Gran Canaria is the third largest of the Canary Islands. Forty per cent of the population of the Canaries live here. It is a big island – 1,560 km2 – with an altitude of 1,956 m at its highest point of Pico de las Nieves. The island has a wide variety of terrain from lush tropical vegetation inland, to black lava rock formations to vast areas of coastal dunes in the south. It even snowed in the highlands in 2016!
Las Palmas, the capital city of Gran Canaria, shares the responsibility of capital of the Canaries with Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Las Palmas looks after the Eastern islands – Fuerteventura, Lanzarote and the smaller islands and islets of La Graciosa and the Chirijo Peninsula, whilst Santa Cruz looks after those to the west.
The modern day name of Gran Canaria (meaning big island of dogs) was given by the Spanish – invasion forces conquered the island in 1483. It is said that Christopher Columbus stopped here in 1492 and many attribute the naming of the island to him! Prior to the Spanish conquest, the island was occupied by a race of tall, fair, blue-eyed aboriginal people referred to as Canarii who were thought to have been related to the Berber people of North Africa who share similar colouring. The Canarii called the island Tamaran – Land of the Brave – and it is said that many of them jumped to their death on 29th April in 1493 rather than be conquered by the Spanish!
I started and ended my short Canary island visit in Las Palmas, the capital. I have been here several times before as I have Spanish friends who live here. I love Las Palmas! It has everything – an amazing beach – Playa de las Canteras, clear waters, an enormous array of bars and restaurants, good shopping, surfing, fishing and a promenade that runs the length of the beach – which stretches for miles – along which the good people of Las Palmas can be seen walking, running, skating, strolling, segway-ing and generally enjoying at all times of the day and a lot of the evening.
Positioned on the North East of the island where the land narrows to a couple of hundred metres before opening out again into the Northern peninsular of La Isleta, Las Palmas has beach on one side and a large working port very popular with cruise ships on the other side.
The beach of Playa de las Canteras is wide, sandy and very well maintained and is lapped by clean waters. The bay is protected by a strip of volcanic rock known as La Barra which protects the bay from the full force of the ocean. When the tide is right, surfers can be seen at the southern end of the beach whilst at the north end, fishermen still keep their boats on the beach and cast off from the black volcanic rocky outcrops of La Isleta.
In between the beach and the port lies Plaza Santa Catalina, a large square/park with shady trees, beautifully tended ornamental flower beds and a wonderful area where the elderly gentlemen of Las Palmas meet each morning and evening to play games – dominoes, chess, cards – and to chat and socialise. The chairs belong to the local bars but no-one is drinking anything. The space is used as a meeting place for friends.
La Isleta is the area found at the northern end of Playa de las Canteras and my favourite part of Las Palmas. This is the old fishermen’s quarter, nowadays becoming increasingly popular, with its coastal walkways overlooking black lava rocks where waves crash and fisherman still fish. There’s some great graffiti too and some fantastic places to eat and drink. My favourite is Amigo Camilo which serves amazing fresh fish and sea food from its position perched on the edge of the rocks between the promenade and the sea.
WHAT WE DID
I had a very short time here this time. I got up early and walked the length of the paseo – past the surfers right to the end and back again. I love to do this here. The Canarians love exercise and on the beach there are always people jogging, doing Tai Chi, yoga or some sort of fitness class and swimming in the sea. On a Monday it was relatively quiet. By Saturday, with Carnaval on in the south of the island and freak temperatures of 36 degrees in Las Palmas, there was barely an inch of sand to be seen. All of Las Palmas was on the beach! Because we were going to be in and out of the sea all day, we left our phones (and cameras) at home so sadly no photographic evidence of the day time part.
We walked from home to the La Isleta end of the beach, stopping for a swim on the way, ate beers and olives at the bar overlooking the fishing boats then walked back the length of the beach, stopping for more swims, in parts walking through the sea with our clothes above our heads and ending up at a great little restaurant overlooking the surfers beach where we drank lots of fantastic Mojitos made by the expert Cuban barrista and ate a late lunch of sardines, fried octopus and ‘ropa vieja’, a Canarian dish made from chick peas and cooked meat. All delicious!
After a siesta at home we headed out again about 9 pm for a stroll along the paseo. Las Palmas has a market which during the day sells fruit, vegetables, meat and flowers but by night turns into a cool place to meet for drinks and snacks with lots of little stalls selling tapas, pork products, wine and beer. We bought a bucket of beers (for 5 euros!) to start the evening. We had hoped to have fish for dinner at Amigo Camilo but by the time we arrived at 11 pm – not an unreasonable time to eat dinner here – they had run out of fish and were closing up!
We headed to my second favourite place in Las Palmas, Bochinche los Jamones – a very simple locals bar in La Isleta specialising in fabulous Iberico ham and manchego cheese all served at the bar on a piece of greaseproof paper with a handful of monkey nuts on the side! We sat at the bar (only place to sit) drank beers and wine, ate copious amounts of ham and cheese, drank a large cubatta (rum and coke) for the road and watched the locals getting steadily more drunk and argumentative (with each other – not with us!) which was very entertaining. We strolled home along the beach to the sound of crashing waves – the end to a perfect day in Las Palmas.
NEXT ISLAND: Staying in the Canaries, the next island will be Tenerife.