Lessons Learned by an American in the Canary Islands

My family and I recently went to the Canary Islands for the first time. Even though I tried to do my research before we went, there were still some things that happened after we got there and I learned as we went along. I’d like to pass along some of these things that I learned in hopes of making things a bit easier for other first-timers to the Canary Islands.

Learn Spanish before you go to the Canary Islands. Don’t expect everyone to speak English. While some people know some English in the Canary Islands, in my experience, I came to assume that most people would in fact not speak English and I would need to speak Spanish. Never once was this an issue, however, and while my Spanish is ok, I’m by no means fluent. All that being said, there are a fair amount of ex-pats from the UK that live and work in the Canary Islands.

Carnival in the Canary Islands is a lot of fun and I highly recommend going during this time if you can. We watched a Carnival parade in Gran Canaria and it was everything I had hoped it would be. This was actually one of the items on my bucket list and I was glad to be able to experience it. Just learn from my mistake and either choose your accommodations very far in advance (several months to a year) so you can find a place within walking distance from the parade route or if you have a rental car like we did, park your car in a place where you won’t be blocked off by the parade route when you want to leave.

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One of many floats from one of many Carnival parades

Although the water is perfectly safe to drink in the Canary Islands, it does not taste that great so most people buy bottled water. One resort I stayed at even went so far as to say the water isn’t safe for brushing your teeth with, which is not true. You do get used to the taste over time, too, or at least I found it wasn’t quite as bad by the end of my two-week vacation.

Parking in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria can be difficult to find and free parking pretty much doesn’t exist but it’s not completely impossible. Although not free but pretty cheap, if you can find a turquoise-marked parking spot, take it. You will need to enter your car’s license plate number in the kiosk and put the receipt on your dashboard. There are also parking garages throughout Gran Canaria, especially the busier areas like Las Palmas. The same can be said for Tenerife, although we found parking to be a bit easier in general on this island than Gran Canaria.

Having a rental car is by far better than taking the bus to get around the islands. Driving in the Canary Islands is pretty easy for the most part. We found locals to be courteous drivers and not overly-aggressive. One of the worst parts about driving in the Canary Islands is how narrow some of the side roads are. I recommend getting a small rental car. Overall, the roads in Tenerife seem to be a bit wider than in Gran Canaria in general.

Playa del Ingles in Gran Canaria is an extremely touristy area. I personally don’t care for touristy areas, especially when it’s a natural setting like a beach, park, or other area like Niagara Falls but obviously some people like this kind of thing because touristy areas always seem to be over-run with people. I just don’t like all the mini-golf, kitschy shops, restaurants with mediocre at best food, and rows of hotels. If you can get past all that, this beach is a nice enough beach. However, it is clothing-optional so if that bothers you, it might be best to skip it. There are also touristy areas in the southern part of Tenerife as well but they didn’t seem so over-the-top as Playa del Ingles.

The sand dunes of Maspalomas that are behind Playa del Ingles are pretty cool, however, and are totally worth a trip to the area. We had so much fun playing on the dunes and even sliding down the hills of sand. Just be aware that you need to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms here and facilities are limited. In fact, we found several other beach areas on the islands where you had to pay 50 cents to use the restrooms.

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Maspalomas sand dunes. This place is enormous!

In addition to all of the beautiful and varied beaches in the Canary Islands, the options for hiking are also numerous and varied. We hiked through more canyons than I can remember and had so many experiences where we hiked to the top of a mountain and were rewarded with a gorgeous view. In addition to hiking up steep trails of mountainsides, we also had some wonderful strolls around small, quaint towns where we were also rewarded with seaside or mountain views. Plus, there are several botanical gardens around the islands that you can walk around, most of which are free.

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Hiking in Teide National Park

There is no central air conditioning and heat in the Canary Islands. In the cooler months people use small space heaters and blankets to keep warm at night. In the warmer months, people use fans and open windows. Because the islands are off the northwestern coast of Africa, the weather is pretty mild here year-round. It does help if you dress appropriately too and bring a jacket for the cooler months.

Gran Canaria and Tenerife are both extremely varied in topography and general vibe in different parts of the islands (i.e., North vs. South) so if you just stay at your resort in one little sliver of the island, you won’t get a real feel for the island as a whole. Likewise if you just go to one island you’ll miss out on what other islands have to offer. I feel like I missed out by only visiting two islands but that seemed reasonable for a two-week vacation. Next time I’d like to visit another island. I really liked Tenerife quite a bit better than Gran Canaria and would go back to Tenerife, but probably not Gran Canaria.

Choices for inter-island hopping include taking a ferry or flying. When I checked into prices and options for going from Gran Canaria to Tenerife, the prices weren’t hugely different to fly versus take a ferry. We enjoyed the ferry to the San Juan Islands in Washington in the US and from Gozo to Malta so much that we decided to take the ferry to Tenerife. This was a mistake. The water was so rough both my daughter and husband were sick the entire time so they didn’t even enjoy it. Honestly, there isn’t much to look at either other than the water. Next time I would fly for sure.

Having a mobile WiFi or MiFi is a valuable tool to have when traveling abroad, and the Canary Islands are no exception. I first used a MiFi when I went to Malta last year and had such a great experience with it, I decided to rent one for the Canary Islands. I did have a bit more trouble finding a company with coverage in the Canary Islands, but I eventually chose California-based Vision Global WiFi, and we never had any problems  getting a signal with the one exception of once in Teide National Park. My husband anticipated this and downloaded the area from Google maps onto his phone so we could still drive around without getting lost. In addition to using Google Maps for everywhere we drove, we also used the MiFi several times to translate Spanish words or phrases or look up other information while we were away from our room.

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The MiFi is about the size of an adult hand so it’s easy to take with you.

If you do nothing else in Tenerife, go to Teide National Park . It was my favorite thing to do in Tenerife and it’s free too. If the weather had been better, we would have spent more than one day here and also taken the cable car up, but it was just too windy and rainy during the days we could have gone there. We did finally get to go hiking in the park, on our last full day in Tenerife, and loved every minute of it. Another piece of advice regarding Teide National Park is to stay until dusk. We had dinner at Mariposa, a restaurant close to the park that I thought was going to be touristy with mediocre food but it was actually really good. When we were driving out of the park, we got some cool shots of the sky and moon. Also, all of the cyclists we saw earlier when driving around the park were all gone, along with the majority of cars as well so driving out of the park was a breeze.

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Teide National Park at dusk with the moon

The Canary Islands are beautiful and remind me in many ways of Hawaii but they are unique in many other ways (it’s much cheaper here than Hawaii for starters). I would happily go back and explore another Canary Island, Lanzarote, which I hear is a hotspot for athletes. Who knows, maybe I’ll run a half marathon here one day Lanzarote Marathon and Half Marathon.

Have any of you been to the Canary Islands? What was your experience like? If you haven’t been, is is on your list now?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

History, Science, and Wine in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, Canary Islands- Some Rainy Day Ideas

The Canary Islands are full of places for outdoor enthusiasts like me. If you want to read about some beautiful beaches in Gran Canaria and Tenerife, I have a post here. My family and I wanted to go beyond exploring the beaches, though. We wanted to go to the Canary Islands and go hiking as much as possible. When there was a high chance of rain several days in a row I started exploring some indoor activities.

Being big history buffs, my family and I decided to visit La Cueva Pintada. The Painted Cave, in the historical center of Gáldar, is in the north of Gran Canaria (Calle Audiencia 2) and is well-marked with signposts. Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park is a site from the Paleolithic era and includes part of a village with over 50 houses and caves. For more information regarding hours, admission, and tours, see the website here.

Before we went to La Cueva Pintada, I didn’t expect the area to be that large, but the archaeological area was big enough that we spent quite a while here. The actual painted cave is only open to guided tours but you don’t have to spend the entire time on a guided tour. We pretty much just went with a group inside the painted cave and spent the rest of our time here exploring on our own. All of the areas have information in multiple languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish.

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La Cueva Pintada Museum and Archaeological Park
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Inside one of the homes from La Cueva Pintada

Later during our vacation on the island of Tenerife, we also needed a rain contingency plan. There was an almost 100% chance of rain and strong winds all day during one of our vacation days so we decided to go to a museum rather than sit around in our hotel room all day.

The Science and Cosmos Museum is a great rainy-day activity especially if you have children, even older kids, or if you love science and technology and don’t have kids. I saw plenty of adults at the museum without a child in sight, so this isn’t just for kids! Admission is a reasonable €5 for adults and €3 for residents. The website is here.

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The Science and Cosmos Museum

There are tons of hands-on activities at La Ciencia y el Cosmos as well as a planetarium. All of the signs for each activity area are in Spanish so if you’re not at least somewhat fluent, you probably won’t get as much out of the museum. Also part of Los Museos de Tenerife are La Naturaleza y el Hombre (Nature and Man) and Historia y Anthropología (History and Anthropology). We spent a couple of hours at the science museum playing before we went to a nearby winery, Casa Museo del Vino.

Casa Museo del Vino is much more than just a winery and I was lucky to have stumbled across it because honestly it didn’t come up in the usual searches. Located in Santa Brígida in Gran Canaria, the wine house museum combines the tasting and marketing of Gran Canaria Denomination of Origin wines along with a museum. While my husband and I were tasting red wines, our daughter was walking around in an adjacent room learning all about the history of the winery and the area and trying to pet the resident cat.

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Museum part of Casa Museo del Vino. Credit holaislascanarias.com

At Casa Museo del Vino, food is also available during busier months, with a speciality in Canary cuisine, an assortment of cheeses, and traditional sweets. Although entry is free, wine tastings and food are of course not free. We tried four different red wines for one euro each, and these were generous pours so there was enough of each for both my husband and myself. There are also a wide variety of bottles you can buy inside the store and we left with one bottle from the four that we had tried. More information with hours and location can be found on the website here.

Science, history, and wine are always a good combination in my book! This coming from a scientist, history-buff, and wine-lover. I was glad to see Gran Canaria and Tenerife didn’t disappoint on any of those fronts. I know Gran Canaria also has a science museum and many wineries, so there are lots of options on both Gran Canaria and Tenerife.

Do any of you like checking out local science museums, historical sites, and wineries when you travel like I do? What are some of your favorites in or out of the United States? In the United States, San Diego, Chicago and Washington, D.C. has some fantastic museums.

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Some of the Most Beautiful Beaches of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, Canary Islands

While in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we spent time at several beaches, all of which are vastly different from one another. Just a brief intro first, though. The Canary Islands are an archipelago of seven Spanish islands off the coast of Africa. Tenerife is the largest island and Gran Canaria is the third-largest island. The Canary Islands were formed by volcanos and as such have black lava beaches as well as man-made white sand beaches.

Las Canteras Beach is right in Las Palmas and is lined with hotels, apartments, shops and restaurants along the 3.5 km stretch of beach. I ran along the pedestrian area between the beach and shops, and while I had to weave around other people walking, I still enjoyed running there. The golden sand beach is sheltered by a lava reef and swimming here is safe in certain parts, although you often see surfers here.

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Las Canteras Beach with too many surfers to count!

Along the southern part of Gran Canaria there are many beaches. Maspalomas beach is adjacent to Playa del Ingles, which together are 6 km long and are nudist-friendly. Maspalomas is famous for the sand dunes that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the Sahara rather than the Canary Islands. This area is so enormous that even though it’s one of the most popular beach areas, I’ve been told it rarely gets crowded, especially in the dunes. There is also a lighthouse at one end of the beach.

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Sand dunes at Maspalomas Beach

Restaurants are everywhere in the town of Playa del Ingles, along with hotels, bars, and apartments. Beware that this area is extremely touristy, so if that’s not your thing, you might want to just focus your time on the sand dunes as my family and I did. Other popular beaches in the southern part of Gran Canaria include the busy Puerto Rico and Anfi del Mar as well as quieter Puerto de Mogán, Tauro, and San Agustín.

Las Playas Alguineguin is a smaller, less touristy black sand beach that I thoroughly enjoyed. It also has some restaurants and shops within walking distance. We got some gelato then walked across the street to the beach and spent some time just relaxing and enjoying the scenery. There are other smaller beaches like the one in Alguineguin, such as Tufia, a small beach in Telde; just take the El Goro exit from the GC-1 motorway and follow the signs.

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Las Playas Alguineguin

Moving on to the island of Tenerife, I spent quite a bit of time in the Costa Adeje region, which is where El Duque beach is along with nearby Fañabé. Both beaches are within a short walk of many restaurants and shops. Also in the southern part of Tenerife in Cristianos is Las Vistas, coming in at 850 meters long, so it does get crowded during the high season.

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One of many elaborate sand sculptures we saw in the Canary Islands

In the northern part of Tenerife are several beaches of note including Las Teresitas, a 10 minute drive from Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and Benijo, a natural beach popular for water sports with the Anaga Mountains providing extra visual interest. Puerto de la Cruz has the beautiful Playa Jardín surrounded by the botanical garden. To get to El Bollullo, another black sand beach from Puerto de la Cruz you can either walk through the banana plantation or take the TF-5 to Rincón.

Two final beaches that are surrounded by the unique nature of the island of Tenerife are Los Gigantes and the beach of Masca. We tried to take a boat tour in Los Gigantes while we were there but a storm had come in, bringing strong winds, so all boat tours were cancelled for several days. Many people don’t realize that the town of Masca also has a beach but there is one about a 3 to 4 hour hike through the gorge. We decided not to go to the beach because it had just rained a lot and I read that the area tends to be muddy to the point of being dangerous after heavy rains. Instead, we just walked around the town of Masca and had a snack there while enjoying the gorgeous views.

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Rocky black sand beach where we tried to get a boat tour of Los Gigantes

I have to end this post by saying there’s so much more to the Canary Islands than just beaches. We spent a majority of our time in Gran Canaria and Tenerife hiking, walking around botanical gardens, and exploring the islands in other ways. I’ll get into some more of those things in later posts.

Have any of you been to the Canary Islands? Which island(s) did you visit? What did you think of them?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

Running in Gran Canaria and Tenerife in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands aren’t exactly runner-friendly at first glance, at least not the two islands I visited, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. There are pretty much no sidewalks and not even much of a shoulder along the roadways to run on. On my first day running on Gran Canaria, I had to run along a highway facing traffic with a tiny shoulder when I was lucky. I had to cross the road and jump over a guardrail at a couple of points. It wasn’t exactly my idea of running safely. However, I should state that I was staying at an apartment in a residential area, not in a hotel in a more touristy section; this is an important point I’ll get into later.

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Running after my aha! moment because I didn’t want my first photo to be of a sidewalk!

On my second day of running in Gran Canaria, I decided to go a different route and run along the walkway near the beach, namely Playa de Las Canteras. While this was safer, it wasn’t necessarily easier. I had to constantly dodge people and swerve around people when I was running. At least I wasn’t dodging cars, though. I do have to say the drivers in the Canary Islands are extremely pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. Every single time when I was running along the roadside and a car would come, they would change lanes to give me more space. I saw this happen to cyclists and other runners all the time as well.

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A typical sidewalk in Gran Canaria. Not exactly my idea of runner-friendly, although fine for walking!

Not one to give up easily, I decided to try a different strategy for my third day of running in Gran Canaria. When we were driving, I watched for any signs of places where I could run that would be close-by the apartment where we were staying. I happened to see a bunch of people walking along an area that curved along the beach and it seemed to be a designated walkway (not a sidewalk because as I mentioned earlier there are no sidewalks of any real substance in Gran Canaria Island).

I ventured out the next morning running the direction of the walkers I had seen the previous day, and it was my aha! moment. This was what I had been looking for. This was the perfect running route for the rest of my time in Gran Canaria. I only had to go a short distance alongside a road to get to this runners’ oasis so it was perfect.

After staying for a week in Gran Canaria, we took a ferry to Tenerife and stayed there for another week. I found Tenerife to be even more hilly than Gran Canaria (the Canary Islands were formed by volcanos so they are all very mountainous with sometimes very steep hills). We stayed at a resort in Tenerife a little less than a mile from a beach so I would just run down the hill to the beach on the tiny sidewalks and run along the broad walkways there. It was great until I had to run back up the hills, but I have to say it did get easier by the end of the week so I think it was great training for me.

Tenerife also has many walkways along the beach with shops and restaurants like Gran Canaria so as along as you can find one of these, you at least have a mostly flat area to run and it will keep you off the roads. I also noticed some wider sidewalks in Tenerife so if you had to, you could run on the sidewalks at least until you came to a beach area. I did run on the sand once in Tenerife for about 5 or 10 minutes, but I’m just not a fan of running on the sand, and Tenerife is no exception. For me, the sand is either too soft or too hard. In Tenerife I came across many rocks so there’s another reason to not run on the beach.

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Running in Tenerife

Over the course of two weeks, I ran 10 times and never missed a training run. I adjusted my running schedule so that on travel days I would have a day off. Honestly, I’m surprised I was able to run that much and not miss a day. It rained once or twice but never anything too bad. The worst was the wind on one day where it felt like it was pushing me backwards.

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My daughter and running partner for many runs in the Canary Islands

I think the scenery was my biggest motivator in getting me out the door for my runs. I would go out every morning looking forward to my run and what I would get to see that time along my running route. Now that I’m back home, I have to say I miss running in the Canary Islands and am envious of people who live along a coast and get to run with ocean views all the time!

How many of you are lucky enough to run along a coastal area? Does it get routine or do you still love it?

Also, if any of you are fans of Honey Stinger or would like to try some, I have three one-use codes for 37% off for anyone not already part of the #HSHive. Email or message me if you’d like one of these codes and I’ll happily send one to you.

Happy running!

Donna

 

 

 

Carnival in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Spending time in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands during Carnival was on my bucket list last year and I got to experience it this year! I had been to Aruba during Carnival several years ago  and while it was a lot of fun, it was nothing compared to Carnival in Las Palmas. The people of Las Palmas really know how to party! I’ve heard the neighboring island of Tenerife also puts on an awesome Carnival. Maybe I’ll get to experience that next time!

Carnival 2018 in Las Palmas was from the 28th of January to the 18th of February and included everything from a drag queen gala, children’s parades, canine carnival, and body makeup contest, to name a few events. This festival has been going on from the 15th century, with a major revival of the street festival in 1976 so there is a ton of history in this event. It seemed like everywhere around us, people were dressed up in costume, dancing, and drinking, so it seems to be a hugely popular event in the Canary Islands.

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Carnival in Las Palmas is like Halloween in the United States on steroids. Not only were there groups of people walking the entire distance of the parade route or dancing in party trucks dressed in costume but many spectators were also dressed in costumes. Some of the costumes were really creative too, like the pair we saw dressed up as the first apes in space (I wish I had a good photo of them but I don’t). The main parade lasted for hours but we chose to just watch a portion of it before we found a spot to grab dinner (which was full of other people in costume as well as the workers being dressed up).

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Leaving Carnival was another story entirely and one we had not planned appropriately for. Since so many roads were closed off for the parade, we were unable to get onto the road we needed to get back to our Airbnb apartment about 30 minutes away. There were no side roads we could take because of the nature of the island and layout of the roads. Ultimately we had to drive very far away from Las Palmas to get back on the only road to our apartment.

Lesson learned:  either stay in Las Palmas during a major Carnival event like this parade and walk to your accomodations or plan ahead of time how you’ll get around all of the barricades. If you plan to stay in Las Palmas during Carnival, you’ll want to make reservations well in advance as most of the nicer places will be booked, which is why we were staying 30 minutes from Las Palmas.

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Have any of you ever experienced Carnival around the world? What was it like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

The Top of My Travel Bucket List

I feel like I’ve traveled a lot in the United States but not nearly as much throughout the rest of the world. Sometimes I envy people in Europe because they have so many other countries at their fingertips. I’ve only recently been to Chile, my first adventure in South America and I’ve never been to Asia, Africa, or Antarctica, which means I’ve been to four continents. This also means there are a whole lot of places I’d like to go to. I’m only going to give details here about the top three places on my bucket list, otherwise this post would be way too long!

One place I’m extremely curious about is the Canary Islands. It’s kind of funny because I’ve never been to Spain but I want to go to the Canary Islands, which are a Spanish archipelago off the coast of Africa. Some people might ask, “Why aren’t you going to Spain? Why the Canary Islands instead?” I guess my family and I just don’t travel like most Americans. We don’t go to Disney every summer or the same beach house every summer. We don’t always go to the usual hot spots (although we have been to many of the more popular places too including Disney); we like to veer off the beaten path a bit, however. I have no doubt I will eventually go to mainland Spain, but it’s just not a priority on my travel bucket list right now.

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Canary Islands- photo credit theculturetrip.com

So why the Canary Islands? The weather for starters. The Canary Islands have near-perfect weather year-round, perfect for spending time outdoors. Each of the islands are also diverse from one another, with subtropical greenery on one island, another has mountains and waterfalls, another has lava fields, and still another has plains and cacti. There are of course the beaches but I’m looking way beyond lying on the sand all day. I’m looking forward to hiking and exploring all day, then maybe relaxing by the water with a cocktail in the evening. Now that’s my idea of a perfect day.

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Photo credit thomson.co.uk

I’d also love to go to the country Georgia. I’ve heard other people rave about how beautiful it is, how friendly the people are, how delicious the food is, and how affordable it is. It’s no secret I love mountains, and the bigger the better. The highest mountain range in Europe is actually in Georgia (not the Alps). The Caucasus Mountains, which separate Georgia from Russia, look stunning.

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Georgia- photo by David Jafaridze
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Photo credit:  YourAmazingPlaces.com

Another place that most Americans probably aren’t dying to go to but I am is Malta. This is another place similar to the Canary Islands where the weather is (almost) perfect year-round. The lows in the winter are only around 55 F and the highs in the summer average around 90 F, so the summers are a bit hot, but nothing too terrible, this coming from someone who hates winter but loves summer. Malta is an archipelago off the coast of Sicily full of diverse history, great food, gorgeous beaches, and beautiful architecture. An advantage of going to Malta is the majority of people speak English, so other than a few key words and phrases, I won’t need to learn Maltese.

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Malta- photo credit davidsbeenhere.com
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Photo credit slh.com

There are so many other places in the world I’d love to go to and I have no doubt I will eventually go there. Some of those places include Uruguay, Montenegro, Croatia, South Island of New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, England, France, Ireland, Thailand, and Japan, for starters. I’m always discovering new places and/or hearing about places I’ve never been and my interest will be piqued.

What about you all? What’s at the top of your bucket list? Have any of you been to the Canary Islands, Malta, or Georgia and have tips or suggestions for me?