I know that Gran Canaria is not necessarily the first destination considered by the young and adventurous tourist. The same goes for me, when I think of Gran Canaria images of big hotels, busses of old people and crammed beaches pop in mind. However, when I found myself on Gran Canaria for a work trip I decided to keep an open mind to see what the ultimate sun destination in winter time has to offer. As most people visiting Gran Canaria I stayed in a large resort hotel aimed at all inclusive tourists looking for some peace and quiet, and families with young children.
And most people going to Gran Canaria ain´t going to the culture, because, frankly, there isn´t that much authentic culture to see. Gran Canaria has been the main sun soak destination for over 40 years for basically entire Europe, so the whole island is based around the needs of these Europeans. This leads to a large collection of touristic areas on the airport-Mogan strip of the island. Nice hotels have emerged in the Meloneras area of Maspalomas (slightly upscale, with massive design hotels such as Bonobo (complete African style). This area is closest to Playa del Ingles, the party village of the island, and also the oldest hotel area. This is clearly visible from the massive, old, and usually very ugly hotel structures from the 60ies, 70ies and 80ies. This is also the area with the most vibrant (gay) night life, and the largest collection of younger guests on the island.
An area which didn´t quite hit the right note (in my opinion of course) is Puerto Rico, on the south side of the island. Driving up here the first time a massive valley emerged with hotels squeezed next to each other on both sides of the valley. No little authentic boutique hotels, but massive buildings connected by small, curving roads. The upside of this area is the fact that the nicest beaches of the island can be found here (Amadores beach), however, nightlife wise it doesn´t come much further than German Bratwurst, next to a tattoo shop that doubles as a karaoke bar as well.
So, you might wonder by now, is there any added value to go to Gran Canaria? Well yes, there is. After asking around with colleagues I realized the touristic areas is not everything the island has to offer: amazing mountains in the inlands, a true desert (Dunas Maspalomas) where you can feel as being in Africa, and an opportunity for amazing underwater life (dolphins and whales are a common sight on the south side of the island during the summer months, and are guaranteed to be seen on many of the excursions offered).
However, the biggest unspoiled place on Gran Canaria is the capital: Las Palmas. This authentic city about 30-45 min from the tourist area offers a surprising Spanish culture and hardly any tourists. I sat next to the cathedral on the main square of Las Palmas virtually alone, with hardly any tourists passing by. I found the old center of the city beautiful, the cathedral, the small streets with occasional sea views and small little bars gave me finally the feeling of being in Spain.
So, how do I judge Gran Canaria after this trip? I guess it all depends on your expectations of your holiday. If you want to relax, see sunshine, enjoy your resort and can settle for a beach that you have to share, but with amazing mountains in the background. And of course, if you look hard enough you can find some authentic places in the tourist hubs as well. My two favorite restaurants that came highly recommended by locals are Pica Pica in Playa del Ingles and Capaco in San Fernando, where you can still find tapas in a small, local restaurant. Than Gran Canaria has definitely everything you´re looking for. If you´re more a culture buff my only recommendation can be to go to another place far away. And for me? Perhaps, one day I could see myself going there, a nice 5 star hotel with a private beach. But for now, I guess I´ll keep exploring to see what more the world has to offer.