As originally published at Bear World Magazine. Content provided by our partner GCGAY, the gay guide of Gran Canaria (in Spanish). Some photos by Canary Islands Official Tourism Board. Published under license CC-BY 4.0.
I’ll give you some raw numbers so you get the idea. This morning, you arrived in Gran Canaria after a 3-hour flight from mainland Europe. Maybe you stay at one of the nineteen men-only complexes. Yours is hosting a big pool party today, with a DJ and two hundred guests. You take a shower and get to discover the Yumbo, the World’s biggest LGTB leisure centre. It’s an open-air gargantuan complex open twenty hours a day, every day of the year, with almost a hundred gay venues around a landscaped square. Yumbo Centre in taking in thousands of guys for dancing, drinking and cruising every single night of the week.
Next day, together with around a hundred other men, you cross the Dunes of Maspalomas and the oasis inside them, maybe the World’s largest and most picturesque cruising ground. Half an hour later you reach “El Siete” gay beach (literally “Number Seven”), where six hundred more men are waiting for you in the Sun, with little or no clothing at all (I repeat, in Winter)... There’s even a bear zone, to the right! In the evening, you can choose from among eleven men-only clubs where you shake off your sand and your shyness. Finally you have dinner at one of the hundreds of restaurants in the area. You decide to start a calmer second night and order a cocktail in one of the thirty gay terrace bars. You breath deeply with a smile in your face while staring at the blinking lights outside… to suddenly realize this place is like a gay Disneyland! There’s no time to get bored, everything grabs your attention, and everything is definitely BIG.
Welcome to the Canaries
The Canary Islands are by far the most important beach destination in Europe, thanks to their sunny, subtropical weather all year round, but away from the dangers and natural hazards of other countries. They’re part of Spain and the European Union, though they are located much closer to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. The seven islands are incredibly diverse. The landscape ranges from 30 km-long golden, sandy beaches with turquoise waters, to dramatic valleys with 4 km-high volcanos. From quaint mountain villages to luxury marinas and vibrant modern cities. From breathtaking deserts to foggy forests and snowy peaks…. all within an hour-long drive! Canarian culture itself is a captivating blend of European modernity, Spanish openness, African serenity and Latin American charm that takes some time to discover.The largest tourist resort is called Maspalomas, on the Southern tip of Gran Canaria island. To call Maspalomas “gay-friendly” is irrelevant and self-evident. This place had been welcoming gay tourists for 30 years, when someone on the continent invented that “gay-friendly” thing. Yes, there’s a gay district in Playa del Inglés, around the aforementioned Yumbo Centre and nearby Tirajana Avenue… but you will spot gay couples holding hands all over the island. Canarians are used to diversity, and they consider themselves as the most liberal community inside the already progressive Spain. That may explain why all the funniest and most popular events in Gran Canaria’s cultural calendar are as gay as a Christmas tree! We are talking about the hugely successful Maspalomas Gay Pride (mid May), the uproarious Gay German Carnival (mid November), and the Canarian Carnivals (mid February). The pinnacle of the later is a World-famous Drag Queen Gala which is broadcasted live from the capital city of Las Palmas to the whole country. This year, they even had a public-funded drag queen school for kids… So, you get the idea?
Bear fun under the Sun
After the 90s, Gran Canaria naturally became a “bear island” as twinks and waxed muscle maries started to lose interest in favor of more “fashionable” places, such as Ibiza or Mykonos. Maspalomas Pride still attracts a massive younger and most diverse crowd. But for the rest of the year, the common age range of visitors spans from 30 to 50, and their usual attitude is… well, nonexistent. The bear and masculine scene in Gran Canaria feels warmer than the equivalent in any big capital. Maybe it’s because all the patrons are on holidays… but the inclusive and easy-going nature of gay bears is especially obvious in the island, no matter if you are in a fab beach club or a hardcode sex bar. By the way, let’s visit just some of the milestones along Maspalomas bear route! All of them are on walking distance inside the gay district.
Normally you’ll spend your mornings at the beach, though one day you may try the swimming pool of a gay complex, such as the laid-back Los Almendros, or Basement Studios if you’re feeling more adventurous (it also doubles as an open-air daytime nudist sexclub!) Later on, many bears gather at Café Wien and MAUU, in the Cita Centre’s 1st floor. The former is the classic meeting point. You can’t miss the priceless contrast between the macho crowd and the incredibly camp décor. The most popular hours are from 4 to 6 PM, when they usually run out of their remarkable cakes. MAUU, adjacent to Wien, is a more modern alternative.
After a shower and some dinner, the bear route continues with a first drink at an intimate terrace bar called Bärenhöhle… Keep calm about the name and just say “Barenhole”; you’ll be equally understood! The name means "bear cave", and inside it you will enjoy the charming manners of the owner, Paul, together with his hilarious music compilations and astounding teddy bear collection… He’s got hundreds of them, each one with a story behind! At midnight, ursine hordes take over several bars, such as Miau. They’re all the typical men-only clubs with good house music, and a gleeful colour scheme of black in every possible shade. If you’re feeling horny, at 1 AM you can look for someone to rub your fur with at a sexclub. The most popular ones among bears are Bunker, Zoo and Reds (usually in that order), just meters away from the previous bars. Finally, unless there's any special event at Yumbo, our bears go back to their dens around 4 AM at the latest. They usually prefer to enjoy outdoor activities early next day, such as visiting the Dunes or joining a gay cruise or a gay excursion to the mountains!
Gran Canaria is a bugdet destination, as a VAT-exempt territory with such a competitive offer. For a start, getting here is cheap if you consider the distance. A Ryanair return flight from London this March (high season here) is under 70 € at the time of writing this report (Jan 2017). Once here, a regular apartment, shared among two friends, will usually cost less than 200 € per week and person. Men-only bungalows such as Los Almendros or Axel Beach are a bit more pricey, but the experience is well worth it. Beers and soft drinks at the Yumbo Centre are around 4 or 5 € at night, while a glass of booze is less than 6 or 7 €. The entrance to a men-only nightclub, from 0 to 8 €. Even luxury, Las Vegas-style hotels at the ocean front are reasonably priced. Finally, your regular shopping spree including designer clothing, perfumes, jewelry, tobacco or liquors could easily cost 40-50% less in comparison with your home country.
Petrol is around 1 € per liter and roads are quite good, so renting a car is an excellent idea to discover the island beyond the tourist area. You can also visit the Tourism Office in the outskirts of Yumbo Centre to get maps and personal information about guided excursions, all sorts of amusements, sports and adventure activities.
Maspalomas’ lengthy experience as an inexpensive gay Mecca also has a drawback: a part of the offer for the gay clientele can look obsolete. Yumbo Centre needs refurbishment and some of its shops can be screamingly tacky. Also, beware of strangely cheap apartments as they can be really ageing sometimes. Those are really the only warnings for the prospect traveller. The rest is just pure, relaxing fun!