In January 2020, not long before the crisis caused by the Corona virus began, we had a dream vacation in Las Palmas, the capital of the island of Gran Canaria. Gran Canaria is part of the Canary Islands archipelago, along with Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro. The Canary Islands, although geographically located in Africa, are part of Spain and the EU, so you don’t have to worry about travel documents.
I chose this tropical destination in winter to escape from the cold in Europe. The canaries have been blessed with an excellent climate, protected by currents that ensure ideal temperatures all year round: not lower than 20 degrees in winter and not higher than 29 degrees during summer. Gran Canaria also gets an average of 320 sunny days out of 365 per year.
As the plane is approaching Gran Canaria International Airport, the view from the window shows something quite unexpected for a small island off the coast of West Africa: a developed city, a large port and motorways. Although the island is only 47 kilometres from one end to the other, it has not less than 146 kilometres of motorway, many sections being built on mountainous terrain and with upper and underground passages. Due to its strategic location between Europe, Africa and South America, the port of Las Palmas registers over one million containers transshipped annually, a figure that easily humiliates many European ports.
From the airport we easily find the main bus station, and we buy tickets from the station for bus number 60 that takes you straight to the center of Las Palmas, ending at Santa Catalina station. The trip costs 3 Euro per person and takes about 45 minutes. From here we have very short walk to the accommodation located on the seafront of Las Canteras beach. We paid for this excellent accommodation, 300 Euros for 6 nights on Booking.com. Christmas has passed here quite recently so the whole city is still dressed in holiday clothes but with a local tropical touch.
After a short walk we are greeted by the seafront and the urban beach of Las Canteras, one of the main attractions of the city. This beautiful beach that stretches for three kilometres along the entire west coast of the city is simply gorgeous and is a pleasure to walk on it and enjoy a glass of Sangria on one of the many terraces, while watching the sunset. On a day with good visibility you can see from here, the island of Tenerife. I recommend to book accommodation around area, as it is very close to the beach, the entertainment area and public transport. Plus it’s simply a pleasure to wake up and drink your coffee with the background of the sounds of the beach waves.
The next day, all rested and with fresh strength, we set off on foot to explore the capital Las Palmas. If the new center is dominated by the port, the beach and many tower buildings, as we move away from it, we are greeted by the colonial history of the island. The Spaniards conquered the islands 500 years ago, and the past has been meticulously preserved. The island is called Gran Canaria (Big Island) not because it’s the largest island (Tenerife takes this title), but because of the “great conquest”, being the hardest and longest conquest campaign among the islands. The mountainous terrain allowed the natives to retreat and hide, creating a long guerrilla war. On the way to the historic center (old town), we stop on the hill of Mirador de Agustin Castillo. From its top we have a very beautiful view of the new city. The hike is through a beautifully decorated park. I recommend the hike, but just remember take bring water. The upper section is still under construction and you will not find any shops open there.
We carry on towards to the historic center of the city and reach the Pedestrian Street Calle Triana, a beautiful street full of shops and terraces that still has the festive decorations. From here we just crossed the street and reached the historic old town area that expands around Santa Ana Cathedral and the square with the same name. The buildings and architecture have been very well preserved and the narrow streets provide enough shade so you can walk around at noon. Unfortunately we arrived in the area a little after 12 o’clock, so almost everything was closed. In case you didn’t know, in Spain as in other Mediterranean countries, from around 12 noon to 4 pm, all shops close and everyone enjoys their afternoon siesta to avoid the midday heat.
The next day we decided to leave the city and see part of the island, so we took the bus to the town of Arucas. The town was relatively rich back in its time. Prosperity was brought due to it’s marble mines and sugar plantations. This prosperity allowed it to build the second tallest church on the island and a very beautiful historic center. Unfortunately because we do not have the ability to wake up in the morning on vacation, by the time we arrived in town it was again noon time and everything was closed. Luckily we found an open terrace in the central square. But even with here we couldn’t stay long due to heat. Inland the heat is much more palpable compared to the coast. We got back on the bus and went to the next town that seemed interesting on the map, called Firgas. The road between the two was very steep and narrow, Firgas being located high in the mountains. The main attraction of the village is a spring that flows in steps through the center… but unfortunately the system was currently under renovation and did not flow. So after a few pictures we got back on the bus and returned to Las Palmas where we got off at the opposite end of the promenade. The day trip around the two cities is worth it but I recommend you come either in the morning before noon, or in the afternoon after 4 o’clock.
Somewhat disappointed by our the exploration we did on our own, we decided to turn to the experts and booked places for a full tour of the island for the next day. The tour called “Lazy Wednesday” is done with an air-conditioned minibus, covers the whole island and takes up most of a day. It costs 35 euros per person. The route and the views were beautiful, but the guide made the whole experience fantastic. We stopped for coffee in the village of Santa Brigida, climbed the highest mountain of the island at 1949 meters on the peak of Los Nieves (from where you can also admire the island of Tenerife), visited the town of San Bartolome, stopped to eat in the village of Fataga at a traditional restaurant with very good food and decent prices, saw the “grand canyon” of the island at Degollada de La Yegua, and finished the tour of the Maspalomas sand dunes . For such a small island we were surprised to see so many micro climates. Down on the beach it was temperate, in the inland villages it was very hot, and up in the mountains you were a shivering a little bit due to the cold. From our charismatic guide we also learned a few things about the history of the place and about life on the island. Spain wants to keep its remote island territories happy, so to compensate for the relatively low wages on the island, residents have a few advantages such as 75% subsidized transport between the islands and to mother Spain by plane or ship. This also to allow those on the smaller islands access to education and health facilities. Thus, for a trip between the islands they pay only 10 euros, and a plane ticket to Spain can start from 15-20 euros.
The tour was excellent and I would have been very sorry if I missed it. The island has so much more to offer besides the beach and entertainment. I also understood from our guide why everything is so cheap here. In order to encourage foreign investors and tourists to come, the whole archipelago is declared a huge duty-free area, with no taxes or stamp duties on alcohol and cigarettes. Thus, a beer in the supermarket costs 0.5 Euro (half of what it costs in mainland Spain), and the price of food is significantly lower than on the mainland. Pretty nice no?
On the last day we also visited the “Poema del Mar” Aquarium in Las Palmas, which although it’s nice and interesting, I can’t say that it was worth the 25 Euros per person admission ticket.
In conclusion, even if the water was a bit cold for bathing in winter, it was non the less a dream vacation, which I’m glad we got to do. All the more so now that we know what was going to happen in the world just one month after we returned to England.
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