Three Things To Do
Columbus sailed from Las Palmas in 1492 and the modern city is Latin America’s enclave in Europe. It’s where salsa and coconut palms thrive alongside tapas and tinto de verano.
There are two ways to see Europe’s Latino capital. You can join the eager-beaver cruise tourists and do Las Palmas in a day. You’ll get sore feet, plenty of snapshots and that fuzzy been-there done-that feeling that fades as soon as you move on. But you won’t see a damn thing!
Instead of charging around I recommend that you come to Las Palmas and do very little, very thoroughly. If you must have a plan, squeeze in these three things:
Drink a proper coffee
Order a coffee these days and you get a calorie bomb in a tureen. Out of control teenage Baristas, armed with cacao powder and stencils, dust, decorate, frappe and fuss until your coffee is a work of art. Unfortunately, art doesn’t taste very good.
In Las Palmas coffee is made by grown ups: Pure bean juice unsullied by pretension, syrups and towers of cream. It comes served in a white porcelain cup with a paper bag of sugar and a tatty old teaspoon. It tastes of coffee.
Order a café solo for a pure espresso, a cortado for an espresso with a dash of milk and a café con leche for a latte. Or go for the rocket fuel option of the leche y leche: A cortado with a shot of condensed milk at the bottom.
My favourite, especially in the summer, is the café con hielo. It’s a shot of espresso served with a glass full of ice cubes on the side. You pour the coffee over the ice, swizzle it around a bit and then drink. Simple and delicious.
Every bar and café in Las Palmas has a steam espresso machine so pick one with a good view. The Canteras beachfront, the cobbled streets of Vegueta and any of the palm-shaded squares are splendid spots for a coffee break.
Visit the Museo Canario
In the 1500s Spanish steel met the sticks and stones of the original Canarii inhabitants. It took them 100 years to conquer the Canary Islands, longer than it took to subdue the Aztecs and the Incas.
The unfortunate consequence of this Conquistador trial run was the extinction of Canarii culture. Their languages, religion, folk tales and music were obliterated. All we have left are their mummies and pottery: The meagre remnants of a race that considered themselves kings but didn’t understand the wheel.
The best collection of Canarii artefacts is in the Museo Canario or Canary Museum in Las Palmas’ historical Vegueta barrio. Thankfully, it is compact and not afraid to display plenty of skulls and mummies. Let’s face it, goatskin clothes and pottery shards can’t compete with a room full of trepanned skulls.
Spend an hour in the museum and then another wandering around Vegueta. 500 years ago it was besieged by the same people now lying shrivelled in the museum: The only European city ever besieged by stone-age warriors. What if they had overrun the walls? Would the whole history of Spain and South America be different?
Learn to Surf
Canteras Beach is three miles long and changes every 100 yards. The north end is all coconut palms, golden sand and clear water. It’s great for sunbathing and snorkelling but you can do that anywhere.
The best bit of Canteras is the southern La Cicer end in front of the Guanarteme barrio. Twenty years ago it was isolated within the city and overshadowed by fish-canning factories and a power plant. When the town hall shut down the factories and extended the promenade the barrio woke up. Its sullen pot-smoking surfers went to business school and opened surf schools and hostels.
The waves aren’t world class but they are consistent and the right size for floundering beginners. Within a day you can learn the basics of surfing and then hit the bars for an introduction to local rum. Pace yourself because the city doesn’t liven up until midnight and dances until dawn.
There are no flamenco shows or tour guides dressed in traditional costumes in Las Palmas. Like its coffees, it is hot, full of flavour and completely free of pretension. That’s why I love it.
Click on this Google Map for locations of the places mentioned in this post.
Alex Bramwell is a photographer and writer living in Gran Canaria. He blogs at Sunshine Gran Canaria and is on a mission, along with Lex Thoonen of Gran Canaria Info, to make sure that everyone knows that there is more to Gran Canaria than its famous beaches and resorts.