Back in the 1990s, before the internet made independent travel a viable alternative, Jon and I took package holidays to the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, staying in tourist complexes in the purpose-built beach resorts which sprung up in the 1970s. We travelled the islands by bus, searching but failing to find signs of the Canaries' fascinating history or much in the way of Spanish culture. Although both islands had their charms, we decided that they weren't for us and never returned. A quarter of a century later and in need of some winter sunshine, I found return Ryanair flights from Birmingham to Gran Canaria for just £38 each - cheaper than staying at home and switching the heating on. With less than a week before departure, we booked. This time we didn't bother with the tourist hotspots and headed to Las Palmas, the island's capital and Spain's ninth largest city. Described as cosmopolitan with a Latin American vibe, from the windows of the guagua (pronounced wah-wah, the island's public buses), the view certainly looked more Brazil than Benidorm.
After the invasion of Gran Canaria by Spain, Las Palmas was founded by the Castilian army's leader, Juan Rejon on 24th June, 1478. Rejon and his soldiers settled at the mouth of the Guiniguada ravine, now known as the district of Vegueta. The war against the island raged for another five years until, in 1483, the native Aboriginals were finally subjugated.
Awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1990, staying in the heart of historic Vegueta was a no brainer. Our compact studio apartment, located within three hundred year old townhouse, was the only holiday rental in a building occupied by two local families, set on a quaint cobbled street a stone's throw from the 15th Century cathedral and, at £270 for the week, an absolute steal.
Unlike our previous trips to the Canaries we saw so much culture and history during our seven night stay that I'd be boring you for weeks if I wrote my usual post-trip daily travelogue so, instead, here's our Top Ten Las Palmas Highlights.
1. Casa De Colon
In 1492, Christopher Columbus (or, as he's known in Spanish, Cristobal Colon) anchored in the port of Las Palmas en route to the New World where, hoping to find a shortcut to India, unwittingly stumbled on America instead. Whilst his ship, Pinta, underwent repair he stayed with the governor of Gran Canaria in his luxurious home in Vegueta, now a museum dedicated to the explorer.
Jon had pan-fried chicken with rice and vegetables, I had plantain tortillas with alfalfa sprouts and local vegetables...yum!