Gran Canaria, rarely Grand Canary (archaic), is the third largest island of the Canary Islands, an archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean 210 km from the northwest coast of Africa and belonging to Spain. It is located southeast of Tenerife and west of Fuerteventura. The island is of volcanic origin.
The island was populated by the Guanches from 3000 BC, who called it Tamarán, but was claimed by Spain in the 15th century.
Gran Canaria's surface is 1,560 km² and its maximum altitude is 1,949 meters (Pico de Las Nieves). It has a round shape, having a diameter of just about 50 km.
It is divided into twenty-one municipalities:
San Bartolomé de Tirajana
San Nicolás de Tolentino
Sta. Lucía de Tirajana
Santa María de Guía
Vega de San Mateo
The island has a population of 789,908 with 377,600 (year 2003) of those in the capital city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is also the capital of the province of Las Palmas, and also the capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands.
Gran Canaria has highways encircling the whole island and extending into the mountain areas. In the late 20th century, its superhighways, among the first in the Canary Islands, were opened and ran around Las Palmas, and were later extended to the north coast and the airport and subsequently to the south coast to account for increased tourist traffic. The superhighways are GC1, GC2, and GC31, and divided highways GC4 and GC5. The western and the northwestern parts, with the fewest tourists, are linked only with highways.
This island is called a "Miniature Continent" due to the different climates and variety of landscapes found. The north tends to be cooler while the south is warmer and sunny. The east coast of the island is flat dotted with beaches while the western coast is rockier and mountaneous.
Most tourists stay in the south of the island, which is sunnier and has less rain than the north. There is a large bird park, Palmitos Park, in the south of the island, as well as many beach resort communities. The resort communities start in the central eastern part of the southern coast in the Maspalomas area which includes the towns of San Agustín, Playa del Inglés, and Maspalomas where most tourists visit. The Dunes of Maspalomas, supplied by sands from the Sahara, are located between Playa del Inglés and Maspalomas. Another tourist attraction is the Lighthouse at Maspalomas situated at the western end of Maspalomas.
Playa del Inglés is a popular destination for European gays with bars, restaurants and businesses centered primarily in the Yumbo Centrum shopping center. A gay beach is found near the Maspalomas Dunes.
Heading west along the southern coast is the fishing city of Arguineguin in the Municipality of Mogán. The market, which is held on Tuesdays, is the largest on the island.
Still further to the west along the southern shore, also in the Municipality of Mogán are the communities of Puerto Rico and Puerto de Mogán, a picturesque village referred to as "Little Venice" on account on its many canals.
The capital city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, in the north of the island, has a vibrant city life and the beach Las Canteras is located in the heart of the city. Las Palmas is also known for its annual Carnaval.
The number of annual visitors is 2.2 million (2,200,000). Most of the tourists visit the southern part of the island.
Other attractions include Banana Park, Roque Nublo (an 80m monolith), Cenebio de Valerón with about 290 caves, and the botanical garden Jardin Canario in Tafira Alta. 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. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in November of 2005 by Tropical Storm Delta, the first tropical cyclone in recorded history to strike the Canaries.
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