For a lot of people, Christians especially, Holy Week is an occasion for spiritual reflection. But for others, Holy Week is an opportunity to get away from their busy everyday lives. They see it as a time to relax, travel, and just have fun.
We did exactly the latter for this year’s Holy Week. Instead of sitting at home or in church, we reflected on the state of our lives while basking under the sun at the Canary Islands.
Where in the world are the Canary Islands?
The Canary Islands are a group of islands on the Atlantic Ocean, just off the northwestern coast of Africa. The archipelago is some 100 kilometers to the west of Morocco. Although it belongs to Spain, the Canary Islands are self-governing. The Canaries have two capital cities: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria on the island of Gran Canaria, and Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the island of Tenerife.
People often go to the Canary Islands to enjoy its beaches and its year-round mild tropical weather. But there is more to the archipelago than just sand and sea. The Canaries have some of the most dramatic landscapes we have ever seen. On the coastlines are stretches of white- and black-sand beaches, the black sand owing to the volcanic origins of the islands. On some islands, it’s all flatlands inland, while on some are peaks covered with pine forests. You’ll also find on the Canary Islands the third tallest volcano in the world, none other than the Teide volcano. The Canary Islands also contains four of Spain’s 13 national parks. Two of these parks are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Canaries’ natural beauty is not the only marvels you’ll find. You’ll find much to do within the towns and villages of the archipelago as well. The towns are not as sophisticated as other Spanish cities like Madrid or Barcelona. But their unique art and architecture are lovely to look at as well. The coastal villages and pueblos also have their own charms.
Here’s a bit of trivia: the Canary Islands didn’t get its name from the canary bird. It’s the other way around, actually. The archipelago’s name came from its old Latin name, Canariae Insulae, which means “Dog Islands.”
Bespoke travel planning made our Canary Islands holiday more convenient.
My hubby and I are fans of DIY travel planning. But for this holiday to the Canaries, we preferred not to worry over anything and have everything taken care of for us. So what we did is arrange our travel with Ving.
Ving is one the largest and oldest tour operators in Norway. A part of the Thomas Cook group of companies, Ving provides bespoke tours from Norway to various locations across the planet. To book your tour with Ving, all you need to do is to get on their website and choose where you want to go. Ving will pull up a list of their partner hotels for you to choose from, as well as excursions you can join. They will also book your flight with Thomas Cook Airlines. Ving also provides tips on where to stay and what to do depending on what you want to do and if you’re traveling with children.
Everything we needed to have four our holiday to the Canary Islands, we booked through Ving. We had premium Sunclass seats on the Thomas Cook Airlines flights to and from the Canaries. These seats are a must have if you want your flight to be as comfortable as possible. The big legroom and the warm in-flight meal certainly helped make ours cozier. The flight from Oslo Airport Gardermoen to the Gran Canaria Airport took four and a half hours.
Radisson Blu Gran Canaria, our home for the holiday
We have decided to make Gran Canaria, one of the major islands in the Canaries, as our home base for our holiday. A Ving representative met us upon our arrival at the Gran Canaria Airport. From there, the representative drove us to our home for that week: the Radisson Blu Gran Canaria.
The Radisson Blu Gran Canaria is spectacular. Located in Arguineguin on the southern coast of the island, the Radisson Blu stands on the beachfront, right in between two gorgeous beaches. The hotel also provides convenient access to many other beaches in the area, as well as several nature reserves and points of interests inland.
Location is not the only thing you’ll enjoy with the Radisson Blu. Even if you decide to spend your entire trip to the Canaries cocooned in this hotel, you won’t get bored. The beach is right outside the hotel. There you can go windsurfing, jet-skiing, or scuba diving. Or you can rent a boat to go fishing or whale watching. Or you can simply lie on a towel on the sand and work on your tan.
There are also plenty of activities you can do inside the hotel. You can hang out at the pool and lounge with a drink from the poolside bar. You can indulge in any number of spa treatments at Radisson Blu’s Estilo Estetica Spa, or work on your fitness regimen at the fitness center. If you have kids, you can safely leave them with the child care staff so your kids can have their own fun.
What about the rooms? Apparently, all the rooms have ocean views. The view from ours is magnificent. Our rooms are spacious, cozy, and fashionably appointed. There’s free Wi-Fi in the room, and we had access to the daily buffet breakfast at the hotel’s La Canaria Restaurant.
Speaking of restaurants, Radisson Blu has two of them, and the food in both restaurants is awesome. La Canaria Restaurant, as mentioned earlier, provides the hotel guests with buffet breakfast daily. The restaurant also serves buffet dinners thrice a week.
The other restaurant is 222°SW Bar and Grill. Dining here is divine, as we found out on the last night of our holiday. The food is not only superb. The ambiance and the views from the restaurant are breathtaking. Plus, the service is excellent. To get the most out of your dining experience here, ask your server about the day’s menu. You’ll get a three-course meal with excellent wine pairings. My personal favorite from our dinner here was the goose liver pate fried with truffle oil I got as a starter. It’s delicious.
Anfi del Mar and the ride on the Glass Bottom Ferry
Among the many things you must do at the Gran Canaria is visit Anfi del Mar. Anfi del Mar is the name of an artificial beach and the adjacent time-share property on the municipality of Mogan. The beach itself is wonderful, filled with white-gold sand that almost sparkles in the sunlight. The waters here are so calm and clear as well. So if you’re bringing kids with you, you can let them swim at the beach without worrying about undercurrents.
One of the nice things about Anfi del Mar is it has all the amenities you’d need for a day trip there. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes on the beach. There is also a supermarket for food, drinks, and other supplies. If you’re interested in water sports, you can find a shop that rents out the equipment you need. On the other hand, if you just want to relax under the sun, you can rent a lounger and parasol and laze the day away.
Anfi del Mar is also the starting point for many ferries heading out from the Gran Canaria to the other islands of the Canaries. We certainly didn’t pass up the opportunity to ride the popular Glass Bottom Ferry.
The Glass Bottom Ferry is a sightseeing ferry service that sails from Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria to Puerto de Mogan, with plenty of stops along the way. It’s a leisurely 30-minute boat ride that will treat you to magnificent views on the southwestern coast of Gran Canaria. These views include dramatic cliffs and hidden coves. As if that’s not enough, you get to see the water underneath your feet if you stay at the bottom deck of the boat. It’s a glass-bottomed ferry boat, after all.
Puerto de Mogan is a relatively quiet and family-friendly resort. I enjoyed the stop here very much. There are a lot of quaint sights to be found inland, such as the archaeological sites on Cat’s Ravine and Mogan’s Windmill. The port itself is pretty; it’s often called “The Venice of the Canaries” because of its many canals.
On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy Puerto Rico de Gran Canaria so much. It’s party central, with lots of pubs, bars, and restaurants. We can party as much as the next person, but Puerto Rico seems too much even for us.
Other place to see at the Gran Canaria
You really won’t run out of things to do at the Gran Canaria. This especially applies if you love nature or are into culture and archaeology. Did you know that a third of this particular island is protected as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve? That’s because of Gran Canaria’s varied landscapes.
Here are a few other places that you need to see when you’re on this part of the Canary Islands:
- Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. If you want a break from soaking in the sun and feel like soaking in some culture instead, go to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Las Palmas is the co-capital city of the Canaries and one of the major centers of culture in the archipelago. There you’ll find a number of notable museums and exhibition halls, including the Museo Canario, the Maritime Museum, and the Atlantic Center of Modern Art.
The city is also home to some grand old churches. One of these is the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista de Telde, a Neo-Gothic structure with towering spires and rose windows. This church is filled with religious treasures from various parts of the world dating back to the 1500s. I love visiting churches when I travel. There are more churches on the island if you would like to see some more. You’ll also find a number of interesting archaeological sites around Las Palmas.
- Maspalomas. The town of Maspalomas is your quintessential tourist town, located on the southern coast of the Canary Islands. It is famous for the Maspalomas Dunes, a 1,000-acre area filled with ancient, golden-hued sand dunes. The Dunes are among the protected reserves of the Canaries. You’ll also find a lot of entertainment options in town, such as casinos, golf courses, and theme parks.
Points of interest near Maspalomas are Palmitos Park, a 49-acre zoo, aquarium, and aviary. Palmitos Park is home to the largest collection of orchids in the Canaries, as well as the biggest butterfly sanctuary in Europe. Close to Palmitos Park is the Pilancones Natural Park, a nature reserve made distinct by its series of dramatic plateaus and ravines. In Pilancones, you may encounter some endangered wildlife endemic to the Canaries.
- Sta. Lucia de Tirajana. A quaint town near the mountainside, Sta. Lucia de Tirajana is where to get away from the bustle of the more touristy resort towns. In Sta. Lucia, you will find the breathtaking Tirajana Ravine, a protected nature reserve with geological and archaeological importance. You can also visit the elegant Santa Lucia Church, a historic building completed in the early 1900s.
- Tejeda. Tejeda lies close to the mountainous center of the Gran Canaria. In fact, this town is where you’ll find Pico de las Nieves (Peak of Snows), the highest point on the island. This peak is located in the Roque Nublo Rural Park. The Park also contains the Roque Nublo, the second highest point on the island. Upon Roque Nublo stands a natural pillar of rock, venerated by the islands aboriginal people.
One week is not enough for us to explore the Canary Islands. After all, there is more to the Canaries than just the Gran Canaria. We hope to explore the rest of the Islands and enjoy more of its wonders on a future holiday.
Until next time. Be kind to one another.