The enormous Port of Las Palmas (Puerto de La Luz) lies on the north-east coast of Gran Canaria. Its location has long made it an important maritime destination in facilitating trade between Europe, Africa and the Americas which has made it one of the world’s busiest sea ports. As a cruise ship destination it is Spain’s 3rd busiest with approximately 1.3 million passengers expected to arrive in the port this year.
The majority of cruise ships dock at the Muelle Santa Catalina which can accommodate large vessels. If these berths are occupied ships will usually dock at the Muelle de Transbordadores which is right next to it. Both piers lie within a few minutes’ walk of the Centro Comercial El Muelle, a large shopping complex which is very popular with cruise passengers. There are a number of attractions nearby otherwise visitors can head into the old town of Las Palmas which lies about 6km to the south.
Getting Around in Las Palmas
On Foot: The shopping centre, science museum and city beach are all within easy walking distance of the port. You could also walk to the old town if you wished although it’s about 6km away along some busy roads so taking a taxi or bus is recommended.
By Taxi: A long line of taxis is usually waiting for passengers as they depart from the port complex. These white vehicles with a red stripe on the side are metered so it will only cost around 6 Euros to take you to the old town (Vegueta). Just ask to be dropped off at Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana from where you can wander around the main sights on foot. These city taxis also offer city tours and more extensive tours beyond Las Palmas lasting around four hours. Itineraries and prices appear on official signs posted in the port area.
Public Bus: You can take one of the city’s yellow public buses, known as ‘guaguas’, into the old town from numerous stops including Manuel Becerra (Puerto) and Parque Santa Catalina. The most convenient service is bus number 12, its route is displayed on the Guaguas Municipales website. The same inter-city bus will take you to the Estación de San Telmo from where buses operate to destinations all over the island including Teror, Acuras, Bandama and Maspalomas. A full list of inter-island bus routes and timetables appears on the Global Bus website.
Hop-on, Hop-off Bus: This tourist bus service is very popular amongst cruise ship passengers who can get on the bus at Muelle Santa Catalina which is just beyond the port exit walking towards the El Muelle shopping centre. This is bus stop number 9 of an 11 stop itinerary which includes some of the city’s main historical and cultural attractions together with its urban beaches. However, the bus cannot access the narrow streets of the old town so an independent walking tour of the Vegueta neighbourhood from bus stop number 5 is highly recommended.
Horse-Drawn Carriage For novelty value you can take a brief horse-drawn carriage tour of the city’s main streets from just outside the port exit.
Right next to the port is the El Muelle shopping centre which is packed with shops and cafés. There’s also a small tourist information office (Muelle Sta. Catalina, 4) in front of El Muelle where you can pick up a city map and other useful tourism brochures. Other information points include the Casa del Turismo in nearby Parque Santa Catalina and the main tourist office which is located inside the town hall building (Casas Consistoriales) in Plaza de Santa Ana in the old town. Advanced planners can print out city maps from the official tourism website of Las Palmas.
Old Town: To see the best of Las Palmas you need to head into the old town which lies about 6km south of the port area. This neighbourhood is known as Vegueta and is home to a charming selection of historic buildings including the Santa Ana Cathedral, the Casas Consistoriales and the Casa de Colón. The expansion of the original city took it to the other side of where we now find the Teatro Guiniguada (Calle Mesa de León, 2) into an area known as Triana. This is another historic area where you’ll find a number of neoclassical amongst its narrow streets. Of particular importance is the Teatro Pérez Galdós (Plaza Stagno, 1) which one of the city’s most recognised buildings. Plaza Cairasco, in the heart of Triana, is a lovely place to take a break at one of the inviting terrace bars.
Santa Ana Cathedral: Located in Plaza Mayor de Santa Ana in the Vegueta district is the city’s cathedral which dates back to the 15th century. It was the the first church to be built in the Canary Islands following the Castilian conquest of Gran Canaria from the native Guanche people in 1478. Its completion took the best part of 400 years which explains the various architectural styles on display. Visitors should take the lift to the top of the south tower for spectacular views across te city.
Casa Museo de Colón (Calle Colón, 1): Located just north-east of Plaza Santa Ana in the old town, this beautiful building was the residence of the island’s military governor in the 15th century. It is believed to have been where Christopher Colombus stayed in 1492 whilst one of his ships underwent repairs on his way to the Americas. Today it is a museum containing many items related to Columbus’ voyages.
Museo Elder de la Ciencia y la Tecnología (Parque Santa Catalina): Just a few minutes’ walk to the west of the port exit is the city’s Science and Technology Museum. It has many interactive exhibits which are fun for kids and adults alike and is a great place to spend a few hours, especially on a wet weather day.
Playa de las Canteras: Just a 10-minute walk to the west of the cruise port is an excellent city beach which is popular with locals and visitors alike. It runs along the coast for approximately 3km as far as the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus (Avenida Príncipe de Asturias) which hosts a wide range of cultural events from its beachside location. There’s a good selection of bars and restaurants lining the beach promenade making it an excellent choice for a lunch venue.
Parque Doramas (Calle León y Castillo): Just a short distance to the south of the port area is a green area called the ‘Ciudad Jardin’ where visitors can relax in the shade of this lovely park. It is also home to a traditional Canarian village known as the Pueblo Canario together with the Museo Néstor and the historic Santa Catalina Hotel.
Shore Excursions Beyond Las Palmas:
Whilst the city of Las Palmas has enough to offer cruise ship passengers during their day in port there are a number of other attractions around the island which some visitors may prefer to see. Some of the highlights include the following:
Maspalomas Sand Dunes: Located 56km south of the port following the east coast of Gran Canaria lie the enormous sand dunes of Maspalomas. A visit to this nature reserve is a sharp reminder of the island’s proximity to the Sahara Desert on the African mainland. Nearby is the holiday resort of Playa del Inglés which is one of the busiest in Europe. If there is no official shore excursion offered by your cruise line you can get there in less than an hour on bus number 30 departing from Santa Catalina bus station near the port. Be sure to allow plenty time for the return journey as traffic entering Las Palmas from the south can get heavy in the afternoon.
Teror: If you’d like to get away from the city and see something of the interior of the island then this beautiful journey to this typical country town is highly recommended. Lying just 20km to the south-west of the port you can get there as part of a taxi tour or take one of the frequent buses (number 216) from San Telmo Bus Station (Avenida Rafael Cabrera, 30) in the city. Highlights of the town are the colourful houses with their wooden balconies and the 16th-century Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pino. Again you must ensure that you allow plenty of time for getting back to port in time for your ship’s departure.
Arucas: Another beautiful trip inland is to the island’s banana growing capital which lies 15km west of the port via the rugged coastal route to the north. You can get there on bus number 206 (and others) from San Telmo Bus Station via the village of El Puertillo, however, a taxi tour would be preferable so as to see more of the attractions of the Arucas Mountains. Arucas itself is a charming destination with whitewashed houses and cobbled streets. Its main attractions are the Church of San Juan Bautista and the historic Rum Factory and Museum which is open to visitors.
Bandama Caldera: Last but by no means least this extinct volcanic crater lying 20km south of the port is recognised as a National Monument. The impressive geological feature stands at 569 metres above sea level, it is 1000 metres wide and 200 metres deep. Views from the top are quite spectacular. Bus 311 from San Telmo will take you there otherwise a visit can be included in taxi tours from the port.
Cruise Extensions: Practical Information
Gran Canaria Airport: Bus number 60 runs every hours between the airport and Las Palmas, however, cruise ship passengers will find a taxi or private transfer far more convenient.
Hotels in Las Palmas: If you’re spending a night or more you’d be advised to look for hotels in the old town or near Playa de las Canteras.