What do you think of when I say Gran Canaria? If you’re from Europe, I daresay the words “forests”, “charming towns with sidewalk cafes and live music”, “lush valleys dotted with vineyards” are not first to your lips. However, you would be mistaken to overlook this gem, and we detail why below.
Why visit Gran Canaria?
Gran Canaria was never on my list of places to visit. In fact, quite the opposite. Hoards of people from places similar to those I grew up in jostling for places on a Ryan Air flight to the sunny resorts, getting boozed and lairy. Not exactly the cultural experience I usually look for (I’ve become quite the snob regardless of my humble beginnings).
So, when my friend Seren moved to Gran Canaria to teach yoga, I scratched my head in puzzlement. Seren is a classy lady, and one who although enjoys a good glass of wine, also is quick to immerse herself in local culture, try new foods and go out into nature. As the months went on, I heard her rave about her life there, the beauty of the island and the wonderful food. I began to question my reasons for avoiding such a place.
Finally, with a visit to England eminent, I made the plunge and booked Aleko and myself on a flight to Las Palmas.
On arrival, Seren drove us our to Barranco de Guayadeque where we gasped at the arid landscape dotted with caves, drank a much-needed coffee amid the cool interior of a restaurant at the bottom of the valley, before climbing to a vantage point and partaking in a feast of Gofio Escaldado (a fish soup made with a maize-like grain called gofio), Ropa Vieja (a delicious and hearty chickpea stew), Papa Arrugadas (wrinkly salted potatoes with the rich red Mojo Rojo sauce drizzled liberally on top), and a plate of local meat and cheeses. We washed all of this down with lots of the local port.
Seren resides in the quaint little town of Arucas, in the North of the island. Bursting with traditional architecture, cozy street-side cafes and the magnificent church of San Juan Bautista, it makes an enjoyable hub from where to explore the island (although you will probably want to rent a car).
We were fortunate enough to arrive on the weekend of a festival (of which there are many on the island itself) and so were able to experience some of the gaiety, with live music, dancing and a some sort of theatre production outside of the church.
Gran Canaria’s carnival season runs for around three weeks starting in January (although there are other smaller festivals throughout the year).
If you want to experience some of the local Canarian life, Arucas is a marvelous place to visit.
After a full nights’ rest, we ventured on to Agaete, where we took in the beauty of the completely white town, before enjoying the popular swimming holes of Las Salinas de Agaete. Fish sandwiches were consumed along the long promenade before we headed onwards. A little further inland, the town has a charming sleepy air, and is a great place to consume some local beer or the decadently sweet Leche Leche cafe.
From Agaete we journeyed on to a beautiful winery and coffee plantation of Finca La Laja, and although passing on the tour, we tried the local wine with some cheese. The tour itself will set you back about 8 Euros per person, and the Finca itself is surrounded by hills and quaint houses nestled in between. We opted to relax under a canopy, and take in the beautiful surroundings whilst enjoying their local dry white wine.
If you care to learn more about the local wines of the region, this nifty website will break it down for you: http://www.gran-canaria-info.com/wine
The spellbinding Roque Nublo. This was a highlight. After a morning of relaxation (our daily coffee at a café, accompanied by a nice pastry or two, adding much padding to the waistline), we drove part way through the valleys and en route to our destination, stopping part-way at a campsite to barbecue chicken on a disposable grill and enjoy a tasty feast of small fish (preserved in oil and purchased from the supermarket), cheeses, and non-alcoholic beer (we had consumed far too much wine the night before).
Following our tasty feast, we continued up to the spot just before the summit, and enjoyed the rigorous walk to the peak. We arrived a couple of hours before sunset, and so not only was the lighting perfect, as well as the temperature, but the it changed through-out our time there – from a glowing golden, to vivid hues of purple and pink. We stayed for some hours, in awe of our surrounding beauty. We shared this magic with only a hand full of other hikers, and so soaked up the peaceful setting.
When at last we descended, the sky was still glowing, but the iconic rocks now made a stunning silhouette, as the lights twinkled from the houses in the valley below.
En route to Roque Nublo, there is the rather unique Gofio (as in the stuff the in the fish soup – it’s a local delicacy) and Irons museum. We didn’t go in, but were assured that was every bit as unique as it sounded.
Expect to spend an entire afternoon and evening for this excursion.
We spent our final day in Las Palmas, enjoying the hustle and bustle after spending time in the sleepy town of Arucas prior. With an abundance of sidewalk cafes, tapas restaurants and other eateries, one could surely spend the life of pleasure here! We opted for a lunch of tapas and beer before taking in the bell tower of the Cathedral and finishing the day at a Peruvian restaurant Segundo Muelle with a range of interesting Peruvian fusion dishes and a delightful Pisco Sour cocktail.
Although without a car on our final morning, it was an easy 20 minute bus ride from downtown Las Palmas back to the airport and a stress-free departure.
Overall we spent four full days in Gran Canaria, and yet there was still a lot more to explore. In short, this is a great destination to go off the beaten track, enjoy the local culture (of which there is an immensity), the wonderful food and affordable prices.
Next time you check for deals for a last-minute getaway – do not be put off by the idea of crowds and drunkeness. Avoid the south, and instead get lost in the North and interior of this charming island.