Gran Canaria, the Content Island, Tempts the Traveler to Stay
By Paul Shoul
GoNOMAD Senior Writer
There is a moment during every travel adventure I take when I think, “I will definitely come back here again.”
It usually happens at the end of my first day and third glass of some new libation over a dinner of delicious local specialties I have never tried before. New places, new flavors, and meeting new people are the pleasures of travel, and I am an addict.
Then, by the end of my trip, the newness fades, and I am eager to get back home.
But Gran Canaria was different. I left unwillingly. On the plane ride home, I plotted how to get back there as fast as possible.
They call it “the Content Island” Why? Because it has a little bit of everything. A smorgasbord of geography, from endless beaches on the coast to the rugged volcanic mountains and valleys in the heart of the island.
It is a melting pot of cultures and cuisines of Spain and North Africa that lies just 160 miles across the ocean, and of all the travelers that have passed through over time. Thousands of European tourists flock here now in droves to recuperate in its perfect, always spring-like weather.
There is a lot of nothing to do if you want to just relax on the beach sipping local rum drinks at a swanky hotel, or a lot to see and learn if you want to venture into the interiors of picturesque small towns and unique natural landscapes.
Here are a few tips on what to do, where to eat, and where to stay.
Stay on the Beach
If you are on one of the world’s most beautiful islands, you must stay on the beach. The good news is the beaches are fantastic, but the bad news is that everybody wants the same thing and they can be crowded.
If you are a people person like me and love a big hotel, I highly recommend The Seaside Palm Beach Hotel in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria; it has garnered numerous design awards for its iconic mid-century modern architecture; sleek, retro-inspired interiors, colorful decor, and meticulous attention to detail.
If you have ever seen the television show Mad Men, Don Draper would be right at home here. Gourmet dining, a spa, and direct access to the beach just a minute’s walk away from your room.
The bar was super fun, the restaurants were very high quality, and the breakfast buffet was one of the largest and best I have had. Any place that has an unlimited leg of Iberico ham carving station gets an A plus in my book.
Attractions in Gran Canaria: Day trip to Arucas
About one hour by car from Maspalomas, Arucas is a picturesque city known for the spectacular Church of San Juan Bautista, built in 1909. Leave time to walk the old streets of the historic section, but this region’s main attractions are bananas and Rum.
Sugar cane and bananas originated in Asia, and both were being farmed on Gran Canaria in the 1400s long before they ever arrived in the Caribbean during the Columbian exchange.
Some speculate that rum was, in fact, invented in Gran Canaria.
Looking over the municipality of Arucas toward the ocean, vast fields are tightly packed with sugar cane and the sweet little bananas unique to the islands.
Did you know that bananas actually make you happy? They contain tryptophan, an amino acid converted into serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter.
The Arehucas Rum Distillery
Rum conjures up images in my mind of pirates, colonial wealth, exotic islands, treasure, and smoking canons. It’s all true.
Founded in 1884, the Arehucas rum distillery is the oldest distillery in the Canary Islands and the rum cellar in Europe, with over 4,308 American oak casks.
The Arucas rum factory offers guided tours that take visitors through the rum production process to learn about how the rums are made. Thankfully you can also sample a variety of rums. They are creamy, sweet ,and wonderful. Tours are offered in both Spanish and English.
A banana museum?
Located in a traditional Canarian home dating back to 1805 set within a farm with over 7000 banana plants, Hacienda La Rekompensa offers educational tours to learn and taste all things banana. It’s super fun and delicious.
Las Palmas and a night at the opera
Las Palmas is the capital and largest city of the Canary Islands. Founded in 1478, it is located in the northeastern part of Gran Canaria.
It is an exciting, vibrant port city with Modernist and Spanish colonial architecture, beautiful beaches, and many historic and cultural attractions.
Outstanding Art and Sculpture
It is also home to the impressive Alfredo Kraus Auditorium.
Designed by the architect Óscar Tusquetsand and inaugurated in 1997, the building and surrounding art and sculpture installations are outstanding.
Behind the main stage is a gigantic 100-square-meter window overlooking the ocean. It was a heck of a backdrop for the skillful musicians of the orchestra, who nearly brought me to tears with their rendition of music by Stravinsky and Prokofiev.
In the center of the historical quarter of this quaint little town you will find La Candelaria Square. Next to the historic church is a large metal sculpture honoring the craft of “El Calado”, an intricate form of embroidery that this region is famous for.
I visited an artisans workshop at the Villa de Ingenio
committed to preserving the craft and local traditions. Here, elders gather to pass on their skills to the next generation. Such a cool scene.
The Heart of the Island
About an hour from Las Palmas, the Fataga Valley road climbs 1,400 meters to the island’s center and Roque Nublo Rural Park.
Recognized by Unesco as a Biosphere Reserve for the unique plants and the sacred mountains of Roque Nublo and Roque Bentaiga.
Driving through the incredible valleys and mountains felt more like a trip to the Grand Canyon, except for the view of the ocean in the background.
Take a hike through beautiful pine forests and visit the charming village of Tejeda, considered the most beautiful village in the Canary Islands.
Recommended Gran Canaria Restaurants
Bar Restaurante Tagoror
This restaurant featuring typical Canarian cuisine is located on the side of a cliff inside a cave. We opted to eat outside on the terrace to take in the view of the Guayadeque ravine.
An excellent meal of padron peppers, gofio, escardado (maize meal with fish broth), semi-matured cheese, fried squid, and mixed grilled meats.
Restaurante El Labrador
Located in Tejeda, El Labrador was one of my favorite meals of the trip. Seated on a patio with an incredible view of the mountains. Fabulous local cheeses, grilled salt cod with local potatoes and tomatoes, and Canarian ropa vieja, a sublime stew of chickpeas, shredded beef, and chicken.
Casa Montesdeoca Restaurante
Casa Montesdeoca in the old section of Las Palmas was everything I had ever hoped for in a Spanish restaurant. Excellent starters of local cheeses, cod croquettes, a salad highlighting the wonderful local tomatoes, and grilled grass-fed steak done as only the Spanish can, served rare and adorned only by sea salt.
La Bodeguita at the Santa Catalina
The Santa Catalina is a Royal Hideaway 5-star hotel that opened in 1890. It is like an island within an island of old-world colonial charm. Everything is done “just so” Not a single hair was out of place on the staff, the rooms are perfect with neatly folded seamless sheets on the beds, and as expected, lunch served at La Bodeguita Tapas restaurant was excellent
My final meal of this delicious tour of Gran Canaria was at the seaside Ahul Restaurant in the beautiful little town of Puerto de Morgan, overlooking the marina and a stunning sunset. The
braised pork cheeks with vanilla green rice slow-cooked for a gazillion hours was a fitting end to this delicious tour of Gran Canaria.
Would I go back to Gran Canaria?
The author’s trip was hosted by Turismo Gran Canaria , but the opinions are his own.