Before travelling to the Atlantic archipelago, holidaymakers are usually faced with a tricky decision – which of the four main islands, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and Tenerife, should I go to?
So, why not visit more than one? With airlines like Jet2 regularly flying in and out from all four, it’s easy to arrive on one and depart from another, and that’s exactly what I did, splitting six days between Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura.
After flying into Las Palmas, I made the short trip down to Gran Canaria’s main tourist area, Playa del Inglés, and one of the resort’s top hotels, Seaside Sandy Beach.
Located just few metres from the spectacular Maspalomas dunes, shops and thriving nightlife, the all-inclusive four-star resort is perfectly located.
Ultra-friendly staff serve outstanding food and drink, while guests can splash around in the large outdoor pool, wander around the sub-tropical gardens, relax in the spa and enjoy the spectacular evening entertainment. I was left speechless by four acrobats/dancer/jugglers one evening.
After settling into Sandy Beach, I joined Maria from the GC tourist board on a scenic drive through the centre of the island.
Dubbed a ‘miniature continent’, 40 per cent of Gran Canaria is protected by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve and, in less than an hour, you can swap the warm blue seas for palm groves, pine forests, towering mountains, serene lakes and picturesque villages.
In most small settlements, you will see traces of the island’s heritage, from the visit of Columbus to the expansion of the Spanish Empire through to Latin America.
We stopped for a coffee in Fataga and wondered around San Bartolome and Teror, before a spot of wine-tasting at Las Tirajanas, and lunch at Parador de Cruz de Tejeda.
The tour ended in the capital Las Palmas de Gran Canaria which, with its bars, coffee shops, retail centres and historical sights, is the perfect place for a city break.
The next day, back at the Sandy Beach, I was joined by Michael, who also works alongside GC Tourism, for more adventure.
We started out at the southernmost point of the island, the Faro de Maspalomas lighthouse, and walked west along part of the promenade to the classy area of Meloneras.
From there, we made our way back down to down to Playa del Inglés via the iconic dunes and the famous nudist beaches.
With seven very different 18-hole courses on the island, Gran Canaria is also popular with golfers.
Real Club de Golf de Las Palmas’ is proud to be the oldest in Spain, having been inaugurated in 1891, and nowadays, the course is the base of European Tour star Rafa Cabrera Belo.
The greens and fairways were stunning, although, if I’m honest, I was often distracted by the spectacular views of the Caldera de Bandama volcanic crater, the ocean, and colourful villages. Well, that’s the excuse I’m giving for my poor scoring.
After the round, we freshened up at the hotel before heading to the Seaside Sandy Beach’s sister hotel, Palm Beach, for a wonderful buffet dinner and a few cocktails.
The next day, it was time to depart Gran Canaria – and should you wish to try out another Canary Island during your holiday, hopping from one to the next couldn’t be easier.
As well as regular boats and ferries, there are dozens of flights per day with local airline Binter, and the 30-minute journey from Las Palmas to El Matorral was a breeze.
Michael and I arrived on Fuerteventura on an early morning flight and immediately started exploring the ‘island of eternal spring’ in our hire car.
We called off at Majorero Cheese Museum in Antigua, took a few snaps alongside the sculptures of Guise and Ayoze, and wandered around the former capital Betancuria.
From there, we made our way north to what would be our base for the next couple of days – Corralejo.
With some of the best surfing and windsurfing in Europe, narrow streets crammed with shops and restaurants, and a buzzing harbour, it’s no wonder this place is so popular.
However, if you’re seeking a bit of down time, there are also sweeping dunes with private sandy coves.
Our hotel for the next two nights was the magnificent Park Playa Zensation opposite the Centro Commercial Campanario.
I checked into a pristine Junior Suite in the new Zensation block, underneath the dazzling rooftop bar and infinity pool.
On the food-and-drink front, the two newly renovated buffet restaurants serve a galaxy of delicious dishes morning, noon and night, while the bartenders knock up cocktails, should you wish not to use the self-service drinks counter.
After dinner, we headed out to sample Corralejo’s buzzing nightlife and, completely by accident, stumbled across a few gems in the Old Town.
Firstly, we dropped by Mexican street food bar Malverde Taqueria, where we tucked into mountains of nachos and tacos and a few ice-cold Coronas.
Then, it was onto Plaza Félix Estévez, the town’s Music Square, which is encircled by a ring of bars, all packed with punters enjoying the live music.
Then for a nightcap, we stopped off at Rock Cafe, with its rotating roster of bands taking requests and belting out hits from Queen and AC/DC.
The next day, Michael and I strolled down to the harbour and hopped on a €15 water taxi to take us to the islet of Los Lobos.
Home to a small cauldron-shaped volcano, crystal-clear lagoons and flora and fauna you won’t see anywhere else on earth, this place is a must.
Later, we drove across to the bohemian town of El Cotillo on the north-west coast, where adults relaxed on the beach and kids splashed about, looking for crabs in the warm, shallow pools.
El Cotillo has a much more relaxed ‘surfer’ vibe than Corralejo, typified by the free-spirited old-timers in the beach hut bar, who pulled out their guitars and harmonicas to strum and hum a few folk tunes.
Before flying back home, Michael and I still had time for one more day of adventure at the Oasis Wildlife park in the south.
With 800,000 square metres of tropical parkland, families marvel at exotic animals like flamingos, giraffes, zebras, elephants, hippos and crocodiles.
You really need a full day to see everything here, and much like both islands I visited, it demands a repeat visit.
So that brings me to me next trip to the Canaries, hopefully in the not-too-distant-future.
Which island – or islands – should I choose next time?
■ Richard stayed at Seaside Sandy Beach in Gran Canaria (hotel-sandy-beach.com) and Hotel Playa Park Zensation in Fuerteventura (playaparkcorralejo.com).
■ Fly with Ryanair to Gran Canaria or Fuerteventura from Dublin from €48.99pp one-way.
■ For information on Gran Canaria golfing, see grancanariagolf.com or 7golfhire.com.