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Here’s why there’s more to Gran Canaria than just the iconic European gay destination

A trip to Gran Canaria always includes a guaranteed dose of Vitamin D, but we found out there’s much more depth to this iconic gay destination on the southwestern tip of Europe.

Some flock to the island year-on-year for its old-school drag shows, after-hour bars, men-only resorts and clothing-optional beaches. Others will balk at that same line-up and run a mile. Whatever your idea of Gran Canaria is, if you haven’t been, you’re missing out. And if you have, there’s so much depth to discover. We were sceptical too, but a sojourn on Europe’s sun-drenched southernmost archipelago should be high on your travel bucket list. Year-round blue skies – yes, 24ºC in December – incredible dishes, unique day trips, adventure sports and a raucous gay scene… what’re you waiting for?

Whether you base yourself in the cosmopolitan capital, sun-soaked Maspalomas or pretty Puerto Rico, Gran Canaria has so much more to offer than you ever expected. Here’s what you need to see and do…

Hit the Beach. Blessed with more than 60km of golden sandy stretches, the most famous beach is Las Canteras, running right along the western bank of Las Palmas. The further south you descend, the higher the temperature soars and Playa del Inglés has a great gay beach located around Hut/Kiosk 7 on the main stretch. On the extreme southern tip, you’ll find over 400ha of rolling, golden-hued humps – the iconic, protected natural area of the Dunes of Maspalomas. This is a must-see area, with its own ecosystem of rare birds and plants too.

Livin’ la Vida Yumbo. You can’t mention Maspalomas without shouting out Yumbo Centrum, a legendary pillar of the LGBT+ community. This gay hub of restaurants, boutiques, bars and nightclubs is an essential stop-off and boasts independent charm by the bucketload. Yes, it’s a little dated and can seem touristy, but you’ll easily sniff out the good stuff. A rule of thumb: avoid anywhere coaxing you in with menus and drinks promotions, you’ll notice the ones who aren’t flogging their wares outside are the busiest simply by being the best.

It’s spread over four levels and the general flow ascends as the night rolls on – you’ll find the ground floor busiest in the evening then as the night goes on the upper floors become hot spots for all the late-night and after-hours fun. Take your pick from a plethora of clubs and bars catering to all tastes – in both music and men – but special mention to Wünderbar for its Eurovision nights and Sparkles Showbar for legendary variety shows. For eats we recommend: Wapa Tapa (tapas), Rias Bajas (seafood), El Chacho (Mexican), Gio (Italian) and Dali (French/Belgian). Gay Paso Chico, a small, independent gay complex with self-contained bungalows, is the perfect place to stay and explore Masapalomas, right across from Yumbo and a ten-minute walk to Playa del Inglés beach with a regular bus service nearby to Las Palmas.

Related: The wonders of Mexico’s Pacific Coast are worth travelling to the end of the earth for…

Boys Ahoy! For something really special, board a private yacht to Güigüi beach, located in a secluded western inlet and practically unreachable without a boat. Canarias Gay, a gay-owned private charter company, sets sail with groups of eight or less on daily excursions manned by their wonderfully friendly gay crew. Departing in the morning from the port at Mogán, a beautiful little fishing town near Puerto Rico, you’ll enjoy tapas and welcome drinks as you set sail in the Atlantic, hugging the Gran Canarian coast and spotting whales, dolphins and more.

Landing at Güigüi around midday, soak up the sun, swim, snorkel and relax before enjoying a traditional paella, cooked and shared among the group right on the beach. Sail leisurely back to port in late afternoon with a drink in hand, great music and breathtaking views for a truly unforgettable experience of Gran Canaria. Bookable for entire groups, but also welcoming individuals, the yacht experience would be a great opportunity to meet other guys and tourists. Best bit? It’s incredible value at €95 per person.

Roque Hard. Reaching the rocky symbol at the centre of the island, Roque Nublo (cloud rock), is no mean feat but the reward is so worth it. After a two-hour bus journey, winding upwards through the central mountainous region, from the base stop it’s a further 45 minutes on foot to one of the most beautiful vantage points you could imagine. The second-highest peak on the island, Roque Nublo offers 360-degree views across the island and far out to sea.

Eats & Drinks. Papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes) is one of the Canaries’ most iconic dishes and you’ll find this tapa (smothered in a signature piquant Mojo sauce) in most restaurants and bars. Ropa vieja is another traditional dish of meat and chickpeas in a herb-filled stew, while you’ll find fresh seafood at every turn. Gran Canaria boasts the only coffee plantation in Europe and a visit to Bodega Los Berrazales in Agaete is so worthwhile if you’re driving around the peaks and dips of the island. Ronmiel is a staple of the island, a sugar cane rum made with honey, and there’s also a host of Spanish beers as well as a couple of Macronesian gins and liqueurs. The Canaries is a wine-producing region, so you’ll find lots of local bottles across the island.

Water Sports. From sailing to surfing, jet-skiing to deep sea diving, the Canary Islands’ waters and waves are globally celebrated. Sea conditions around Gran Canaria are ideal for sailing, while there’s ample diving opportunities with over 20 schools around the island. For surf and bodyboard lovers, the north has endless reefs to catch killer waves. Rivalling Hawaii, Gran Canaria is one of the world’s premier windsurfing destinations and three locations along the southeastern coast are perfect to practice – Pozo Izquierdo; Playa del Inglés; and Playa de Vargas.

As you’re drinking a watermelon cocktail on the beach with five foot, crystal blue waves crashing to shore, you’ll realise why tourism is Gran Canaria’s biggest industry – especially LGBT+ tourism. Who said you can’t get a slice of tropical paradise in Europe? You’ll find it just a four hour flight away… l

Gay Times travelled as guests of the Gran Canaria Tourist Board (grancanaria.com) and stayed at Gay Paso Chico (paso-chico.com). Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Norwegian and Monarch operate daily services between UK airports and Gran Canaria.

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