Your guide to: Gran Canaria
If you're looking for sunshine, there's no better place to head than Gran Canaria. With the Western Sahara coast just 150km away, it's hot, hot, hot and it's not just the weather that turns up the temperature. With a gay scene that's open all year round, it's no wonder it attracts visitors from all over the world.
If you've never been to Gran Canaria, you really should experience it. It has been at the heart of gay holidaying for over 30 years and many visitors return again and again, seduced by their favourite haunts and hangouts. Gay tourism is a huge part of local economy which means visitors are always welcomed with open arms, whatever the season.
The south of the island is the place to be and most visitors tend to head for Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas. The climate in the south is very different from the north and on rare occasions snow can be seen on the mountain tops while you bask in temperatures of 30 plus (fear not though, it never ventures as far as the coast).
Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas join to form one huge gay resort, well-endowed with accommodation, restaurants, bars, and venues, to suit all tastes and budgets. Most of the action can be found in the lively Playa del Ingles, with the famed Yumbo Centre at its epicentre. If you're new to the Yumbo experiences, think of a well seasoned drag queen; she never sleeps, has two personas and draws in the gay crowds with ease. By day she is a bit shabby (a vast shopping and leisure centre that's home to more than 200 shops, bars, services and stalls) but by night, she puts on her sluttiest outfit, steps delicately in to her diamante heels and gets ready to party.
At the stroke of half past ten, the gays take over and the Yumbo is magically transformed into a hedonistic playground as stalls selling leather goods and sportswear are replaced by an array of gays - the only leather goods and sportswear left are those actually on the guys themselves! It's all done with such swift precision it's easy to think you're on the set of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Soon you are at the heart of a throbbing nightlife.
While it's true that most of us are after one thing, the way we like it presented can differ greatly and Gran Canaria caters for everyone. Leather clubs, drag shows, trendy bars and a few 'special interest' venues all cohabits nicely with nearly 50 gay venues to take you through the night. This sprawling sextropolis boasts more bars than either Soho or Canal Street and half of the fun is in finding your favourites. The key to getting the most of the venues is to join the gradual procession that spirals the bars from the bottom level to the top and takes about three hours, minimum, to do properly. Ease yourself in with a relaxed drink at the lower lever terraces or watch one of the shows at Ricky's or La Belle.
Not long after midnight, the lure of 'Euro Hits' entices the crowd to move to the next floor where some of the slicker bars tempt guests with waiters straight from a D&G shoot. As the dance/music bars start to fill up, so do the cruisier venues on this floor, some catering to the leather crowd, some offering darkroom shenanigans. Cruise is often busy (probably due to the intriguing video loops on display) as is XL with its roomy dance floor, regular strip shows and a rather large darkroom. Centre Stage is the perfect place for a spot of leather and feathers.
Maybe it's the gradual climb but by the time you reach the top, there are definitely a higher percentage of toned bodies on parade. This level is hugely popular and clubs like Mykonos and Mantrix open until the early hours. The newest addition, Heaven is one of the larger clubs on the island and has fast become hugely popular at weekends.
If you're truly hardcore, then the evenings melt into the day at one the islands 'after hours' clubs. The Cita Centre, opposite the Respect Los Almendros, is another gay hotspot, a fifteen minute walk from the Yumbo (or 3 minutes in a cab) and offers Cockring or MenFactory. If you are out all night, be careful not to take out all your cash at once; there are plenty of cash machines available and it's better than losing your wad in a dark room.
It's also worth mentioning that there are many great bars available if you're all Yumboed out; Detox-Retox is a popular bar, located just underneath the Tenesor apartments, and provides a great alternative. There are also a few options in the capital, Las Palmas, which can provide a more cultural alternative if you like to mix the fun with some local atmosphere.
Dinner tends to be late in Gran Canaria, so if you're eating out there's little point in arriving much before 10pm. The food is pleasant, but finding something really special can be a challenge. Few restaurants in Playa del Ingles offer more than steak and seafood so we recommend basing your choice on the availability of eye candy meandering past or indeed serving your meal. There are some exceptions to this rule however and Merlin (opposite Detox-Retox) or Valentines (upstairs at the Yumbo) come highly recommended. The best eating though is in Vaguetta, the old city in Las Palmas, or in the hills on the north of the island.
And now for the daytime fun! If you've heard about Gran Canaria, you've no doubt heard about its notorious beaches. The main beach at Playa del Ingles is a bit too touristy but beyond this, stretching towards Maspalomas, you'll find a glorious coastline that never seems to end. The main gay beach is positioned between these two resorts and you can reach it from Avenida de Tirajana (by walking through the arch at the hotel Riu Palace and heading for the beach by bar number seven). Loungers and refreshments are available here and it's never short of cute guys with or without trunks. However, it's quite unlikely that you'll actually make it to the seafront as the expanse of dunes behind it have been a cruising ground for gay men for decades. While there dunes may look a little barren at first at first, do not be fooled; they offer secluded spots where trees create perfect suntraps, ideal for a spot of naked sunbathing. If you do opt to remove your clothes here, be prepared to be propositioned - lying in the dunes is no place to be shy!
After a day on the beach, coffee and cakes at Café Wien is a great place to reflect on the sights of the day before deciding which outfit to wear for the next night on the town.
But there is another side of Gran Canaria that's easy to miss. Gran Canaria's west coast is a rugged and beautiful National Park that's barely even heard the word tourism. Puerto de Mogan is a very pretty and fast expanding port and an excellent choice for a day trip. The Capital city also offers more than you'd expect with museums, galleries, theatre, opera, classical and popular concerts. The rest of the island contains magnificent architecture, weekend markets and quaint agricultural towns and Gran Canaria also has various major events going on throughout the year, including the second largest attended carnival in the world. While the shopping may be more than Primark than Prada in places, there are still plenty of great opportunities to snap up aftershave and electrical goods - after all G.C. is duty free!