Long sand beaches, the glowing sun shines down relentless, a dip in the refreshing Ocean waters – that’s Gran Canaria for many, often also referred to as the island of eternal spring ….. let me tell you it’s so much more than that!
The good and bad, the ugly and breathtaking – scraping beneath the glossy surface that#s usually portrayed in holiday catalogues; but what’s it really like? This is an honest travel blog.
Ugly. The first word shooting through my mind. Plane’s landed and I dare to take a first look out of the window. The sun’s blending, yet unmissable to make out: the ugliest mountains mother nature could possibly have created.
You know the unpleasant colour of dumb left in a toilet for too long because your house mate forgot to flush? Yes, these mountains look exactly like that.
So – the first impression isn’t great. The second neither. I hit the motor way, heading toward the popular beaches located in the south of the island; it’s hot – that’s good, right? Possibly. But don’t dare to open the window. The smell is rotten….
So far so bad. It’s fair to say Gran Canaria doesn’t present its chocolate side at this – admittedly – very early stage: ugly mountains to the right. Dump fields to the left. Begs the question: why do millions of people come here to holiday? Why did I come here in first place?!
Above everything mass tourism is what I fear most; crowded on a beach like canned sardines – stuff nightmares are made of. But then, if you live in Ireland and crave a bit of sunlight at the end of yet another washed out summer, well, you don’t have too many alternatives. A relatively short- plus affordable flight? Got to be the Canaries!
So here I am, hoping for a bit of of relaxation, filling those Vitamin D tanks, do a bit of hiking off the beaten path, take some photographs along the way and then get back home sun burned and refreshed. Reasonable expectations, right?
Beauty in plain Sight….
Thankfully after the initial shock things get better. As quickly as making significant headway on the motorway, as swiftly the landscape changes. For good! Mountains get bigger & more colourful while the glittering Atlantic Ocean is now in plain sight.
I stay in Los Caideros , close to to Anfi del Mar in southern Gran Canaria – widely known as the owner of the most beautiful beach on the god damn island. And you know what? Whoever said it first was right! Anfi doesn’t disappoint. Really, this beach, a lovely stretch of the finest golden sand, with its shallow, crystal clear water, could also be located in the Caribbean’s.
And the best: it’s totally empty in the mornings and evenings – like not 5am mornings, rather 10am morning like. Yes, during the day, of course, plenty of sun revellers make this their temporary home. But you know what? It’s crowded, yet it’s not uncomfortably crowded.
You know when there are people around you but everyone is kind of on the same page, all relaxed, all easy going – it’s tranquil, it beautiful, it’s holidays! And I dare to say it, but despite the fact that big “all inclusive” hotel complexes are certainly not lost on Anfi del Mar – in fact you could say this one is a big tourist bubble, or theme park might be a better description- it doesn’t feel like that at all! Not a bit. It’s just so peaceful. Life slows down.
I find myself enjoining an ice cream on the promenade, sitting in shorts, literally seconds away from the refreshing Ocean – no stress, no mails, no Facebook – just the simply joys of life.
Horrors of Amadores….
Okay, that’s the good stuff. What about the not so good stuff? Yes, it exist. The south of Gran Canaria is where all the nice beaches are located but don’t be fooled to believe they are like Anfi. In fact most other places are unpleasantly packed with grey, clunky hotel complexes on the edge of the beach, spoiling the otherwise breathtaking landscape. These hotels often build rammed into the mountains, giving the impression they could crash down any second.
Playa de Amadores is a prime example for everything that’s wrong with mass tourism. It’s the sardines on the beach; it’s where you don’t have to leave the beach to eat your Currywurst mit Pommes – it’s a basically a big bazar on a beach. My guide book said this is a prime beach where you definitely want to spend your days – I literally turned up, strolled along for a couple of minutes and turned around in disgust. It’s definitely not a place you wanna spend any time at all!
The enormous variety of landscape, vegetation, things to see, to do and to experience is the biggest surprise. I just didn’t expect it.
What I mean is: yes, there are all those beautiful beaches in the south. But please do drive to the east or the west because it’s a completely different flavour! Those big, brown mountains they turn green. Bananas growing left and right. The Ocean is a wild, powerful force here. It reminds me to some extend of a place I know quite well: Ireland (without the bananas of course!).
The wind, the salty taste of Ocean in the air, green valley’s surrounded by even greener hills – not exactly the picture I had in mind before setting foot on this land.
What is very much unlike Ireland: the centre of the island. Boy, did this leave a lasting impression on me. Driving up the small, often foggy roads up to the iconic Roque Nublo is nothing for the faint-hearted. But know what? It’s totally worth it! The rewards you reap are not to put into words. Stunning views all along a canyon like scenery I associated more with Arizona and the Grand Canyon National Park…. not with Gran Canaria!
One of the highlights: the small mountain village of Fataga, pretty much in the middle of road between Maspalomas and the Roque Nublo. Colorful, with cute little alleys, and a renowned traditional bakery that probably bakes the best cakes and biscuits I have ever eaten. Yummy!!!
A Happy Ending…..
Now, I really didn’t expect to like this island as much as I eventually did. Gran Canaria is truly a magnificent place – not only because of this big yellow thing in the sky shining all year-round. Because if you want to break the island down to sun, beaches and and holiday resorts wouldn’t do it justice at all. There is so much more to explore. Trust me.
What’s more: it’s easy and cheap to get there too! At least from Ireland. An Aer Lingus direct route gets you there in roughly three hours. I also found the island itself surprisingly friendly to the pocket. Maybe that is because any other place compared to Dublin feels cheap these days; but seriously, despite it being a tourist island, not once I had the feeling to be ripped off.
You can get a nice meal with fresh fish and bear for under 10 €; a wonderfully filled Tappas plate for in and around 7 € and smaller yet delicious things, like cakes, for coins.
Getting around is easy as well. If you rent a car you have the freedom of exploring the whole island. But even without it it’s simple enough and actually quite convenient thanks to an excellent bus system.
In summary: thumbs up for Gran Canaria!