Las Palmas De Gran Canaria: the jewel of the Atlantic

Grand Canaria offers tourists a wide range of activities to choose from.

By Ashwathy P. Menon

Las Palmas De Gran Canaria: Located in the Atlantic Ocean, 210 km from the northwestern coast of Africa, the island of Gran Canaria is the perfect getaway for those who are looking for a vacation far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Gran Canaria, along with six other islands, forms the archipelago of the Canary Islands, which is famed for its sun and sand.

With pristine waters, sun-kissed beaches, lush green palm trees and a laid back atmosphere, Gran Canaria is the perfect place to unwind. Renowned for its weather, Gran Canaria is Europe’s premier tourist spot; when the temperature dips below freezing in continental Europe, the sun still shines brightly on the island.

Gran Canaria, the biggest of the islands after Tenerife, is very aptly called the “miniature continent,” owing to fact that one can find a variety of landscapes and differing climates throughout the island – from mist laden meadows and lush greenery in the north to deep ravines and volcanic slopes in the west to the sun kissed beaches and near-desert vegetation in the south. From trekking to kayaking, this diversity in landscape offers the curious tourist a wide range of activities to choose from.

The city of Las Palmas is the capital of the Canary Islands along with the city of Santa Cruz in Tenerife. Founded in 1478, by the advancing Castilian army, the city was named “Real de Las Palmas” by Juan Rejón, who lead the army to a glorious victory after defeating the Guanches, the native inhabitants of the island.

An oasis in the middle of the vast expanse of the Atlantic, Las Palmas has played an important role in history. The epicenter of the Trans-Atlantic shipping trade and the docking point for almost all major cruises in the world, Las Palmas’s harbor, Puerto de la Luz, has maintained its glory throughout history.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus had docked at the port of Las Palmas before embarking on his voyage, “The Enterprise of the Indies,” during which he discovered the Americas. Today, the Casa de Colon, the Columbus House, stands in Vegueta in memoriam of his visits.

Las Palmas had been known for its pomp and riches, luring many in pursuit of gold. In the late 18th century came the infamous Sir Francis Drake with his mighty army and pillaged the town – from riches to rags. Taking inspiration from the British, the Dutch too followed suit, and under Vice Admiral Pieter Van der Does, they attempted to raid the city. However, the Dutch did not succeed as their British counterparts did. They were forced out by Castilian troops.

Today, Las Palmas has grown into a fast-paced, multicultural and cosmopolitan city. As the world is becoming smaller with the dawn of the new era, and as accessibility is increasing to the Canaries, Las Palmas is being thronged by tourists from all over the world, especially from northern Europe.

Most of the major attractions in the city are located within close vicinity of each other, allowing the curious tourist the liberty to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the city by foot and at their own pace.

Santa Catalina, located in the center of the bustling metropolis, is the biggest square in Las Palmas; the host of major events in the city. One of the biggest events of the year is the WOMAD: World of Music, Art and Dance, a cultural extravaganza. For one week during the month of November, enthusiasts from all around the world flock the city to celebrate a week full of festivities with non-stop music, dance and drinks.

During the rest of the year, Santa Catalina, with its friendly crowd and cheerful vibe, is the perfect place for strolling, cycling or for just enjoying the breeze and the smell of the sea. One can notice men and women enjoying their cuppas, playing cards and chatting with friends while persuasive street vendors pursue unsuspecting tourists to cough up a Euro or two for their merchandise.

In the middle of the square lies the Museo Elder, Las Palmas’ museum of science and technology, which beckons the amateur scientist to immerse themselves into a world full of gears and gadgets that click, hum and turn. The Museo Elder is very popular with young connoisseurs of science, mesmerizing them with the unbelievable feats of the human mind. There are regular exhibitions held by visiting museums and workshops conducted by engineering and architecture students from the local university.

A stone’s throw away from Santa Catalina is Las Palmas’ busiest shopping district, Mesa y Lopez. This grand boulevard, lined with blooming flowers, wooden benches and antiquated Victorian lamp posts, may seem like an anachronism from the past, but one would be mislead.

The street is lined on either sides with tall, modern buildings and screaming out from their facades are the biggest brands from the fashion industry. For all those shopaholics out there, Mesa y Lopez will surely satisfy all their shopping fantasies. One can find a range of shops there: from high end, well known brands to local artisanal cloth merchants, selling the most amazing hand knit woolen scarves and souvenirs.

On Mesa y Lopez also stands a showroom of Spain’s most preferred shopping establishment, El Corte Ingles. Spread over two seven-storied buildings that rise majestically from either sides of the main street, El Corte Ingles encompasses the needs of the most demanding shopper – however elusive or rare the product is, one is sure to find it in the aisles and on the shelves of El Corte Ingles.

As one follows along Mesa y Lopez, one will eventually arrive at Playa de Las Cante­­­ras, Las Palmas’ longest beach. A beautiful stretch of golden sand and serene waters, Las Canteras is the ideal place for sunbathing, and for both swimming and surfing. The water is crystal clear, pristine and refreshingly cool. As the warmth of the sun seeps into your skin and as the lush palm trees rock left to right in tune with the breeze (which seems to be ubiquitous in Las Palmas), one is transported into a whole new world.

After a swim, one may want to catch a bite to eat from the umpteen restaurants that line the beach. Right from traditional Spanish to contemporary fusion cuisine, one has a wide range of options to choose from while embarking on this culinary journey.

One might want to sample the delicious Paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish cooked with seafood and saffron, or perhaps a plate of Papas Arrugadas – baby potatoes cooked in their jackets, in seawater and served with spicy red pepper sauce called Mojo. One can pick up some freshly steamed Chinese dumplings, or indulge in the pleasures of a piece of warm Baklava – rich, sweet and sticky. Among the 30 or 40 restaurants that line Las Canteras, one is sure to find a satisfactory meal.

At the northern end of the beach rises one of Las Palmas’ most iconic structures, the Alfredo Kraus Auditorium. Named after the famous Canarian tenor, the auditorium is home to the distinguished Philharmonic Orchestra of Las Palmas. For lovers of art, the auditorium is a treat for the eyes. It’s sharp contours and geometric columns, smooth curves and arches and elegant interiors make it an architectural masterpiece.

The oldest part of the city comprises the district of Vegueta, which lies in the southwest. It has remained virtually unchanged ever since Juan de Rejon founded it in 1427. Narrow, winding streets lined with exquisite and ornate ancestral homes, resonate with the traditions and beliefs that have been passed from generation to generationO. With square windows, intricately carved balconies and bright colors, these houses are part of the charm of Vegueta. One can spend hours and hours simply strolling through the beautiful streets listening to the stories that the worn cobblestones narrate.

The skyline of Vegueta is dominated by the towering Catedral de Santa Ana. Guarded by a set of four stone dogs, this church is perfect blend of gothic and classical architecture. With its tall Doric and Ionic columns and gothic arches, the cathedral rises magnificently out of low-lying homes. As sunlight trickles in the through the stain glass rose windows, and as candles are lit during the evening sermon, spirituality and religion take on a whole new perspective.

Vegueta is also home to Teatro Perez Galdos, the best theatre in the city. Plays, operas, recitals and other events are held almost everyday. Its elegant and refined interiors reflect the high tastes of the local population. The shopping district of Triana neighbors the theatre. A wide boulevard leads the curious shopper into discovering the delights of the Canaries while at the same time giving them the comfort of shopping from almost all the popular brands.

Triana leads into Parque San Telmo; serene and lush green, it is an oasis in the centre of the city. Dotted with tall green palm trees and wooden benches, the park is the perfect getaway from the chaos of the city. As the Canarian sun glistens off the glazed tiles that decorate the arabesque artdeco café, and the breeze rejuvenates the senses, one can enjoy the pleasures of a Leche Leche – a shot of dark hot espresso coffee, served with a rather generous helping of thick, sweet and velvety condensed milk.

Las Palmas is a city of contradictions; of the old and the new; of the constant and the changing; of tradition and free thought. With its eclectic mix of peoples, cultures and worldviews, Las Palmas has become a paragon of unity in diversity.

The city hosts a diverse population of about 400,000 people, a majority of which is Spanish. The minority communities – Indian, Korean, German, Latin American, Chinese and African -have carved out a niche of their own in the Canarian society.

Las Palmas is the perfect blend between the old and the new – one can find oneself interacting with the latest technology and developments but at the same time be surrounded by the security, warmth and the sense of belonging that has been passed on from generations. This blending of cultures; the intermingling of ideas, thoughts, traditions and beliefs has condensed together to form the city of Las Palmas, a deserving finalist for “European Capital of Culture for 2016.” (Global India Newswire)

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