5 hours by air from Prague | 7 main islands | 8 Michelin-starred restaurants | 30 ports and marinas | 611 beaches
The Canary Islands consist of seven islands and several smaller islets. Which one to choose? Each is different and they all have something to offer. We land in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. But we are heading straight out of the capital and will come back here for a few days before departure. We're going further south with the intention of exploring the entire island. It's like a wee continent of its own. Though getting around it would only take us a day, its visage changes repeatedly. Weather and nature in the north are diametrically opposed to that of the island's south side. The north is windier, much greener and slightly reminiscent of Sri Lanka or Iceland. The south, thanks to the increasingly sunny weather without rain, is, on the other hard, parched, and instead of Canary Island pine, there is a huge abundance of prickly pear, other cacti and mainly palm trees.
Churros and hooray for the flea market
The first stops are Arguinequin and El Pajar, small fishing villages in the southwest of the island. There's no rush here, and life flows based on what the waves are like. At first glance, these are no fancy tourist spots, but they exude an undeniable atmosphere that will literally engulf you. In the morning, we head for breakfast right to the center by the port. By then, cafés are full of older gentlemen (no, we won't find women here), eating tortilla de patatas (potato tortilla with egg), enjoying café leche y leche (coffee with milk and condensed milk), and watching TV or playing cards and dominoes. True coffee lovers might want to skip the café leche. The islanders here have little understanding of good coffee, but indeed every local knows just what his or hers should taste like.
The real hideaway is the local Churros Bar, which truly hasn't changed since the 1960s, but we get the best churros here, and the graying, smiling owner packs ours with chocolate to go. We don't want to miss the local markets, held every Tuesday and Sunday in Arguineguin. Parking right on the beach, it turns into one giant flea market, where among unimaginable kitsch, we find such treasures as seagrass baskets or hand-painted silk scarves. African retailers also come across the waters to certain markets, so with any luck, we can take home original African jewelry or typical Moroccan leather shoes as a souvenir. Incidentally, haggling over the price here is allowed.
Plastic chairs behind a concrete plant? Queues form to get into this restaurant
One of the best restaurants on the island – Bar Playa El Boya – is where we certainly wouldn't expect it. Were it not for the long queues to get in, it would be hard to believe that the unsightly house behind the concrete plant (yes, we really sit on plastic chairs on the beach near the plant) is a bustling joint where we enthusiastically taste the best of Canarian cuisine. In addition, the staff are great at entertaining people waiting for a table, throwing cutlery and place mats at them in jest. Unsurprisingly, we order seafood that is fresh caught at a nearby port. Specialties include tuna salad, pulpo a la vinagreta (octopus in vinegar), fresh sardines, papas con mojo (petite skin-on potatoes with roasted pepper sauce) and goat cheese, a local favorite as well as potatoes and fish.
On Marañuelas beach, we rent paddleboards from a Czech who has lived here for over 20 years and provides a breathtaking evening sunset tour for those interested. We cross a bay overlooking Tenerife with the volcano Teide and we end at a breathtaking sunset, as the sun slowly slips below the ocean horizon to the cries of seagulls. This ranks as one of the most intense Canany Islands experiences.
Dunes and drinks
If we could take in just one tourist attraction, we would choose the sand dunes in Maspalomas. Walking through them makes us feel like we're in the Sahara, and when we reach Playa del Inglés, one of the island's longest sandy beaches, we're drawn in by the atmosphere of the unbridled 1960s. You can't lie here with a book, and having a hat is useless. Thanks to strong winds, it is mainly about surfing here and flying over the waves while kiteboarding. We walk all the way to the old lighthouse on Faro and back to the city where we go for a drink.
The place offers an incredible number of bars and restaurants, of which we can recommend you two. The first is the Atelier Cocktail Bar located on a hotel roof. A glass elevator takes us up there to enjoy incredible drinks and the view of the ocean and sand dunes. The second bar, Tipsy Hammock, has great cocktails, superb food and either live music, a DJ or at least a saxophone almost every evening on the main beachfront promenade. Don't be surprised if a Slovak or Czech is your server because one of the owners is from Slovakia.
There are but few truly touristy, white sandy beaches on Gran Canaria; most of them are wild, rocky and difficult to access. We enjoy swimming all the more. On the way to such beaches, we find the picturesque town of Tufia. It Is likely known only to snorkeling or diving enthusiasts, because otherwise, it is almost devoid of a tourism footprint, and a bit reminiscent of Greece.
We try to stay on the move and see as much as possible. That's why we're heading up to the mountains. These are probably an even bigger experience for us than the ocean. There are incredible views on the way, and among the serpentines, we stop in Fataga, a town appearing in front of us unexpectedly and inviting us to walk among the beautifully ornate houses with mountainous backdrop. We buy apricots from a local lady selling by the roadside and have coffee in the restaurant El Albaricoque (The Apricot), which offers a beautiful vista.
Views with Jesus
Our destination is Tamadaba National Park and the mountain town of Artenara. After dining at La Cilla restaurant, we walk through a long tunnel carved right into the mountainside. It eventually opens up to a terrace with stunning views not only of the Clouded Rock (Roque Nublo), but also of the entire valley and surrounding hills. This experience even tops our superb dinner cooked over an open fire. But it doesn't end there. When leaving, we can't help but take a side path leading up to somewhere. We are amazed to see a view that is perhaps even better. We find that a huge statue of Jesus is watching over the whole mountain, and in fact the roof of the restaurant.
The last stop in the south of Gran Canaria is the fishing village of Puerto de Mogán, nicknamed "little Venice". It is divided by canals and has its own unique charm with houses carved into steep rock. We will dine at the Que Tal by Stena restaurant, which doesn't open until 8 p.m. and offers a special tasting menu. It leans toward French cuisine, but we're not resisting. We recommend avoiding this place on Fridays when the markets in Mogán attract throngs of tourists.
Farewell in Las Palmas
We spend our last days in Las Palmas. As we stroll along through the old part of La Vegueta, we are taken aback by the unique colonial architecture on the islands. In the morning, we walk to the Mercado Central de Las Palmas, a market famous for its lively atmosphere. We spend our evening on Las Canteras. Said to be one of the most beautiful city beaches, we find that to be true. We wait for the sunset and the last surfers, and here we contemplate which of the islands we will discover next.
Some final advice? Ask the locals. Although not everyone here speaks English, they adore tourists and are always decent and friendly, eager to recommend the best places. They love their island and are proud of it.
Come with us in a slightly different direction and treat yourself to a summer rest in the dead of winter. Remember that just by keeping your eyes wide open, you’ll discover intriguing places unseen by others. Buen viaje - Have a great trip!