J&D's Travelog


Gran Canaria, Spain

May 15-23, 2009

Map of the Canary Islands

A number of years ago, we impetuously bought a timeshare week in Arizona. It has since become somewhat of an albatross around our necks as the costs associated with owning it have since increased while the potential for exchanging our week at other resorts has seemingly decreased. After an unsuccessful attempt to score a week in Belize, we were faced with few options. The Canary Islands seem to be a timeshare haven of sorts in that there always seems to be some availability. We always considered it a safety valve for future exchanges, but the time was right to play that card. Tenerife had the most availability but we were looking for something more laid-back and opted for Gran Canaria instead. Our vacation was in jeopardy from the get-go when the first leg of our flight was delayed. The end result was a spectacular face-plant by J in the Philly airport as we ran to make the connection to Madrid. Despite bruised arms and a bruised ego, we touched down in Gran Canaria as scheduled.

A typical villa on the Costa Canaria.
Canarian villa

A massive beach is formed in Maspalomas where the sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean.
The dunes of Maspalomas

Jamón ibérico is a dry cured ham, the best of which comes from pigs raised on acorns.
Spanish jamón ibérico for sale


We made our way by bus and taxi to our resort in Maspalomas which is part of the Costa Canaria along with Playa des Inglés and San Augustin. These three towns have melded into one another as the space between them filled with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Maspalomas continues to extend westward, and our hotel was in the fairly new hillside region called Sonnenland. This had the advantage of offering spectacular views of the Costa Canaria but put us far from the beach.

The first thing one notices about Maspalomas is that it is crawling with Brits. The second thing one notices is that those people who aren’t British are German. In fact, more Germans visit the Canary Islands than any other nationality but it feels like there is an overwhelming presence of British. One thing you won’t see is Americans. The Canaries are still a European stronghold, and most people we spoke to back home had never heard of the place. Spaniards, Scandinavians, and Dutch make up the remaining tourist base.

The majority of the beaches in the Canaries are composed of either volcanic black sand or rounded rocks and pebbles. Some communities have imported sand from the Sahara to create something that is more in tune with the taste of the common tourist. The Costa Canaria is blessed in this respect in that a large portion of its coastal area is covered with sand dunes. The dunes reach out to the Atlantic providing enormous beaches that reach from Maspalomas to Playa del Inglés. Although the dunes are a protected area, there are three “trails” by which they can be traversed. We spent a portion of one afternoon trekking the dunes only to find they are a cruising area for gay men as well as a popular nudist zone – quite the combination.

Playa del Inglés is actually a well-known vacation spot for homosexuals – particularly males. The epicenter of gay nightlife is the Yumbo, a typical Canarian shopping center full of shops, restaurants, and clubs. We visited one evening to have dinner and see what the fuss was about. We ate an pleasant dinner at a Spanish-Italian fusion restaurant at which we were one of 14 couples despite J being the only female. Once darkness fell, the club action began to pick up. Many featured live cabarets with drag queens or bare-chested waiters. Several of the more racier clubs advertised themselves as cruising bars with men dressed as police or construction workers. We paused awhile to have a coffee in a nearby café to take it all in before returning to our side of town.

The Yumbo shopping center is the center of gay nightlife on the Costa Canaria.
The Yumbo during quieter times


The lighthouse at Maspalomas was built in the 1890's mainly to help guide steam ships crossing the Atlantic.
Faro de Maspalomas


One of the many gay bars at the Yumbo in Playa del Ingles.
One of the many Yumbo nightspots


Sunbathers along some of the rocky beaches of the southern coast create small craters that serve as a wind barrier.
Sunbathing pits

La Candela serves Spanish-Italian cuisine to all.
Fine dining at Playa del Inglés

While the sandy beach at Maspalomas is natural, many beaches in the Canary Islands are made of sand imported from Africa.
Master sand sculptors

The resorts along the Costa Canaria are popular English vacation spots.
A full English breakfast to start the day

The caldera was formed about 2000 years ago during the last volcanic eruption on Gran Canaria.
Caldera de Bandama

The embroidery academy in Ingenio was created to preserve the skill in Gran Canaria.
At the embroidery academy

Founded by the British in 1891, the golf course blanketing the edge of the caldera is the oldest in Spain.
School children peer into the caldera

A Journey Inland

The Canary Islands are an archipelago in which each island is essentially a volcano arranged in increasing age from west to east. While Gran Canaria has had no volcanic activity for centuries, it still retains the characteristic conical shape that one might expect. This gives the island a diverse climate in which the verdant northern and central parts of the island receive significantly more rainfall and are consequently more populated by residents who take advantage of the fertile volcanic soil. The southern side sees much less precipitation and much more sun, making it the preferred location for tourist resorts.

We decided to see a little more of the island than just the beach resorts, so we booked a bus tour that would take us to visit some of the inland villages and sights. We have never been big fans of bus tours because it seems that we end up driving for hours only to see something for ten minutes. Still it does have its advantages such as a driver who knows how to navigate the winding mountain roads allowing one to sample the local cerveza guilt-free. You also get to meet other tourists and exchange tips on which restaurants to visit.

We drove for what seemed like hours before arriving at Ingenio which was named for the sugar cane processing plant that existed in Gran Canaria’s rum-making heyday. When Spain finally obtained control of the islands, they imposed their traditional single-crop economic plan which began with sugar cane, moved on to vineyards and wine, then cochineal for red dye, and finally tomatoes. Today, of course, tourism is the main source of income for the island, but their rum trade heritage still manifests itself in a special homemade blend of rum and honey called ron miel. However, we were in Ingenio to visit the island’s embroidery academy where we were let loose to buy any tablecloth or doily that caught our fancy. Nothing did. We were herded back on the bus to wind our way up to the caldera at Bandama. Named for Daniel van Damme, a Flemish merchant from the 16th century (Spain ruled Flanders at the time) who bought and farmed the area, the caldera measures over 3,000 ft in diameter. The nearby peak offers stunning views of Las Palmas.

Our next stop was the very charming town of Teror which has benefited greatly from its reverence as a place of religious pilgrimage. In 1481, an apparition of the Virgin Mary was seen in a nearby pine tree, and the event has been celebrated ever since. Teror has a magnificent 18th century church at the end of a street lined by picturesque houses with traditional Spanish wooden balconies. We lunched in a restaurant overlooking a beautiful green valley before moving on to see the Roque Nublo and El Fraile, a basalt formation that is held sacred because it resembles a friar kneeling in prayer. We stopped a few more times for photo opportunities of the vistas as we descended back down to Maspalomas in the evening sun.

The interior of Gran Canaria offers majestic views.
Lunch with a view

The village of Teror celebrate annually the apparition of the Virgin Mary of the Pines.
Teror town elders confer

Colorful Spanish colonial buildings with wooden balconies make Teror one of the most picturesque towns in Gran Canaria.
Main street in Teror

The Roque Nublo or "clouded rock" is one of the most distinctive landmarks on the island.
The Roque Nublo and El Fraile

Ingenio was named after the large sugar refinery that operated there.
A campanario in Ingenio

The more westerly islands were formed more recently.
Tenerife looms in the distance

Puerto Rico is one of the more popular resort towns on Gran Canaria.
Puerto Rico

Arguineguin supplies most of the fresh fish to the neighboring resorts.
The fishing village of Arguineguin

While not much of a resort town, Arguineguin is home to a large number of Scandinavian expats.
Arguineguin's beach

The marina in Puerto de Mogan is littered with bougainvillea-draped shops and streets.
Puerto de Mogan


The downside of a daytrip up the coast is the harrowing bus ride back to Maspalomas.
The bus back home


The guide books are right - Puerto de Mogan is not to be missed.
The marina at Puerto de Mogan

Up the Coast

We had heard good things about some of the ports further west along the coast, so we decided to make a day of exploring them for ourselves. We took an early bus to Arguineguín and strolled around the fishing village to find a place to sit and have a cup of coffee. The town itself is unremarkable other than it offers some of the freshest fish in the area and supply many of the resorts with their catch of the day. Arguineguín has become somewhat of a Scandinavian enclave, particularly for Norwegians who have their own school, church, and newspaper. We hopped a boat that took us a few miles further down the coast to Puerto Rico, a huge resort town carved into a valley between two cliffs. Its showpiece is a large crescent-shaped beach of Sahara sand that leads to a large shallow lagoon created by strategically placed breakers. The area is a perfect example of a modern Canarian resort town created out of nothing.

While Puerto Rico was a surprisingly pleasant place to spend some time, we were put off by the British hawkers wanting to push boat tours and water sport activities to every passerby. So we decided to move on since the best was yet to come. Several people had urged us to visit Puerto de Mogán claiming that it would be well worth our while. As the boat chugged into the harbor, we were both struck by how beautiful the port really was and why it was referred to as “Little Venice” (not the first time we had heard that moniker used). The buildings surrounding the marina were all whitewashed in a Mediterranean style with colorful trim and flowers that instantly caused us to reach for our cameras. Once on shore, we walked the narrow streets as vivid bougainvilleas spilled over arches overhead. We learned later that this part of the town had only been constructed 25 years ago as holiday apartments. Despite the lack of authenticity, we knew this would be the end of the line for us. We literally lounged for hours in a restaurant that doubles as a lighthouse sipping beverages and enjoying the view of the marina. Our decision to stay in Puerto de Mogán and eat dinner would cost us in the end because we knew that instead of returning by boat to Maspalomas, we would be subjected to a white-knuckle bus ride along the steep cliff-top roads.

An artificial beach was created at Puerto de Mogan to boost tourism.
The beach at Puerto de Mogan

Like one would see in any Spanish village, locals gather in the town square to play cards and dominoes.
Afternoon dominoes

A nice beach and plenty of water sports make Puerto Rico one of the more crowded resort towns.
No shortage of hotels at Puerto Rico

Christopher Colombus and his crew stopped in Las Palmas during three of his voyages to the New World.
Casa Colón

Las Palmas is the capital of the province which comprises Gran Canaria and the islands to the east.
Las Palmas

A view from Catedral de Santa Ana shows the colorful residential areas of Las Palmas climbing up the mountains.
Plaza Santa Ana

Las Palmas

Toward the end of our week on Gran Canaria, we had both overdone the sunbathing to the point where just sleeping at night was a painful endeavor. So on our last day, we decided to see Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria and the Las Palmas province. We jumped on the bus that stopped at every little town, so we got the lengthy scenic tour between Maspalomas and Las Palmas. Founded in 1478, Las Palmas is most notable for being a stop on three of Christopher Columbus’ transatlantic voyages. The house in which he stayed while his ships were replenished is now a museum dedicated to the explorer. Down the street from the Casa Colón, in the oldest part of Las Palmas known as La Vegueta, is the 16th century Catedral de Santa Ana which is known as the Cathedral of the Canaries. As the afternoon wore on, we both felt a little melancholy as we realized that the following morning we would be on our way back to the grind.

Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand commissioned the Catedral de Santa Ana to be built at the end of the 15th century.
Cathedral of the Canaries

The ornate Gabinete Literario was Gran Canaria's first theater.
Gabinete Literario

The Canary Islands' appellation were derived from the latin Insula Canaria or "Island of the Dogs" which were more likely monk seals rather than actual dogs.
The island's namesakes?

Las Palmas was founded by the Castillians who subdued the Guanches - the island's native population.
Relaxing in a Las Palmas plaza

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