Have you heard of the Canary Islands? Do you know it’s part of Spain? Do you know that despite it being part of Spain, it’s actually in the continent of Africa? Many locals and expats living here will wonder if people in the “outside world” would be able to answer, “yes” to the above questions. Truthfully, a couple of years ago, I would of answered “No” to these questions. (Admittedly, while I’m probably seeing a world map more than your average person, only until I arrived to Africa 3 months ago did I realize the Canary Islands was even in Africa.)
The question, that follows from locals and expats to me was what brought me to Gran Canaria and the Canary Islands as a whole. Many reasons brought me to the island including
- A comical Latin saying said by many parents to their children when frustrated by them or anyone upset at you, “Vete a La Verga” aka “Go to hell”. “La Verga”, to my surprise is a beautiful beach in Gran Canaria so when I discovered this, I knew I had to FINALLY listen to my parents and go to “La Verga”. It’s certainly was breathtaking here that I should have listened to my parents sooner. (In my cheeky sarcastic tone.)
- At this point in the game with my travels, even minuscule things such as the one mentioned above can get me to places. It’s the beautiful thing about being a nomad after all.
- I have friends here and family from Guatemala have lived here in the past with some currently living in one of the other islands in the Canary Islands, “Tenerife”.
So what should one expect in this island? Great question, and one that I’m glad I can personally answer for you. Canary islands is not quite Europe but it try’s to feel like it or at least it feels like it slightly (so a good place to slowly re-emerge myself to the Europe feel). It doesn’t quite feel like Spain though it’s part of Spain and though it’s in Africa it certainly feels nothing like Africa. Simply to say that in Gran Canaria, you will discover a compact array of diversity where one can see cactus and palm trees co-existing in perfect harmony. Shocking, I know! The bio-diversity and micro climates found here and how quickly they can change simply from traveling short distances or at different points of the day is incredible and unique. One I’ve never experienced. It’s a travelers dream destination if you truly want to unwind and slow down while still enjoying plenty of beaches, sport activities, shopping, etc. This small island truly has it all.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons I visited Gran Canaria was because I have friends here. Who are these amazing friends you ask? The Paesani’s, an Italian family from Rome who are now expats in the island. I meet them during a trip to Rome 5 years ago when I took an Italian cooking class with the matriarch of the family, Cecilia using Eatwith, a popular site that caters eating expeiences in countries around the world with host familied.
After an amazing Eatwith dinner with the Paesani’s I continued to keep in touch with the son, Bruno. They became expats after the son moved to Gran Canaria and his parents relocated here after the dad retired. I credit them but especially Bruno for making this trip to Gran Canaria so enjoyable. They gave me the ability to explore this island from a different perspective and visit places I would have never found myself in including, “Loma 2” in Arguineguin village, the “Beverly Hills” of Gran Canaria. Underwhelming? Maybe, but I had been warned by my friends. Regardless, to see what an island compares “Beverly Hills” was quirky and charming and again what makes Gran Canaria so diverse. See what else my friends got me into below and use this as your own insider guide in the Island.
- Best time to visit Canary island is between September through December as the Islands micro climates are a bit more predictable and pleasant.
- Packing 1-2 outfits for rain and chillier days is highly recommended as the climate really does change from area to area or time of day despite how small this island is.
🚗 Car – If you aren’t as fortunate as I to was to have friends who were willing to show me around I would highly suggest renting a car for 2-3 days. 1 day you can visit the northern part of the island and the other day you can visit the southern part of the island. (Tip: Renting a car from the airport is far cheaper than renting one from the city. Find the best deals from the airport HERE.)
🚶🏽Waking – The city is quite small so if exploring the city is what you fancy then walking is very doable here.
⛴ Fred Olsen Express – This Ferry company provides express ferry’s to the other islands in the Canary Islands as well as other coastal cities in Spain.
🚎 Public Bus – The bus can get you around the city fairly quickly and also to other areas of the island but if you are traveling farther away from the city just insure you check time schedules for your return as taxis will cost you an arm and a leg if you end up missing the final bus back into the city.
Given that the island is part of Spain locals speak Spanish but Spanish with a twist as I noticed they tend to speak quite fast and use words only Canarian’s use for things in Spanish. The upside for someone who doesn’t know Spanish is that there are many expats living here which means you can easily find someone who speaks English or Italian.
Where & What To Eat
- El Cameleon, cheap drinks and a locals favorite with a very laid back environment to match. The manager is certainly a character who will ensure your noise level is kept at a minimum especially outside.
- Flamingo, If you are looking for an LGBT friendly club, this is one for you in Gran Canaria. I’ve never been to a better smelling club anywhere and this place must have been constantly misting floral smells because it smelled amazing throughout the club.
- La churrería or Madrilena, for churros with hot chocolate.
- Ñoño, delicious and cheap “Bocadillo’s” aka mini sandwiches with various seafood options. The location is also great since its on the beach walk and a good great place to catch surfers doing their thing.
- La Tasca De Los Vinos, a Peruvian restaurant with tapas style pintxos for dinner during the week.
- Café Regina, for your authentic Colombian coffee fix. Gran Canaria spoiled me with coffee thanks to my Italian friends and this place.
- 200 Gramos, a restaurant known for their burgers. I tried the vegetarian burger which I highly recommend.
- Allende, while customer service was questionable or simply our waiter may have had one too many drinks, the meals here were delicious here.
In Gran Canaria you will find many expats from many places of the world. Many have begun to call this home especially people from Italy, Germany and Central/South America. I found both locals and expats to be very friendly and welcoming.
In addition to all the places, recommendations and tips from the Paesani family I also referenced this article when planning my time in Gran Canaria.
Places I Stayed
Lua Lua Hostel, is part of the hostel group, “Hostel International” and is centrally located near “Las Canteras” beach which means it’s close to many restaurant, cafes, bars and transportation to get you around the island. The small hostel is very clean, quaint and has a nice rooftop with weekly jam sessions. It certainly was a perfect place to call home while I was in the island.
Where I Went
- Mogan, the port of Mogan will have you feeling as if you’ve been transported to Santorini in Greece or remind you of Santorini due to its white homes along the water which makes for a great day trip. Enjoy relaxing on the small beach along the port or enjoying lunch here.
- Playa De Amadores, a man made yet beautiful beach that while the beautiful white sand was shipped and laid on a cement floor it truly is still worth seeing and enjoying.
- La Verga, a beautiful beach area with many restaurants and shops around it including a man-made heart shaped island located right on the beach. (If you’re Latin you may have been told to go here by people when they were upset with you.)
- Dunes of Maspalomas, probably the closest reminder that you are in the continent of Africa are these sand dunes. Enter through the “Playa Del Ingles” to mezmerize over seeing beach and sand dunes in the same place.
- Ageate, the rural port town in the north of Gran Canaria will entertain you with beaches, natural water pools and mountains. If you are the hiking type, the 7th highest cliff of the world, “Risco Faneque” is located here.
- Vegueta, the cobbled street part of the old town in the city of Las Palmas. While I don’t like to honor Christopher Columbus I should point out that he did stop here on his way to the Americas and his home has been turned into a museum (Which I did not enter).
Other Places To Consider Visiting
- Roque Nublo, located in the center of the island, this lava block is hike-able and offers views of the highlands.