Gran Canaria: An Unforgettable Nature and Nurture Journey
There was a time when there were more tomatoes in Gran Canaria than tourists. Then European tourists discovered the island and ate all the tomatoes. What did the farmers of Gran Canaria do then? They grew more tomatoes! So, tomato-hungry tourists . . . what are you waiting for? Gran Canaria is ready for you.
In the Canary Islands, tourism has eclipsed agriculture as the leading industry. To lure tourists, a few of the volcanic islands engaged in some unusual practices. In Tenerife and Lanzarote, where destination beaches were lacking, the shorefront was cleared of rough lava rocks before tons of sand were brought over from the Sahara Desert to create the beaches European tourists craved.
It was a “Field Of Dreams” scenario, where if you build it, they will come. Since the 1970s, tourism supplanted the agricultural products of tomatoes, sugarcane, and bananas, to name a few, to become the number one revenue source.
Gran Canaria experienced a similar economic shift without having to build the beaches. A tsunami in the 1700s delivered the sand free of charge. The south side of the island is home to the Maspalomas Dunes Reserve – 10,000 acres of sand dunes bordered by nearly two miles of wide, sandy beach protected as a nature preserve since 1987. Walking along the beach in the warm, shallow water, you can see inundating waves of sand dunes stretching to the horizon.
In the past, the dunes were open to everyone. More recently, legislation was enacted to restrict access to the dunes to a bisecting path, leaving the vast reaches untrampled and littered by tourists, most of whom never learned to leave no trace but their footprints. After years of unfettered use, it is proving hard to enforce, but locals are convinced that eventually, the pristine beauty of the dunes will be preserved.
I got to explore the beach, the dunes, and the large lake nestled on the edge of the dunes both by walking the paved promenade along the lake and the beach, then hiking the sandy path through the dunes. The birdwatching was incredible.
I even saw my first spoonbill! The people watching was fantastic too, though not all of them were clothed. I didn’t think it was considerate to walk the clothing-optional section of the beach fully…