“ Country: Canary Islands / World Region: Europe „
The Dunes of Maspolamas are a very bizarre sight when you see them for the first time and they serve as a stark reminder that the nearest landmass to the Canary Islands is the West Coast of Africa. Beyond that African coastline the Sahara Desert is a mere stones throw away. I've seen the Sahara Desert (in Southern Tunisia) and visually at least there are many similarities at first glance between that and the Maspolomas Dunes. That said however when you explore these dunes a little closer you quickly realise that this is a unique environment that is quite unlike anything else on Earth. Situated on the southern coast of Gran Canaria the Dunes of Maspolomas form a part of the Special Nature Reserve of Maspalomas and cover an area of over 4 square kilometres that stretches from Playa Del Ingles to Maspolomas. This whole area was designated a conservation area in 1994. It can be accessed from either end but since I have usually stayed in the resort of Playa Del Ingles I have normally accessed the dunes from there. I find the easiest point of access to be at the end of Avenida de Tirajana where you will find the 4 star Riu Palace Maspolomas Hotel. A footpath cuts through this hotel complex and leads directly down to the beach. The beach is not visible from the front of the hotel so every time I set eyes upon it I never cease to be amazed by its size. Before you climb down the steep footpath that leads down to the dunes you will have probably taken some photographs from the viewing platform at the top but just before you reach that I would suggest that you check out the visitor centre. This little building at the side of the footpath can be easily missed but is well worth a visit. Inside there is an exhibition gallery showing how the area was created and there is also information on the fauna and flora that can be found in the area. The footpath down to the sand is well walked so the path is clearly marked out across the sand. You will see it stretching across the sand for as far as the eye can see straight through the middle of the reserve or there is an alternate route that will take you closer to the sea. To the left the landscape consists of huge sand dunes, many of them over 20 metres high, but looking in a different direction you will see that this is anything but a barren landscape. The central part of the dunes is filled with lush vegetation and there are huge Palm Trees and bushes. The Canary Palm (Phoenix canariensis) is an endemic species to these islands and some of the tallest examples can be found here on the Maspolomas Dunes. Other endemic species that are quite common here are Gran Canaria Giant Lizards (Gallotia stehlini) and a small bird called the Berthelot's Pipit. Giant Lizards are everywhere (especially during the hot summer months) and they can often be quite tame. They are completely harmless but can grow up to 80cm long so when you come face to face with one for the first time it can be quite an experience. It is likely to take you a couple of hours to walk from Playa Del Ingles to the resort of Maspolamas and be warned that parts of the beach are designated nudist and gay areas. At the Maspolomas end of the dunes the landscape once again changes dramatically. Here you will find a huge expanse of water called the La Charca Lagoon, which covers an area of 45000 m2 and flows directly into the sea. This is an especially important area for nesting birds in the summer and visitors must keep to the designated footpaths to avoid disturbance. During Spring and Autumn the lagoon attracts vast numbers of migrating birds that stop off here to feed. Beyond the La Charca Lagoon you will find an area known as El Oasis which is full of posh hotels and boutiques and beyond that you will see the lighthouse, which is one of the most notable landmarks in the area (Faro de Maspolomas). There are no facilities on the dunes so it is vital that you take plenty of water with you, especially in the summer. I was last here in December 2009 and the temperature was still 30 degrees. There are however some stalls along the beachfront where drinks can be purchased. The Maspolomas Dunes cover such a vast area they are an ideal place if you are looking for a secluded spot for sunbathing as they seldom get crowded, even in the height of summer. However even if you are not into spending all day lying in the sun they are still a great place to chill out. Some sports activities are available on the beach, especially at the Maspolomas end including jet skiing and paragliding. I've never participated in these so I can't comment on the prices but they always seem to be popular. There are also camel rides available across the dunes too but I didn't see any camels during my last trip so I guess that's only during the summer months. I would certainly recommend a visit to the Dunes of Maspolomas if you are in the area. It's a great place to spend some time and best of all it doesn't cost any money.