Everyone has his idea of the ultimate dream vacation, a place he saves for over the years hoping to visit while he’s still young or spry enough to properly enjoy it. Get ready to add the Canary Islands or Gran Canaria, a vibrant Spanish territory off the coast of northwestern Africa, to your list. When you think of Gran Canaria, you probably envision tropical white sand beaches, rolling green golf courses and long-dormant black volcanos — and you’re right, but there’s so much more to experience on this magic island. You also might have read that some scholars have theorized that the islands are the remnants of the mighty lost continent of Atlantis. But you’re likely unaware that the second most populous of the Canary Islands is not only one of Europe’s top gay destinations, it’s also home to one of the most extravagant annual drag events on the planet, the Drag Gala at Santa Catalina Park, which is guaranteed to make your jaws drop and eyes bulge. Let me be absolutely clear: They love drag queens here. Don’t be surprised to see men dressed in their finest ladies wear struggling to maintain they wobbly balance in their towering stilettos while strolling down the cobblestone streets of Las Palmas. Locals will make sure you’re aware that since Gran Canaria is a round-shaped archipelago, it’s virtually impossible to not find a view of the ocean from any point of the island. There are more than 80 beaches, both urban and virgin, each with distinctive identities. The Canary Islands is also a popular destination for cyclists, golfers and snorkelers. As for getting around, you can easily rent a car or motorcycle at the airport, tourist zones or from the reception area of your hotel or apartment and to pack as much into your day as possible, knowledgable guides can be hired to escort tourists via bus or van. There’s an abundance of activities available and unique sights to see so try to pack as much as possible into each day.
Scroll down for some of the many reasons you need to visit Gran Canaria.
The most renowned place to stay on the island is surely the Hotel Santa Catalina (pictured, above top), which serves as a stunning beacon to both old world charm and contemporary luxury. The five-star property, accessibly located in the capital city of Las Palmas, has hosted bygone dignitaries such as Winston Churchill and Maria Callas, and is a current favorite of celebrities, including Jessica Lange and Shirley MacLaine, who recently made the grand hotel their home while filming the upcoming comedy Wild Oats. On the other side of the island you’ll find the gay-owned and operated (but hetero-friendly) Axel Beach Masapalomas (pictured, lower top), an adults-only complex that offers a gym, hammam, hot tub and sauna. Located less than a mile from the Maspalomas’ sand dunes and clothing-optional beach, it’s also a short walk from the bustling nightlife found in the mind-blowing Yumbo Center (more on that below). For travelers looking for a more homey atmosphere, Casa Los Islas provides numerous lavishly-appointed apartments located in Maspalomas, Playa Del Inglés and San Fernando, all with easy access to the beaches, popular attractions, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.
It’s no surprise that Gran Canaria’s many fine dining establishments offer a variety of delectable fresh seafood items, but meat-lovers will also find plenty to enjoy, as goat, pork and veal make up the staples of most menus. It’s worth noting that even the most casual bistro here offers a dazzling view of the island’s spectacular landscape, such as La Marinera (pictured, above top). The seaside restaurant is the ideal starting point to sample classic Canarian dishes. To compliment your meal, be sure to order a side of Papas Arrugadas, salt-wrinkled potatoes served with mojo sauce, a peppery dip. My favorite culinary experience, however, was certainly Let Me Take You, a picturesque cafe situated among the magnificent mountains in Tejeda (that’s one of the views in the second photo above). Owners Nikos and Fernando, a charming gay couple, are ridiculously attentive to their guests and provide an exquisite menu that ranges from palatable homemade soups to avant-garde spins on traditional Iberian delicacies. It’s worth seeking out.
You think you’re a drag aficionado because you watch a TV competition series hosted by RuPaul each week? You haven’t seen a thing until you witness the outrageous, larger-than-life spectacle of Drag Gala in the island’s sprawling Santa Catalina Park. Contestants, who come from all over the island, as well as Europe, go all out with costumes that make Leigh Bowery pause. Expect lots of pyrotechnics, queens making memorable entrances on motorcycles, dancers in towering platform shoes, and more that must be seen to be believed. It’s such a monumental event that it attracts contestants who fly from the continent, is attended by celebs and political figures, and draws a crowd of more than 30,000 people. The demand for tickets is so insatiable that the competition is broadcast live on local television to appease those unable to attend. It’s truly unforgettable.
The coastline of Gran Canaria compares favorably to almost any other on earth and there’s no better way to take in as much of it as possible than by hiring a yacht to sail through the tranquil blue waters. Juanvi Burriana, the skipper of the vessel, isn’t the crusty old sailor with a long white beard you’ve seen in old movies, he’s as handsome a man as you’ll encounter in the islands (that’s him in the photo above, on top with one of his equally dashing first mates). His company Canarias Gay provides both half- and full-day sailing adventures that will allow you to revel in the sight of the breathtaking coves and cliffs, as well as the pristine beaches. And if you’re feeling peckish, he’ll lay out a gourmet spread fit for a queen. If you want to sun bathe nude on the deck for a full-body tan, be his guest. If you’re lucky, you might just catch sight of a pack of mermen splashing around in the sea.
Sometimes described as a mini continent, Gran Canaria offers a climate and landscape as diverse as any in the world. Hikers travel from around the globe to navigate the scenic valleys and climb the volcanic hills. Human life in Gan Canaria dates back two thousand years so if you’re interested in learning more about the island’s historical significance, there are many well-preserved archaeological sites available to inspect. You’re also sure to enjoy a few hours at the Casa de Colón, or the Christopher Columbus House. On display behind the home’s ornate doorways are many pre-Columbian artifacts and a replica of a cabin of Columbus’ ship La Niña. Don’t miss an opportunity to take a half-hour camel ride through the famous sand dunes. You’ll feel like Florence of Arabia.
Among the most visited sights on the island, the sand dunes of Maspalomas are a favorite area for nudists and members of the gay community. Here lies miles of wonderful coastline with sand dunes, wide beaches, shallow waters and an excellent all-year-round climate. Hike through the dunes toward the ocean. You’ll find the clothing-optional gay beach located between kiosks 3 and 7. Here‘s a helpful list of upcoming cruising and fetish events scheduled for the area.
I’ve saved the best for last. If there’s a gay bar-version of Disneyland, it’s the Yumbo Center. There are more than 200 restaurants, tattoo parlors and clothing shops. Yumbo’s dozens of gay bars cater to every taste and whim, from darkened back rooms that wouldn’t be out of place in Berlin to cruisy sidewalk cafes that recall Paris and Rome. Of course, there are also countless drag shows and celebrity-impersonator revues going on simultaneously. Beer is cheap and the men are cheaper. (Just kidding about that last bit.) Yumbo also serves as a great meeting place for LGBT folk from around the globe.