My Secret Spain: Gran Canaria – Guest Blogger Lisa Risager

Guest Blogger Lisa Risager takes us off the mainland, to an often-ignored paradise in the Canary Islands…

This island is a continent, and if you were born and bred here you wouldn’t call La Concha in San Sebastian the most beautiful beach in Spain. My mistake… it is of course Las Canteras!

Playa de Las Canteras, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Photo by Lisa Risager

Most visitors to Gran Canaria head straight for the south, the sun, the sand, the sangria… and so did we. A perfect place for a family holiday. Sunbathing for the teenage daughter, scuba diving for the 12-year old son and his father – and for me? I pottered about which is what I love doing on my holidays.

Warm days in the sun, sitting in the shade at a cafe, drinking cafe con leche, reading a paperback from the hotel lobby. I wasn’t bored… but jumped at the chance to join the scuba divers on their excursion to El Cabron marine reserve. And the nearby town Arinaga. “You’ll like it”, Annette said. “Take a walk by the shore and there’s a little cafe by the old lime mines.”

Annette was right and the next time we returned to Gran Canaria we didn’t even consider returning to the wonderful climate of those southern beaches. We headed straight for Arinaga in the municipality of Agüimes. So should you.

A man and his dog takes a rest. Photo by Lisa Risager

This year we went back for a longer stay at Nautilus Apartments. I was working most mornings but the afternoons were spent walking by the sea, stopping for a coffee or a drink, relaxing and trying to be as laid back as the locals. This is a town where you actually greet strangers you meet, where you chat with the shopkeepers – if you happen to speak any Spanish, that is – and where you do take that siesta in the middle of the afternoon.

Excursions were made to Guayadeque, Agüimes, Santa Lucia, Telde and Las Palmas.

We shopped for dinner at the local shops or headed down to the muelle for some pescado fresco del dia and cool white Bermejo wine from Lanzarote.

Universidad Autonoma de Arinaga. Photo by Lisa Risager

On weekends the locals meet at the Universitad de Autonoma de Arinaga by the muelle. Cold beer and tapas on a first-come-first-served basis. The food is a plate of cheese or a hardboiled egg or a dish of fish, potatoes and mojo picante and it’s good! The place is only open on Saturdays and Sundays and only for a couple of hours from noon till the food is sold out. I’ts a tiny, tiny place with only a bar and two small tables so most people sit outside on the steps.

Vaqueria, Playa de Arinaga. Photo by Lisa Risager

At the Vaqueria you can buy fresh cheese and if you sit down for a cafe con leche you could try adding some gofio like the locals do. I’m not recommending it, though, it seems to be an aquired taste…

The history of the Canary Islands and the indigenous people is fascinating as is the crafts and the caves. In the valley of Guayadeque you can visit the Centro de Interpretacion de Guayadeque before heading into the valley with the caves.

The old towns of Agüimes and Telde are nice places to wander about. The Podcasts of Gran Canaria are great for preparing a visit, but not so great for actually listening to while walking the tours. In Vecindario you can shop till you drop if that is what pleases you.

View from the cafe in Santa Lucia. Photo by Lisa Risager

For some stunning views and hairpin bends on the way visit Santa Lucia. Have a cup of coffee at the cafe with the view but pop inside Casa Antonio across the road for your meal. Rule of restaurants in Gran Canaria: pick the restaurant without a view for the best meals and don’t be afraid to ask which dishes are the most delicious.

And if you really miss a sandy beach – take the Guagua (bus 25) to Faro de Maspalomas.

All of these places are quite close to Arinaga. If you get a little restless – and this does happen sometimes when you’re trying too hard to relax – you have the whole continent of Gran Canaria to explore and even though it is small it is a grand, grand island!

I’ll be back. Untill then I’ll do my best to learn to speak Spanish.

Do check out Lisa Risager’s blog for more of her wonderful writing!

10 thoughts on “My Secret Spain: Gran Canaria – Guest Blogger Lisa Risager

  1. xoanwahn

    Thanks for this great post!

    I just took my own vacation to Gran Canaria not too long ago. It was amazing! I have to say though that I really enjoyed the north of the island much more than the south. Las Palmas was fantastic. If anyone is interested, the whole trip is documented with photos on my blog.

  2. Parubin

    It’s been a little more than eight years since I moved to Gran Canaria. I didn´t think about moving really, what happened is my company transferred me, initially for no more than three years, after I decided to stay. I think it has been the best thing happening in my life.

    I was surprised to see that you considered Arinaga as a place to vacation, although it is really good for scuba diving (I’ve done ‘El Cabrón’ too) and windsurfing.

    The interior of the island is really magnificent too. You wouldn´t except such wild mountains and scenery if you only travel from Las Palmas to the south (Maspalomas, Playa del Inglés, Mogán…) along the coast motorway (which is what most visitors only get to know).

  3. Hollis

    Hi Lisa,

    I’m curious what influence if any does West Africa have on the Canary Islands? The islands are closer geographically to Africa than they are to Spain; whenever I see Iberia flights in Madrid to Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I always wonder about that?

    P.S. That is such a great correlation re: view and food. Es tan cierto!

  4. Carlton

    I loved Gran Canaria (visited in Feb 2008) and look forward to going back one day. Thanks for highlighting some places to see on my next trip

  5. Lisa Risager

    Thanks for your comments! There really is so much more to Gran Canaria than just the southerns beaches.
    And I agree with @Parubin – if you visit you must take a trip up the mountains and if you have time also the wild west coast!
    @Hollis – I really don’t know about the African influence on the Canary Islands. The climate – certainly. Trading and culturally – I simply don’t know… Must find out next time.
    @Carlton – please share your favourite places too.

  6. Parubin

    @ Hollis, Regarding the African influence on the Canaries.

    The Canary Islands are at the crossroads of three continents : Europe (as it is Spain, it is part of the EU), Africa (where it geografically belongs : Fuerteventura is just 60 miles off the coast of west Africa) and the Americas (the archipelago was colonized by the conquistadors at the same time and in similar fashion that the former American colonies. Later trading and immigration both ways was very strong and relevant between the Canaries and the Americas.

    Africa is the least influential of the three continents that shape the Canaries despite geografic closeness. When Spain possesed colonies and territories in northwest Africa (i.e. West Sahara up untill the mid 1970’s) trading and common administrative and militar structure between the Canaries and Spanish-territories in Africa was relevant, as the Canaries was the closest Spanish soil near West Sahara. In fact many of the Spanish settlers who established themselves in West Sahara came from the Canaries.

    Nowadays the main influence of Africa is the climate (we have a few yearly desert winds coming from the east) and the heavy immigration of recent years. The Canaries are Europe’s gate for thousands of desperate west Africans who often embark in primitive rafts from Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia and Morocco in a journey towards the shores of the Canaries that sometimes ends in tragedy.

  7. Hollis

    @Parubin – Thanks; this should be required reading for Lisa.

    I spent 10 weeks in Mauritania so I have a soft spot for West Africa. The geographic closeness to Africa I thought might make for some interesting spin on Spanish culture. Goat croquetas or something far more exotic! I’m amazed that there isn’t more of an influence but those primitive boats that West Africans are STILL using to try to reach the islands might have something to do with it. Very interesting, appreciate this.

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