-out haven with occasional live music. From here on in, as you move further away from the resort, the beach is largely populated by nudists, particularly after Bar 5. Bar 7 is the focal point of the gay scene.

The dunes are actually a fragile ecosystem. If you want to find out more, drop in at the information centre (Avenida de Tirajana, tel 928 765242) on the Playa del Inglés edge of the reserve. From the observation deck there is an amazing view over the dunes to the glittering Atlantic Ocean.

I was glad I went in, as I had thought that the sand came from the Sahara, brought over by the wind over the centuries. But I was quite wrong: in fact, the dunes have formed from sediment washed down from the interior of the island by rain. Not quite as exotic, but there you go. There are three marked walking routes from the centre, or if you’re feeling lazy you could take a camel ride instead. You’ll feel like you are crossing the desert, albeit one with a handy oasis nearby, as you soon come to the charca, a freshwater lagoon which attracts migrating birds.

What to do

Surrounded by the dunes, Maspalomas Golf (Avenida Neckermann, tel 928 762581,, is an 18-hole course which also has fabulous views and is certainly a memorable place to play a round or two. The on-site restaurant isn’t bad either, and is open to everyone.

There are lots of other activities on offer along the coast too. I hired a bike from Freemotion in the Playa del Inglés resort on the eastern side of the dunes (Hotel Sandy Beach, Local 9, Playa del Inglés, tel 928 777479, High-quality bikes cost from around €15 per day.

I soon left the concrete jungle behind and was pedalling along mountain roads lined by pine trees. Dismounting to get my breath back (it was uphill), I looked down into valleys filled with bright wild flowers and lemon trees. After an hour or so, I began the descent and freewheeled around hairpin bends back down to the coast.

I wasn’t brave enough, but thrillseekers can have a go at skydiving (SkyDive Gran Canaria, tel 928 157324, You fly over the island for 20 minutes before jumping out of the plane and opening your parachute after 45 seconds. Expect to pay around €55.

For something more relaxing, I’d recommend Palmitos Park, in the hills north of Maspalomas (Barranco de los Palmitos, tel 928 797070, Ask at your hotel about the free bus service, or get number 45 or 70. Palm trees provide plenty of shade as you stroll along the paths between the enclosures housing more than 200 different bird species, including toucans and flamingoes. Younger children love the parrot show, but there is something for everyone, with an orchid house, aquarium and a tropical butterfly house. There are also orangutans, a couple of cheeky gibbons and some very cute meerkats.

Aqualand (on the same bus routes) is a huge water park with enough slides, flumes, pools and general splashiness to keep any child happy (Carretera Palmitos Parque, km 3, tel: 928 140525, It’s not cheap - €25 for adults and €17.50 for kids – but you could easily spend all day there, and combination tickets with Palmitos Park bring the price down a bit if you think you might want to do both.

Where to eat

While there are hundreds of cafés and fastfood places in Maspalomas, good local food is actually not that easy to find. Alongside the lighthouse on the beach, El Senador is a laidback restaurant for a seafood lunch (Paseo del Faro, tel 928 142068) out on the terrace. The perfect place for a paella and a jug of sangría, but there are good roast meats too. Expect to pay between €15 and €20 for a main course, but the food is high quality so it is not bad value.

Nearby, Velero Casa Antonio (Centro Comercial Oasis, tel 928 141153) is a good place to try the local varieties of bass, sole and bream, maybe with a chilled white wine, which will set you back around €25.

Where to stay

The Riu Grand Palace Maspalomas Oasis is right by the beach at the lighthouse end of the resort. The five-star hotel is just about surrounded by palm trees and peacocks strut around the gardens. I had a lovely room here, with a raised level leading out to the large balcony and a fantastic sea view. There are three restaurants, from fancy to informal, and plenty of outdoor tables for a lazy lunch by the pool. Wifi is free and there are computers available for guests to use for a small charge. Although it is high end, they often has good offers available, particularly for half-board deals.

For a bit of glitzy luxury, try the colonial-style Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort Spa & Casino. It is absolutely enormous, with 1,136 rooms and suites, all with marble bathrooms. Set in lush tropical gardens, it has four pools and a wide range of activities for all the family.

But my main reason for recommending this hotel is the totally over-the-top Corallium Spa, which supposedly emulates the volcanic landscapes of the Canary Islands. I don’t know about that, but it is certainly quite an experience. You start off being reborn in a red womb-like chamber, where you lie on undulating beds listening to whale music (whether you like it or not). Then you stand against a wall of ice in the grotto before floating off to oblivion in the salt lagoon. Facials, massages and other treatments are available and the spa is open to non-guests, with prices starting at €30.


I specialise in writing about Spain for national papers and magazines, including the Telegraph, Guardian, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Conde Nast Traveller, Elle and National Geographic. This gives me a great excuse to mooch around the country, talking to everyone from Michelin-starred chefs to old codgers in mountain villages.

I have been living in Madrid on and off for the last 25 years, since I went there to improve my Spanish after finishing my modern languages degree. Soon I was teaching English, translating for art magazines and galleries and researching for television programmes. That was only meant to last a year or two, but I had made so many great friends, quite a few of whom were instrumental in the cultural explosion underway at the time, that it would have been daft to leave. Almost without noticing, I started writing about what was happening in Madrid.

I am passionate about Spanish food and wine, and love trying the local specialities wherever I go. In Madrid, I eat out nearly every day in a quest to track down the best restaurants and tapas bars. My UK base is on the Gower coast in South Wales.

My Madrid

Where I always grab a coffee: Pepe Botella in Malasaña (Calle San Andrés 12), with its marble tables and red velvet banquettes, is the perfect place to read El País with a café con leche.

My favourite stroll: I love walking through Los Austrias, the medieval part of the city, for the combination of history, tradition and contemporary life. I always see something I’d never noticed before.

Fiction for inspiration: Benito Pérez Galdós was a sort of Spanish version of Dickens or Balzac. A lot of his novels are based in Madrid - including Fortunata and Jacinta, Miau and Misericordia – and many of the locations still exist, relatively unscathed.

Where to be seen: Le Cabrera for cool cocktails after shopping in the chic Las Salesas area (Calle Barbara de Braganza 2,

The most breathtaking view: You can see right across the city trom the roof of the Círculo de Bellas Artes (Calle Alcalá 42, www.cí

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Madrid is incredibly noisy, but the Retiro Park is perfect for picnics, quiet reading at outdoor cafés, rowing on the lake or just strolling around.

Shopaholics beware!: The outlet shoe shops on Calle Augusto Figueroa in Chueca are difficult to resist.

City soundtrack: Fito & Fitipaldis seem to be blasting out in every bar. 

Don’t leave without...Having a vermut at the Mercado de San Miguel before lunch. It’s the best way to get a handle on what the city is all about (Plaza de San Miguel,