The circular island of Gran Canaria has three distinct identities. Its capital, Las Palmas, population 385,000, is a thriving business center and important shipping and cruise port; the white-sand beaches of the south coast are tourist magnets; the rural interior has some rocky and spectacular landscapes.
Las Palmas, the largest city in the Canary Islands, is overrun by sailors, tourists, traffic jams, diesel-fume-spewing buses, and hordes of shoppers. One side of the north end of the city is lined with docks for huge container and cruise ships, while the other harbors the 7-km (4½-mile) Canteras beach. The south coast, a boxy ’60s development along wide avenues, is a family resort, popular with millions of northern Europeans. At the southern tip of the island, the popular Playa del Inglés gives way to the vast empty dunes of Maspalomas. The isle's interior is a steep highland that reaches 6,435 feet at Pozo de las Nieves. Although it's green in winter, Gran Canaria does not have the luxurious tropical foliage of the archipelago's western islands, and the landscape is often stark the rest of the year.