Belén de Arena, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's beach nativity scene

The Canarians go big on Christmas. Not least at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's Belén de Arena. See this beach nativity tableau to believe it.

Belén de Arena, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's little town of Bethlehem

Bélen de Arena
Playa de Las Canteras' 9th edition of the Belén de Arena (the first held in 2005) is a must-see on any seasonal visit to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Head to the most easterly section of the capital's main beach for this pop-up art gallery. Plus fantastic photo opportunity to boot.

Contact details: In front of Plaza Saulo Toron, La Puntilla, Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 35009. website

Opening hours: Until the 7th January 2015, every day from 9:00am to 10:00pm. Except 24th/31st December and 5th January when entry's restricted from 9:00am to 8:00pm.

Art attack

Bélen de Arena

The Belén de Arena features contributions from artists hailing from as far afield as Belgium, Italy, Russia and Spain. The Italian sculptor Leonardo Ugolini (Born Fiumana di Predappio, 1969) is the creative genius behind Castillo above. Probably the most intricate sandcastle you've ever laid eyes on.

In the background, you'll be able to make out a rather more permanent fixture. Namely, Cesar Manrique's Juguete del Viento. Which I discuss in more detail in my article about the top 10 sculptures in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

 Belén de Arena: the numbers

Bélen de Arena

Las Canteras' Bethlehem in miniature takes up an area of 2,000 square metres. The sculptors use more than 1,000 tonnes of sand to craft their masterpieces. Whilst it's free to enter, you can make a donation as you leave.

Any money raised, just like last year's event, will go towards the cost of feeding the city's homeless at the capital's various soup kitchens. In 2013, generous visitors swelled the coffers of the various charities to the tune of more than 17.000€. An estimated 150,000 people will walk around mini Bethlehem, which is more than the number of people who visit the Columbus House museum over the course of a whole year.

We three kings of Orient are

Bélen de Arena

What's a nativity without the three wise men? Known as Los Reyes Magos in Spain, Baltazar, Gaspar, and Melchor receive more Dear-Santa style letters from Spanish kids than Father Christmas himself. These are delivered by hand from the children to their favourite king during the procession which takes place in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on 5th January.

Russia's Alexey Shchitov (Born Nizhny Novgorod) brings the holy trio back to life with portraits which appear almost photographic, such is the attention Shchitov devotes to detail. As well as travelling to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria this year, the Moscow-based sculptor has been in Japan. Where he contributed sculptures to Tottori Sand Museum whose latest annual exhibition's dedicated to all things Russian.

Twinkle twinkle (not so) little star

Bélen de Arena

Local artist Jonay Ruiz Ramos (Born Gran Canaria) is this year's starmaker. A self-taught sculptor whose first creation was a turtle back in 1993, Ruiz Ramos has developed his talents under the watchful eye of sand sculptor extraordinaire, Etual Ojeda. A multi-disclipinary artist, Jonay has also worked in the world of film: with directors of the ilk of Peter Greenaway.

 Capturing the castle

Bélen de Arena

The beauty of the Belén de Arena is in a design which allows you to walk around the exhibits. You can see them from multiple angles. These are no facades but fully-formed sculptures which will leave you momentarily short of breath.

Happy birthday

Belen de Arena

At the Belén de Arena, everything leads to the birth of Jesus. Enguerrand David (Born Brussels, 1976) is this year's author of the classic crib scene. He began sand modelling as a hobby back in 2001 but it's since become his main occupation.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria's world of sand

Bélen de Arena

Other artists showcasing their talents at this year's Belén de Arena include Aleksei Dyakov (Born Moscow, 1976). As well as moulding sand into works of art, AD's turned his hand to sculpting bronze, ceramics, ice, stone, and wood. Diversity which has earned him a ton of top prizes in the competitions he's regularly entered since 2000.

Roberto Canedo (Born Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 1980) completes the six of the best sand sculptors. A fine arts graduate from the University of Murcia, Canedo's also an accomplished photographer. The city's Centro de Arte La Regenta have featured exhibitions of his super snaps.

Don't walk on by

Bélen de Arena

You'll get a great view of the Belén de Arena walking along the promenade above Canteras beach. But an even better one if you descend. Here, you can study the individual sculptures at your leisure. So, which one will captivate you most?