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Gran Canaria: The island of palm trees and fine food

01 February 2022

As with most pages on this site, this page is under construction! This is just some raw notes that I’ve published just to get something online, I’ll come back later to tidy it up.

This was my first time trying out the whole digital nomad experience. (Except at the time, I was on sabbatical, so I wasn’t really working.)

But I wanted to sample the slow travel lifestyle; staying somewhere for a few weeks.

I knew I wanted to go to the Canary Islands – but I didn’t know where. Originally I had my heart set on two months on La Gomera in some insanely remote casa rural, avoiding any semblance of conversation with a human being for two months.

But then I realised that was a silly idea. The idea of perpetual socialising fills me with anxiety, but that’s no reason to avoid hanging out in a nice city for a while.

I eventually narrowed the choice down to Gran Canaria, as the travel is very easy from the UK thanks to it being such a popular holiday destination.

I pored over maps and Airbnbs in pretty towns, but I decided on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria because it would be an easy “way in” to living here, with all the benefits of city life but with an island pace.

Gran Canaria - my highlights

image/svg+xml Cruz de Tejeda LAS PALMASDE GRAN CANARIA Firgas Tufia Roque Bentayga Santa Brígida 48 km(-ish) GRANCANARIA Ferry to Tenerife Ferry to Tenerife JardinCanario LPAAirport BarrancoGuayadeque Teror La Fortalezade Ansite Pico de las Nieves TamadabaNatural Park Agaete Barrancode Azuaje La Sorrueda Barrancode las Vacas N

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Las Palmas is the main town on Gran Canaria. It’s also the biggest city on all of the Canary Islands (population 378,000 in 20181) and is the joint capital of the Islands, along with Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

It was originally named after the palm “forest” which covered the valley. Now, of course, that’s mostly been replaced by concrete.

But it’s a great city, because:

  • It’s become a digital nomad hub which means there is a constant flow of people who are looking to meet up with others and do things. The Live It Up Las Palmas Slack group is one way to meet people (primarily expats).

  • Endless choice of restaurants, cafeterias and bars, and enough shops that you will want for nothing! (There seems to be like 5 shopping centres in Las Palmas alone)

  • Public transport and taxis are plentiful and cheap, you can pay by card with both, and there’s a public bike system

  • The city doesn’t feel like a tourist resort, it’s very friendly and everyone seemed happy to tolerate my beginner Spanish!

  • Good weather even in January (~18C).

But you’ll find palm trees everywhere.

Las Palmas isn’t the most picturesque city around, but it has a really nice vibe. Hopefully by the end of this section you’ll see why.

Accommodation

I stayed at Repeople Coliving’s apartment called The Roof.

On my arrival day, my jaw dropped. It’s a stunning place: a rooftop (can I say penthouse?) apartment, with an endless terrace under the big blue sky, made for for working outside, exercising, barbecuing (thanks to the gas-fired grill) or just sitting with a coffee and a book.

I met lots of fantastic people in the flat. Things were always changing week-to-week.

Food

The food in Las Palmas was right up my alley. As usual in Spain, life happens in the street and there are lots of affordable places to eat.

Lunch generally happens around 2-4pm, and dinner is rarely eaten before 8pm.

Here are some of the places that I really enjoyed (in no particular order):

  • La Esquinita Latina - A Cuban restaurant near the top of Playa de las Canteras - really good service! 💰

  • Embarcadero - Super-fancy fish restaurant for a special occasion. 💰💰💰

  • Bodegon Pachichi, C. los Martínez de Escobar, 51 - Cheap tapas on a backstreet close to Las Canteras beach, where I also tried Almogrote for the first time! 💰

  • Mercado del Puerto (Mostly lunchtimes only) - This is one of the few places where you can find pintchos and small plates. Very pleasant! 💰

TAPAS IS NOT REALLY A THING HERE.

You can try looking for it (I certainly tried), but you won’t really find it.

The best value budget eating is to fill up at lunch. Look for a menu del dia (set menu) – which can be 3 courses and very filling. Prices around 9-12 euros.

I was disappointed that the “Ruta de los Pinchos” – some Thursday tradition for bar-hopping around the Vegueta area and grabbing food in the bars – seems to have been culled, perhaps because of Covid, or did it even exist in the first place?

Parks

Gran Canaria’s quite a dry island so lush greenery is a rare sight. However, the parks that I went to within the city of Las Palmas GC are fantastic and really well cared-for! My two favourites:

  • Parque Romano - a slim park with a 1km sand running track, outdoor gym, frame for pull-ups, and even an outdoor climbing wall.

  • Parque Doramas - Intensely beautiful city park with a huge pond, waterfall, goldfish in pools, palm trees, fountain and cheap cafe. It’s located behind the Santa Catalina Hotel. There’s another park in front of the hotel too which is equally stunning.

Other sights

There is a CAT COLONY. On the top of the hill (next to the super-vapourwave-aesthetic Korean church), there is some waste ground which is home to dozens of cats.

Strangely, the cats all seem to get on with each other. There was no fighting, at least not while us visitors were walking past.

(Be assured that the cat colony is definitely not worth making a special trip, but I giggled quite a lot when I randomly stumbled on it.)

My top 5 experiences

  1. Drinking a morning cafe cortado at the cafe in Parque Doramas, a lush public park behind the Santa Catalina Hotel. The simplest of all pleasures is taking a coffee in the sunshine, surrounded by palm trees and squawking green parakeets.

  2. Taking in the view at Cruz de Tejeda. On a clear day, you can see for miles from here. You can get there by scheduled buses from Las Palmas GC (via San Mateo).

  3. Volleyball on Playa de las Alcaravaneras. Repeople Coliving have a volleyball net which made its way around the different apartments that they manage. We took it down to the beach one day, and had a game. 🏐

  4. Almogrote. It’s a cheese paste, made with strong, aged cheese. Spread it on pan. I could have eaten the stuff for days.

  5. Swimming in the sea at Tufia. We went to this little coastal village as part of a tour (see below) - the black sand beach was very inviting for sunbathing or a little dip in the sea! It’s also a popular diving place.

Hikes & day trips

I started with the Walking on Gran Canaria book but I was a little disappointed. I think I can navigate quite well, but there is such a large number of hikes condensed into one book, that the instructions are limited for each. For one hike, I struggled to even find the starting point!

Here are some things that I enjoyed:

  • Crowdsourced hiking routes: the Komoot app is a good way to discover hiking routes, although a route I followed involved a sudden dubious-looking rope section! (I only discovered this when I pretty much had no alternative but to do it.) You can also check out Wikiloc which does something very similar.

  • Seeing the final refuge of the original islanders: Fortaleza de Ansite was one of the homes of the original islanders, before the Spanish conquest. We saw this on a fantastic day excursion called The Red Canyon Tour run by a company called Climbo. The company also run a tour with Much Better Adventures.

  • Strolling around Santa Brigida: A beautiful small town in the hills, with an old church, and views across the valley. I hiked there from Las Palmas.

A fantastic base for a month’s nomadding

Las Palmas is small enough to walk around (or take the Sitycleta public bikes), transport is cheap and plentiful, the food is fantastic, two great beaches, what more could you ask for?

The downside is the calima which I found to be pretty brutal. If I was in London in January, I’d be complaining about the weather there too, for sure. But when a huge cloud descends on the island, it can feel like you’re trapped indoors: the air quality is hazardous, and everything looks flat and grey.

But would I come here again? Abso-bloody-lutely.

  1. According to Wikipedia