For many visitors to Gran Canaria, golden sands and blue seas are the essence of the island – but move inland and you will find a surprising side to this holiday hotspot
Many visitors to the sun-kissed resort of Puerto Rico in Gran Canaria will regard the social hub as the Centro Commercial – but don’t let appearances put you off. The Centro Commercial and its smaller accomplice, the Commercial Europa, offer a plethora of eating places, shops and bars to keep you well watered and entertained of an evening in this man-made resort, which was created to cater for the Seventies holiday market and is, unfortunately, still entrenched in that era.
Puerto Rico's reputation as a family resort grew up on the strength of its constant sunshine and the protection of the encircling hills. With its wide man-made beach (with sand from the Sahara desert), gently shelving into the enclosed bay, it's ideal for swimming and water sports. Another man-made beach in the area is the Playa de los Amadores, which can be reached by a 20-minute walk to the west along a clifftop path and is well worth the effort to visit, with spectacular views along the way.
Also well worth a visit is nearby Puerto Mogan. Often referred to as 'Little Venice', especially by holiday reps, this low-rise resort is a real gem and is a great example of a tourist building style that does not violate the natural environment. Indeed, until the 1980s it was a fishing village providing shelter to a community of hippies. As the concrete-mixer moved in and the hippies moved out, the resort was transformed with bridges, canals, and pretty painted doors and window surrounds, which, combined with hibicus hedges and tumbling, colourful bougainvillea, resemble an artist's palette.
The harbour area of Puerto Mogan is delightful and the main focus of this resort. The dockside cafes and restaurants are bustling, as boatloads of tourist come and go. But just outside of the port area is a curved sandy beach, albeit a bit grey, protected by a breakwater and complete with restaurant and sunbeds. It is an oasis of calm, especially on Fridays, when Puerto Mogan hosts the weekly market (which is well worth a visit).
Whilst Puerto Rico may be ample in terms of holiday entertainment and comfort, for a taste of the real Gran Canaria, head to the hills and you won’t be disappointed. About 35 minutes drive from Puerto Rico, to the northeast of Playa del Ingles, is the Barranco de Guayadeque, a long canyon, where the aboriginal people who once lived in this fertile valley left behind hundreds of caves, both natural and man-mad. Many of them are still lived in today, and the people in this area are probably the most direct descendants of this prehistoric world; they even keep their cars in cave garages!
It may not be the Flintstones, but it's as close as you get. The small hamlet of Roque at the end of the Barranco is a fine example of this type of lifestyle and a welcome resting point after travelling along the twisting valley floor. A church, restaurant and some cave homes are hewn into the rock face at the side of the winding road.
The church is small, but cool and tranquil. The bar/cafe, with its wooden plank bar surface and Flintstone gantry, provides a host of good local wines and spirits. It also has a great array of cheeses and hams, suspended from the ceiling. Many of the dwindling band of natives are to found here during the day, happily posing for photographs for eager tourists to break up the monotony of the long hot days. This type of existence seems to have its benefits, as longevity is rife!
Just a few minutes' drive from Roque, at the top of the hill, is the cave restaurant of Tagor, a series of caves overlooking the valley, with stone tables and seats, and some great food and wines. The area below the restaurant is also popular for picnics.
If you are eating out in Gran Canaria, it will be almost impossible to avoid 'wrinkly potatoes', a local delicacy of small potatoes, boiled in their skins in sea salt and eaten with a mojo sauce. There are various kinds of mojo - but taste before you dollop. Mojo verde, or green mojo, is made with oil and vinegar, garlic, cumin, coriander and parsley. But the red variety, mojo rojo, where paprika is substituted for the corriander, or mojo picon, where a liberal dose of chilli is added, will make your eyes water.
Where to stay
In Puerto Rico, where many hotels and most apartments cling to the steep valley sides like swallows' nests, finding a hotel or apartment on the level is a real bonus. Overlooking the harbour and ocean, the Marina Suites offer a combination of stunning views, a great location, and internal room designs that wouldn't look out of place in Ideal Homes. As the name suggests, the hotel/apartment complex is situated in the harbour area of Puerto Rico, ideally placed for a variety of bars and local restaurants, with the beach just a few minutes' walk away.
Make no mistake, this is certainly a four- to five-star complex and it feels like it. Not surprisingly, the sun terrace areas overlooking the sea and a few hot tubs in some of the more secluded areas are very popular. The poolside bar, with stunning views over the ocean, serves a selection of lunch-time snacks, whilst the main restaurant, El Beso, which opens in the evening, provides a blend of European and Mediterranean foods and wines in a comfortable, almost colonial atmosphere.
The pool may not be the largest in the area, but the views and design are stunning. The decor in the apartments is bright, simplistic and modern. Indeed, the apartments themselves are large, very large, with around 70 square metres of marbled floor space and a cleverly concealed kitchen area.