Until now, I associated Gran Canaria with scandal; drunken Brits on scandalous holidays with no hold barred. After all, I could only go by incriminating Facebook posts and cringeworthy stories from my brother’s post-high school trip with friends which resulted in breakups, 2 surprise coming-outs and a whole lot of drama. Can you imagine my surprise when that impression was blown clear out the water faster than a tourist-laden banana boat that had a close encounter with a sharp object?
Finding myself in the pleasant seclusion of Paso Chico Gay Bungalows, a stone’s throw away from the entertainment and gay hub of Maspaloma’s Yumbo Centre, with a gaggle of gay travel bloggers, as opulent as a week by the pool, glass of Cava in hand, might have seemed, I was due to find out there is a lot more to Gran Canaria than parties, gays, beaches and parties on the gay beach. Patronato Turismo, Gran Canaria’s tourist board, had other plans.
I already knew that there was some good scenery in the Canary Islands, but I had never realised how good. If all you ever saw of the island was the drive between the airport and Playa Del Ingles, you wouldn’t realise that Gran Canaria crams a total of five climate zones into itself. It’s not just the bare rugged rocks that give way to the rolling sand dunes in the south at Maspalomas – where the volcanic soils trap water the landscape green with vegetation that is endemic to the island. Various crops grow here: grapes, olives, sugar cane, cucumbers, coffee and one of the only banana plantations in Europe (the other is in Iceland!), and above the green valleys there are some spectacular viewpoints such as from Roque Nublo (cloud rock), which was a sacred place stretching back into antiquity.
Much of the ancient – and recent – culture is evident, from traditional practices such as pottery and their unique festivities, to Gran Canaria’s influence on the wider modern world. This is particularly evidenced in Latin America, in linguistics (Latin Spanish is closely to Gran Canarian Spanish), cuisine, architecture (most old cities in Latin America were designed around the street layout in Las Palmas), and agriculture (most of the original vines and oranges cultivated in the New World were brought from Gran Canaria). This was due to Gran Canaria being the last major port for sailing ships bound for the Americas, as well as down the West coast of Africa.
This position meant that Gran Canaria was a cosmopolitan melting pot of cultures, where lives intersected and people being different was the norm. For this reason, Gran Canaria has long been a gay-friendly destination, with Maspalomas being the epicentre of rainbow flags. The gay beach is found beyond the natural cruising labyrinth of the dunes to the south of town (note: the walk the dunes and checking out guys on the beach is a little difficult with sand blowing in your eyes, so best not go in strong winds), while the Yumbo Centre offers the full spectrum of gay haunts – from drag bars to late night cruising bars and apparel shops to the sauna, it will have whatever you are looking for, in addition to a wide number of gay-friendly restaurants and bars. And of course, Maspalomas Pride, held in May, is one of the biggest in Europe – and has led to Winter Pride also being held in November.
Of course what made the trip so good was that I got out of town most days and got to see more of the island. One of the highlights for everyone was a boat cruise organised through Canarias Gay to the far side of the island which is completely secluded. Even my unexpected seasickness couldn’t dampen how much I was loving the ultramarine sea, the rugged cliffs towering overhead, the food and drinks, and the amazing company. I’ve enjoyed a few boat trips in recent months, but your own private gay cruise with friends in Speedos is DEFINITELY a good idea.
The group dynamic was definitely what made the trip. After so often travelling on my own it was a really refreshing change. You didn’t spend most of your time sucked into Grindr trying to “make friends” and you felt like going out and enjoying the place you were visiting because you were all there to have a good time together. As well as being the gaycation I’d never had, Gran Canaria is somewhere I would visit again – definitely with friends – and I’d be very keen to book out a small gay resort like Paso Chico as our oasis to base ourselves from.
Gran Canaria, I don’t say this often, but you pleasantly surprised me.