Four and a half hours away from northern Europe, Gran Canaria is the third largest and second most populous of the Canary Islands. Some friends of mine persuaded me that I’d like Playa del Ingles, the gayest bit of Gran Canaria, and I jetted off there in March to meet them.
After Markus’s comments I felt more than a little apprehensive, but on the flight from Gatwick I found myself helping a nice couple from Bromsgrove in the row behind me finish a crossword. ‘Ooh, we love Gran Canaria! We come twice a year!’, they said. ‘Don’t bother with Fuerteventura, it’s like the moon! But Gran Canaria! Lovely!’. Things were starting to look up.
Gran Canaria is renowned for its year-round warmth and sunshine and indeed from the moment we arrived the weather was very pleasant if sometimes fresh. Now, don’t get me wrong, we did a lot of lounging around with our tops off. The beach was hot, we dined outside every night, and in any case, I don’t travel just to bake myself to a crisp on a sun lounger. However, my Top Tip! is that winter in the Canaries is warm, but it’s not that warm. If you’re British, like me, or from anywhere else fairly far up the northern hemisphere, you’ll know only too well that sort of summer weather where you sit, basking in the sun in your shorts, drinking a beer, loving life, only for a cloud to roll in or for someone puts up a parasol and BANG your lips are blue and your internal organs are shutting down one by one. That’s the winter temperature in Gran Canaria.
There is a lot more to Playa Del Ingles than concrete, but insofar as his comment went, Markus wasn’t that far off the mark. The roads, the pavements and the surprising array of crazy golf courses all blend into a flat sea of manmade horizontal surfaces. The streets are arranged in a grid system of dual carriageways with huge (concrete) roundabouts at practically every intersection. It looks and feels about as Spanish as Milton Keynes. The wide streets are home to most of the restaurants that Playa del Ingles has to offer, and their terraces look out over the road, cramming plastic chairs right up to one another so that it’s not uncommon to find yourself sitting in the restaurant next to the one you thought you were in.
Practically every restaurant is owned and run by a middle-aged couple from some other European country, with signs over the door saying things like ‘Jim and Angie welcome your new home-from-home….The King’s Head!’ I’m probably being a bit of a snob here, but it is hard to have any time for people who travel halfway across the world only to eat and drink what they could have at home. That said, it’s not all bad and some of these restaurants are really something. I’d advise that you go for the obvious choices (French and Italian = good; Scottish or Norwegian = beige). I would highly recommend Copenhagen by Hannigan, which is absolutely delightful (as is the blond Danish guy who runs it) and Calma Chica, a higher end place nearer the beach. As with almost everywhere, there is a vast array of friendly, reasonably-priced eateries but there is some real dross too.
Right, all there is to say here is ‘Yumbo Centre’. The Yumbo Centre is a labrynthine concrete shopping centre built, by the looks of it, in about 1960. It’s incredibly expansive, with massive concrete plazas about the size of Red Square linking mazes of warren-like walkways. By day it sells the usual holiday tat, but by night it becomes the throbbing heart of the Playa Del Ingles nightmare. Sorry, nightlife.
There are so many bars and no matter how late or early it is you’ll find plenty of them open. There’s a real variety of stuff on offer here, some of it is pretty decent. There’s a lot of good-quality cabaret and comedy on in places like Ricky’s and Sparkles, there are some very sleazy joints like Hell Cruising Bar and the Bear Cave and there are some much more middle of the road options such as Construction, where buff twinks dance on the bar as you swizzle your cocktail and watch the passing foot traffic. Everyone and everything spills out into everywhere (and probably onto you). It really is a remarkable place. It’s unique and it’s super-camp. To my mind it’s somewhere every gay tourist should experience. Once.
So, there are few cultural sites or sights in Playa Del Ingles and there is very little worth buying in and around the Yumbo Centre. There are, however, a number of fun excursions. We went on a fun boat trip (very reasonable if there are few of you) and posed around on deck (see picture) with cocktails (from cans). Two of us had too many cocktails before snorkling and almost drowned. Don’t do that.
Gran Canaria is very gay friendly and very set on getting the pink pound into the outlying coves and towns outside, so there are some fairly fun beach and pool parties on offer. We went to one called White and Wild which was definitely worth the coach trip to get there. We went to another which wasn’t unlike paying 15 Euros to be locked in a prison exercise yard for six hours, so do some research before you part with your cash. There are more authentic villages and towns around and about too, and in fact I’m dying to go back to Gran Can to visit Las Palmas, which has the island’s favourable climate together with Spanish colonial architecture, a wide range of shops and a awful lot more culture and history than the Yumbo Centre.
If you do, as I hope you will, find yourself fraternising with the locals a Fun Fact! is that they are largely incomprehensible to anyone who speaks holiday Spanish.
You may, of course, also want to go to the beach, see my fascinating post on the beach and how to get there.
I’d love to go back to Playa Del Ingles. If you’re from Northern Europe it’s the nearest gay-friendly place with more or less guaranteed winter warmth, and what’s more it’s as gay-friendly as it gets and it’s affordable. However, a sophisticated paradise it isn’t. Alongside the gays are droves of pensioners and rowdy British people on package holidays. There’s a lot of tat for sale, a lot of Irish pubs, and yes, there’s lots of concrete and the beach is miles away.