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Bronze dog sculptures in Plaza de Santa Ana, Las Palmas
Bronze dog sculptures in Plaza de Santa Ana, Las Palmas
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Gran Canary Island, locally called Gran Canaria, is the third largest island in the archipelago (size: 1,532 sq km or 557 sq miles). Passengers on cruises in the Canaries embark and disembark at the port in Las Palmas, the capital.

We joined a Variety Cruises shore excursion from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to the island's religious center of Teror and the agricultural town of Santa Brigida. Passengers can also rent a car after the cruise and drive the circular route without a guide.

Were the Canary Islands named after canaries?

Don't assume that the Canaries were named after the yellow songbirds. Although we did not see any Atlantic canary birds (Serinus canaria) in the Canary Islands, we did see many canary-yellow flowers, houses and fruits.

Legend claims that when the Spaniards conquered the islands in 1483, they encountered the original inhabitants with large dogs. The Spaniards called the islands "land of the Cani" (Latin for dog).

Over the centuries, the name evolved to Canary. "This is a myth," claimed our guide Nina, as we admired several bronze statues of dogs in Las Palmas.

"The Canary Islands name actually came from the Canarii people, who originated in North Africa and settled here," she explained. "These dog sculptures represent European breeds, not the Perro de Presa and Podenco breeds that originated in the Canaries."

Casa de Colon museum (Columbus House)
Casa de Colon museum (Columbus House)
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Vegueta Old Quarter

Nonetheless, the bronze dogs are popular tourist attractions. You can find them on both sides of Plaza de Santa Ana, the main square of the Old Town, opposite Catedral de Santa Ana.

Located seven kilometers (four miles) southeast of the port, Vegueta is easy to see on foot. We walked along cobblestone streets bordered by old mansions with hand-carved pine balconies.

Columbus's house

The Old Town looks much like it did when Christopher Columbus stopped in Las Palmas on his way to the New World. Casa de Colón (Columbus House), the residence of the first Governors of the island, is now a museum dedicated to the explorer and his voyages.

Located on Plaza del Pilar Nuevo, it contains his portrait, nautical maps, navigational instruments and other documents. The yellow building has ornate wooden balconies and a massive green stone frame around the wooden front door.

Ermita San Antonio Abad where Columbus prayed before his voyage to the New World
Ermita San Antonio Abad where Columbus prayed before his voyage to the New World
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

What to see and do

Street signs point to other Vegueta attractions — the Catedral de Santa Ana (built 1497-to-1570), the Casas Consistoriales or Town Hall (now the location of Las Palmas Tourist Office), the Atlantic Center of Modern Art (CAAM) museum and Guiniguada Theater.

Especially photogenic is the bell-topped whitewashed hermitage (Ermita San Antonio Abad), where it's said that Columbus prayed before his long trip to America.

The sign on the shrine reads 1492-1892. The original church no longer exists. According to our guide, this building replaced the first shrine in the 17th century.

Carnival de las Palmas costume
Carnival de las Palmas costume
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Carnival de Las Palmas

Our February arrival in Las Palmas coincided with the final day of Carnival (the third largest in the world after Rio and Santa Cruz de Tenerife). Some of the streets were already closed for the Great Carnival parade, which starts at 5 pm south of the harbor at Plaza Manuel Becerra.

"Tomorrow, Carnival ends with the burying of the paper-mâché sardine, the parade of mourners and fireworks," said Nina.

We had a sneak preview of the elaborate costumes when a participant arrived in Vegueta with a photographer. Garbed in a sequin dress with a flowing blue feather cape, she wore a towering hat and blue eye makeup enhanced with rhinestones.

Mercado de Vegueta

Before leaving the historical quarter, we visited the indoor market. Colorful displays of fresh fruit, vegetables and bags of spices attracted photographers as well as customers.

Fruit and vegetables in Vegueta Market
Fruit and vegetables in Vegueta Market
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

A vendor offered us samples of the sweetest oranges that we've ever tasted. Other shops sold Canary Islands cheeses, fish, beer, wine and tapas.

Balcony Street (Calle Real) in Teror
Balcony Street (Calle Real) in Teror
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Drive to Teror

Our small tour bus followed a good paved road up into the mountains. As we climbed past cacti and dragon trees, the clouds descended. "Trade winds bring more mist and rain to Teror than Las Palmas," said Nina.

We strolled along the cobblestone Calle Real (Royal Street). It's also called Balcony Street, because the pink, yellow, green and blue homes feature carved Canary pine balconies.

Nina explained that Canarian architecture was a mix of Spanish, Portuguese and Moorish styles, because the owners hired foreign architects.

Our Lady of the Pines

The population of Teror is only 9,000, but thousands more come here to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pines (Nuestra Senora del Pino), the patron saint of Gran Canaria.

Cheese vendor, Mercadillo de Santa Brigida
Cheese vendor, Mercadillo de Santa Brigida
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Legend says that the statue was found here in a Canary pine tree in 1481.

"People built a shrine, which eventually became a church and then this 18th-century basilica," explained Nina.

"Locals claim that the original old, wooden statue was damaged in a flood. It may have been an excuse to create the larger more elaborate Baroque statue that we see today on the altar."

Santa Brigida

We continued our drive through San Mateo to Santa Brigida. At the Mercadillo de Santa Brigida, we joined the townspeople as they shopped for flowers, produce, cheese and local wines.

Tempted by a bakery, we tried a local specialty, truchas de batata (sweet potato turnovers). They were a sweet way to end our driving tour before we returned to Las Palmas.


Contact GLP Worldwide for brochures, bookings and information about Variety Cruises Canary Islands trips.

More things to see & do in the Canary Islands:

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands - Beaches, Surf, Dunes and Aloe Vera

Lanzarote, Canary Islands - Wine, Volcanoes and Cesar Manrique's Home

La Laguna, Tenerife - Shore Excursion Walking Tour

La Gomera - San Sebastian, Garajonay and Mirador del Palmarejo

Los Cristianos Tenerife - Beaches, Marina and Restaurants