As a traveller, I try to arrive in new places with an open mind and not form an impression based on things I’ve read or heard from others. That said, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what Gran Canaria was about before heading there earlier this year: mass tourism, good surfing and a buzzing digital nomad culture.
And Gran Canaria is each of these things. But it’s so much more besides.
It’s been described as an island of many faces, and with good reason. It has magnificent mountains, deep ravines and stunning craters, yet is fringed with beach resorts, ranging from secluded coves to huge tourist beaches with sunbeds crammed on every grain of sand. It has a desert, yet its interior has areas of rainforest. The tourist resorts lining the south are crammed with people, but drive a short way and you could be the only person around. It has a spiritual core and a reputation for brashness.
The diverse landscapes of Gran Canaria mean the island experiences extreme microclimates – you could be baking on a beach in the south, while sheltering from rain in the lush, mountainous north, and bemoaning the seemingly constant cloud in the city of Las Palmas (which I did a lot!).
With all this packed into a circular island only 1,560 sq. km. in size, it’s little wonder Gran Canaria has been called the world’s smallest continent.
As a fun way of showing off the diversity of the island, I thought I’d highlight some interesting places moving from south to north, inspired by a road trip with friends. During our journey I was fascinated to watch the landscapes of Gran Canaria vary dramatically as we drove from the desert at Maspalomas northwards into the heart of the island. Read More
Before last year, whenever I thought about music festivals my mind conjured up images of muddy fields and welly boots, tiny tents and burly security guards, partying post-A-level teens and glow-sticks, huge crowds of drunken dancers and expensive stodgy food. And rain, lots of rain…
But that was before I went to the Worldwide Festival in Sète.
Now, when you mention the word festival to me, I’m transported to a world of rosé wine and seafood, long days dancing in the sea and along the water’s edge, magical nights in the Théâtre de la Mer, and the friendliest crowd of people you’ll ever meet. People united by a single thing – a love of Gilles Peterson and his unique brand of eclectic music.
Worldwide 2015 was the 10th anniversary of this special little festival. It was also my first visit, after years of listening wistfully from a distance. And it was one of my undisputed highlights of last year. Could Worldwide 2016 live up to that? You know, if possible I think it was even better… Read More
The waiter indicated to a spare table on the outdoor terrace at Fotografiska. I slipped into the chair, feet gently throbbing, and tucked the soft blanket around my legs – it may be summer in Stockholm, but as the sun fell below the horizon there was a definite nip in the air.
Sipping my cool glass of wine, I reflected on my jaunt around the city. Since beginning life as a digital nomad, I’ve tried to stay in places for a minimum of a month, preferably longer, to give myself time to really get to know a place and its people. Finances, not helped by the freefalling GBP following the disastrous Brexit vote, meant I only had a short time to spend in this notoriously pricey city when I was lured here by the TBEX travel blogging conference. But armed with a free Stockholm VIP pass courtesy of TBEX Stockholm and Visit Stockholm, plus a 72-hour transport pass, I’d spent the past 48 hours on a whistlestop tour of some of the main things to do in Stockholm.
Here are my highlights. Read More
I’ll admit to slight nerves, mainly because my blog is fairly new and I wasn’t sure if I should be better established before mingling with the travel-blogging elite.
(Also, ahem, because it followed the Worldwide Festival in Sète – one of my highlights of the year – a seven-day music festival that finished at 4am on Monday morning, with the official opening party for TBEX Stockholm taking place that Thursday evening. Ouch!)
So was I glad I attended and what did I learn from the experience? Read More
I arrived in Gran Canaria at the end of January, just as the island was revving up for the onslaught of Carnival. February was certainly an experience – an explosion of riotous colour, outrageous drag queens, thumping drums, outlandish costumes, sultry hip action, huge dance parades, all-night parties, and a spectacular fireworks display.
But while Carnival is the big one, don’t be fooled into thinking the rest of the year is quiet.
Canarian culture is filled with a rich tapestry of customs and traditions, many of which involve some kind of party. There are numerous fiestas held around the island throughout the year, with almost every town seeming to hold its own celebration at some point.
So imagine my delight when my friends, by now fully aware of my love of Canarian cheese, announced a Fiesta del Queso (yup, that’s right – a cheese festival!) in Montaña Alta de Guía. I was all set for a trip to cheese heaven! Read More
Psst… The locals won’t like me mentioning this because they like to keep it a closely guarded secret, but I was recently introduced to a delightful green oasis in the heart of Gran Canaria.
I’m a sucker for clear, fresh mountain air and a day surrounded by lush, verdant countryside, so when friends suggested a trip to the Finca de Osorio, close to the historical town of Teror, I didn’t need asking twice. Read More
For the first time in my digital nomad life, I had a visit from my parents. It was wonderful to be able to show them around my home town of Las Palmas and explore the rest of Gran Canaria with them. However, while Las Palmas is a proper working Spanish city, I was unprepared for the south of the island. Of course, I knew it was going to be very touristy, but I didn’t realise I had to watch for unscrupulous people out to scam tourists. And we got caught up in a typical Canary Islands scam.
Overall, I have to say I wasn’t particularly impressed with the south of the island (with the notable exception of the Maspalomas Dunes). The weather is generally better because of the Panza de Burro (Donkey’s Belly) – a natural phenomenon that sees low cloud hang over Las Palmas for much of the time. But the bits of the south I saw were overcrowded resorts with large white, impersonal hotels, restaurants serving English breakfasts and fish and chips, and beaches with rows of sunbeds packed in like sardines. I know lots of people enjoy this and each to their own, but it’s not what I travel for.
The interior and north have temperamental weather patterns, but I love Las Palmas, the interesting northern coast, the lush, green forests, and the diversity of the landscapes found in the interior of the island.
Aside from the ethereal beauty of the Maspalomas Dunes, the one resort people generally rave about is Puerto de Mogán. It’s described as picturesque and Venetian-like. It is better than many other southern resorts, but I still found it a little like Clacton-on-Sea, only with better weather. Anyway, for me it will always be known as the place the Amos family fell for a ridiculous scam!
Northern Gran Canaria is a leafy, mountainous landscape of craggy coastline, fertile valleys, deep gorges, and terraced hillsides planted with avocados, tomatoes, mangoes, figs and delicious little Canarian bananas. There are picturesque villages dotted around, their streets lined by colourful, colonial-style houses with traditional wooden balconies. Woven amongst this misty landscape, you can find evidence of pre-colonial Canarians, a cave-dwelling race of people known as the Guanches.
Gran Canaria is divided into a number of touring routes that visitors can take to explore the main sites on the island. Shortly after my arrival, I was invited to join a group of locals to explore some of the Guanche sites on the Northern Route running between Agaete and Las Palmas. So I set off to see what I could discover about Gran Canaria’s aboriginal history and explore some of the archaeological sites in the north of the island.
2015 was my first year as a digital nomad. It was a huge adventure, and a steep learning curve. While there’s little I would change about last year – because I learnt some valuable lessons – there are plenty of things I want to do better this time around.
So here are my goals for 2016. (Yes, I know it’s rather late for setting goals. I actually spent New Year’s Eve planning these, but I want to put them out there so I can hold myself accountable.)
Here goes… Read More
I intended to start this blog a year ago when I set off as a nomad, but life and work got in the way, so I’m starting on my year’s anniversary (or thereabouts). And what better way to begin than with a look back to my first year on the road. I realise it’s a little silly to post a review of 2015 at the start of February. But what the hell… I started my nomad journey on 27 January 2015, so it covers my first year on the road.
2015 was my third year in business and my first year as a digital nomad, and it was all about me learning how to run a successful business while travelling. I choose to stay in Europe, dividing my time between six countries (plus the UK). I had visited most of the countries before, with the exception of Croatia – a place I’ll definitely be returning to – although most of the cities I lived in were new to me.
In numbers, I slept in 24 different beds in 16 cities across 7 countries, and I took 13 flights and 5 train rides. That’s fairly modest by many people’s standards, but I learned that I prefer to spend at least a month in each location, partly because it makes things cheaper on Airbnb, my preferred method of accommodation, and partly because I was working full-time. By the end of the year, I realised that a month was too little because I didn’t really spend much time growing my business or working on this blog, something I plan to change this year.
Highlights of my year include celebrating Fallas in Valencia, dancing on the beach and in the magical Théâtre de la Mer at the Worldwide Festival in Sète, skydiving in Berlin, attending DNX Global with my tribe – 450 digital nomads – also in Berlin, and the magnificent view from my loft apartment in Split.
There were also some tough times. An ill-advised fling turned into a stalker and left me feeling very vulnerable in my first few days in Seville, and I didn’t research my accommodation in Catania, Sicily, properly, which left me living in the middle of a rundown mafia district where I was repeatedly warned by locals not to wander around unaccompanied. Thankfully, neither situation had a serious outcome, but I learned a couple of valuable lessons there!
OK, here we go …