Maspalomas: a desert by the sea

It’s not unusual to find sand near a coastline, but it is when you’re talking about a massive dune field rising up next to the ocean, with sand hills as high as 12 meters. The ‘dunas de Maspalomas’ in Gran Canaria certainly give a different take on a beach stroll. And they’re all natural, shaped by the sea, the wind and … bare naked bums. 

If Gran Canaria is known for anything among the general ‘sun-loving’ public, it must be Maspalomas on the south coast. In the sixties Maspalomas existed of nothing but sea and desolated dunes, but ever since the early seventies, hotels, bars, restaurants, beach parasols and lots and lots of tourists have been added to the scenery. Maspalomas is now the oldest seaside resort of the island: it will be 50 in 2014. The secret of its success? The pleasant climate, wide variety of accommodations and the atlantic ocean of course, but the real attraction is the extraordinary Maspalomas dune field.

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Shaped by the sea, moved by the wind

Gran Canaria is so close to the North African coast and the Sahara desert that you just assume that the dunes of Maspalomas are formed by Sahara sand that is gradually blown over from North-Africa, but they aren’t. The sand comes from the bottom of the ocean! During the ice age, the coastline of Maspalomas was lying dozens of meters underneath the water. After the sea level dropped, the sand was exposed and the famous trade winds modeled the sand into the dune field that it is today. Well, not exactly like today: the dunes still change shapes, one breeze at a time … The dune field is listed as a Special Nature Reserve along with the nearby lagoon and wood palms, which probably saved the whole natural phenomenon from being swallowed by the neighboring resorts of Maspalomas and Playa Del Inglès.

Nudity before beauty  

If you ask around, the Maspalomas dune area apparently is more known for its nudist beach than for its beauty…  The nude beach is supposed to be marked, but as far as we’ve experienced, walkers, nudists, swimmers and surfers mix on the beach throughout the whole length. Also, the saying ‘pouring water into sand’ is given a whole new meaning out here. Nude men urinate in the sand with their hands behind their back as if they were standing in the garden having a chat with their neighbor. Eh?! Needless to say it all must have looked a bit more attractive in the sixties. But the dazzling sandy up-and-down surface is still worth your time if you ask me. I suggest you do the same thing you do when visiting places like Niagara Falls: you literally turn your back to the commercial side of it all and focus on nature’s wonder.

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Patterns in the sand

The exact surface of the Maspalomas dunes is different in any travelbook or on any site (the average size mentioned is about 5 km long and 3 km wide), but I can tell you this much: the area is surprisingly large and it’s very easy to underestimate the distances. It took us about 1,5 hours to stroll from the promenade (the light house in Maspalomas to the west) where the dunes start, to the Riu Palace at Playa del Inglès, to the east. That’s not the whole length: we took a ‘shortcut’ through the dunes and even though you never really lose sight of the beach or the massive hotels nearby, the infinite white sands still give you an adventurous ‘lost in a mini-Sahara’-feeling now and then. You can easily get distracted, too…  not just by the occasional bare naked bum, but also by the dunes themselves. The tiny pieces of crushed seashells flickering in the sand, the gigantic drops when you reach a top, the fascinating and various patterns in the sand and the constant movements on the surface. The tiniest pressure – like a foot or even a finger in the slope of a dune – will trigger off a delicate and minutes-long motion in the sand. The razzle-dazzle near the tourist zone is soon forgotten!

www.maspalomas.com