This story started back in December 2020. France is under curfew after a second lockdown. At least, this time, I was away from Paris with my family in Brittany. The news started to mention COVID vaccines. This is when in couch potato mode, half-watching TV, half-scrolling on Instagram, I found out about a game organised by Vueling to win a flight ticket. 5 minutes later, I looked at my mum puzzled and said, “I think I just won a flight ticket to Gran Canaria“.
To be honest, I was the most excited about not having too much to lose in case anything happened. However, I wanted to be vaccinated before resuming international travel. That resolution meant I would have to wait quite some time. Anyway, in Spring 2021, we were back into lockdown. I started to think this trip to the Canary Islands would never happen, like many of my projects that got cancelled in 2020.
When the French government opened the vaccination to my age group sooner than expected, I was among the first to try to register online for an appointment. I managed to get the first jab at the beginning of June, before my diving road trip to Brittany and the second at my return, mid-July.
With my appointments in hand, I contacted Vueling to ask if they would understand the situation and extend the validity of the prize beyond June. And they said, “Yes, you can take any flight until the end of September.”
So, here is a summary of the steps I took to get there, what I did on the island of Gran Canaria from the end of August to the end of September and what this first trip abroad since COVID taught me…
Handling new paperwork to travel
Last July, I published an article about the best diving destinations for vaccinated travellers. Writing it proved to be extremely useful. It was the opportunity to review in detail the outbound and inbound rules to travel from France.
7 days after my second jab of the Pfizer vaccine, my EU digital certificate was active. It meant I could go back and forth to most EU countries without additional testing. However, there was still a bit of digital paperwork to fill in before being ready to travel again.
Many European countries have set up websites to give all the details about arriving in the country. It was the case for Spain with the useful travelsafe.spain.info. There you learn you need to fill the health control form before flying. You can also download the SpTH app on your phone as an alternative. After doing it, you receive by email a QR code.
When I filled my Spanish health form, there was a display bug with the date inputs (the small calendar doesn’t work) when using Chrome browser, so you need to know dates have to be filled as YYYY/MM/DD (It works fine though on Edge and Firefox browsers). Besides, make sure to know where you stay as you need to put the address of at least the first accommodation of your trip.
When I tried uploading my EU digital certificate in PDF, it didn’t work, but I could still get my QR code. I just had to show the two QR codes together when I arrived at Gran Canaria airport. By the way, the control of documents at the airport was seamless and took a maximum of 5 minutes just before getting my luggage.
If you forgot to check these requirements, I found that Vueling, both on their website while checking in or at the airport, gave plenty of information, including the website address for each country’s health form. Basically, you can’t get your boarding pass if you don’t have all the documents.
Regarding the local restrictions, they are locally managed by the government of the Canary Islands with 4 levels of alert, individually set for each island. Depending on the alert level, there is a long list of restrictions for each case (in Spanish only), from restaurants to outdoor activities. At my arrival, Gran Canaria was at the maximum level 4, and a month later, we were at level 2 (now at level 1 as I’m writing). So, I saw the restrictions loosening up, such as bars and restaurants closing time from midnight to 2 am.
Generally speaking, I was impressed by how serious Spanish people were with social distancing rules, wearing masks indoors or whenever the distance between people was too close outside. Note that I was asked to show my EU digital certificate at each place I stayed during my trip, hotels like rentals. While I felt perfectly safe at every hotel I stayed I can’t deny how good it felt to have a room with a private swimming pool at the Gloria Palace Amadores in Puerto Rico in such circumstances.
On my way back to France, I had to fill a sworn statement I wasn’t sick and upload it to the Vueling website to get my boarding pass. However, nobody ever asked me anything at Paris-Orly airport, even if I was supposed to have a paper version with me at the arrival.
Searching for new horizons within Europe
With the EU digital certificate in hand, it was obvious that I wanted to make the most of it while staying within the borders of the EU. As you may know, the European Union also has territories beyond the geographical borders of Europe. This is the case of the French or Dutch overseas territories in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. This is also the case of the Spanish archipelago of the Canary Islands, which is technically speaking in Africa.
As volcanic islands above the northern tropic, the Canary Islands offer some of the most exotic experiences, only 4 hours flying from western Europe. Few people go island hopping when visiting the Canary Islands. I think I understand why now I have visited Tenerife and Gran Canaria: each island has so much to offer and experience. This time, contrary to my 4 day-stay in Tenerife, I had one month to enjoy each of them in Gran Canaria.
The island felt like a place between worlds, between continents and their cultures. Going from Las Palmas to Tejeda, from Agaete to Maspalomas, it felt like travelling to Europe, America and Africa at the same time. I could fill every day with a new adventure, starting with 2 weeks based in Las Palmas and then a road trip around the island with a rental car.
In Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of the Canary Islands, I felt something similar to my experience of cities in Mexico or Argentina from an architectural point of view, without concerning security issues. I walked the natural reserve of the dunes in Maspalomas as if I was in the heart of the Sahara. In Agaete, banana plantations were everywhere, and I even found the only coffee plantations in Europe.
At the island’s highest point, I walked hiking trails around Pico de las Nieves and Roque Nublo among pine trees as if I was hiking in the Alps. Maybe in the small villages of Firgas, Teror, Tejeda, Agüimes or Ingenio, I felt more the Spanish culture. Major religious festivals such as El Pino in Teror, which draw people from all over Gran Canaria and the other Canary Islands, reminded me of the ferias on the continent.
No worries, I will get into the details on how to visit the best spots of the island in a future article!
Looking for a potential place to move as a digital nomad
As some of you know already, after my sabbatical in 2018-2019, I decided to establish my own freelance business in digital marketing. Before the pandemic hit, I had just the time to come back from Japan to set everything up, and in a couple of months, we were in lockdown. What should have been just a couple of months in Paris, the time to clean up and fix my flat before renting it out again before leaving for Australia quickly turned into 2 years.
With restrictions loosening up a bit thanks to the rollout of the vaccination, I wanted to look for a new place I could go in case things would get out of control again. Since my sabbatical, I have now a pretty clear image of the perfect place for me: a vibrant city, big enough to have all services within walking distance, with historic and cultural districts, obviously next to the ocean, and ideally with a language that I speak. If I can stay as long as I want because there is no visa requirement, that’s an additional bonus!
It seemed like Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was ticking all the boxes. But between studying the map and falling for a place, there is a huge gap. Would it be too touristic? Not pretty enough? Would dive sites be too far away? Would it be easy to travel around the island from there without a car? Would accommodation be affordable on a short-term basis? Which district would be the best for me based on my work habits? So many questions I had to answer.
This is why I started my month in Gran Canaria with not less than two weeks in Las Palmas to have time to find answers to these questions. For 2 weeks, I explored the city, went on 2 day trips only using the bus network, and joined 3 diving trips, including a night dive, by hopping on the van of a local dive centre.
Here is a quick summary of each district of Las Palmas I visited:
- Las Canteras: This is the touristic district of Las Palmas. The seafront is stunning with a wide promenade punctuated with cafés and tapas bars, casual in the south, stylish in the north. The 3-km long sandy beach is clean and equipped with showers and recycling bins everywhere. The northern part is protected by “la Barra” rocks, making it a fantastic area for snorkelling, paddling, and kayaking. The waves of the southern part delight a large surfers’ community. However, the streets behind are not the nicest in town, and they can be noisy. At the same time, the area is extremely convenient with plenty of restaurants and shops, but you won’t find the best prices here. If you go just a bit further to the central market, less than 15 minutes walking, you can shop at local prices. Bonus point: several scuba diving centres along the beach can drive you all around the island; this is where I found 7 Mares dive centre.
- El Confital: The district just above Las Canteras is quieter and feels more authentic. No sandy beach here but a series of creeks where I noticed several people going freediving. When I arrived at the Confital beach, it was almost a shock to see such a wild area so close to the city (about 25 minutes walking). You can also hike to a breathtaking viewpoint above all Las Palmas. However, the area felt a bit far from shops and services.
- Vegueta: The historic district of Las Palmas might be small and quiet, it is the most gorgeous area of the city. If it’s a fantastic place for a walk and lunch in the shade of the bougainvillaea flowers and palm trees by the cathedral and the 16th-century colonial buildings, maybe living there is not so convenient. It is pretty far away from the beach, and there are few options to go shopping despite the Vegeta market, which looked pretty empty.
- Triana: Just a bit north of Vegueta, Triana is the lively district of Las Palmas. Although still away from the beaches, here, among stylish buildings, you’ll find all the shops and services you need but also the trendiest cafés in town.
- Ciudad Jardin: This is the posh district of Las Palmas, between the central market and Triana. The area is primarily made of large private villas with flowers everywhere. You’ll also find the Doramas Park, where the 5-star Santa Catalina Hotel stands in the middle. It also has direct access to the marina with several scuba diving centres.
Will I move to Las Palmas? It could happen in 2022, but my curiosity to compare with other places in the Canary Islands is still too strong. I want to return to Tenerife (more than 4 days) to weigh my options. From there, I could take the opportunity to explore the smaller islands of La Gomera and especially El Hierro, famous for its marine reserve, by ferry.
Scuba diving all around the island
I think the most extraordinary thing with scuba diving in Gran Canaria is the number of options, depending on your level, what you are looking for as a holiday goer or as a temporary remote worker.
Want to have a relaxing diving holiday in a lovely resort? No, problem head south in the area from Puerto de Mogan to Pasito Blanco. There you just jump on a dive boat in a matter of minutes to find the best underwater conditions of the island.
Want to have a more authentic holiday and be away from the crowd? No problem, head to the northeast side of Agaete: hike Tamadaba natural park, visit Agaete Valle’s plantations and scuba dive in exciting sea caves.
Want to have a city & beach vibrant lifestyle? No problem, just stay in Las Palmas; the dive centres will drive you all around the island anytime you feel like going underwater, whether it’s to the marine reserve of El Cabron, Tufia Beach or the exciting Arona shipwreck.
Want to go on a road trip all around the island? You’ll find dive centres all around! Rent a car and book your dives directly in Las Palmas, Agaete, Arguineguin or Arinaga. You’ll enjoy not having to wake up too early before going diving.
Scuba diving in Gran Canaria is a mix of shore diving and boat diving. But note that here, shore diving can be more physical than boat diving. There are marine reserves, shipwrecks, and even artificial reefs attracting dozens of stingrays for every level of diver. Wherever they are on the island, most dive centres will drive you all around the island to scuba dive at different sites every day. So, if you don’t feel like driving and just want to stay in one place, it definitely works too!
In my case, I couldn’t resist going on a road trip after my 2 first weeks in Las Palmas. I was way too curious to meet different dive centres around the island to check any noticeable differences.
In one month, I logged 16 dives in Telde, Agaete, Arguineguin and Arinaga. Not too bad, considering all the other things I did during my stay. Unfortunately, I missed two famous dive sites, one for the boat being in maintenance (La Cathedral in Las Palmas) and the other due to rough wind conditions (Sardina del Norte near Agaete). Oh whale, it just means I have to come back!
I’ll get into more details about the different dive sites and what I saw in a future blog post; stay tuned!
Dealing with the unexpected beyond COVID
Beyond all these unforgettable moments, from delicious tapas to exciting dives, I had a fair load of unexpected events to deal with during the trip. While we were all just focused on the risk of coronavirus, it was almost like I had forgotten that travelling also requires getting resourceful or creative when things don’t go as planned.
The pandemic is still a reality and a curse for so many people who are affected by it. However, now vaccination is getting more and more available, it might be time to deal with it like other risks. I had quite a fair load of unexpected events during this trip to refresh my memory…
All things come in threes, right?
First, knowing the end of August was still in the touristic season, I had booked a private room in a hostel for my two first weeks in Las Palmas about 2 months in advance to secure a cool spot with a killer view rooftop at the best price. Imagine my face when at 5.30 pm, after a 4-hour flight and an extra hour on the bus, I discovered the hostel didn’t have my booking, and they were fully booked. Oh, oh… Well, you take a deep breath, get into action-solution mode. Thanks to a lovely lady I found on Airbnb who was patient enough with my rusted Spanish skills, I got a flat on Las Canteras Beach within 2 hours. The flat needs cleaning? No problem… tapas time!
The second one is huge but not unheard of. Still, the Canary Islands are usually not as active volcanoes as the Hawaiian Islands. Oh, oh… 2 days before my flight back, on the island of La Palma (another Canary Island), the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted after 10 days of always stronger and shallower earthquakes. As I’m writing these lines, it keeps erupting even stronger apparently, so it’s not a small eruption. I still remembered what happened in 2010 when the ashes of a volcano in Iceland stopped all air traffic in Europe. I tried not to worry too much but kept watching TV Canaria that Sunday, feeling torn between the fact I could be stuck on the island and knowing soon some people would lose their house to the lava. In the end, air flights from Gran Canaria were never disrupted. To be honest, the house I rented in Ingenio with my dive buddy for 23 € a night each for the last week was so nice, that a little part of us was somehow disappointed…
Finally, I felt this one coming. For my last night, I decided to stay in a stylish hotel of Las Palmas, in the lovely district of Triana. Due to the hotel’s location, I had to park the rental car I was supposed to leave at 5 am at the airport the following day, in an underground parking lot. Having seen the signs saying the parking closes between 1 am and 8.30 am, I asked the hotel if I would be able to leave at 4.30 am. They phoned the parking and said yes. Feeling something was wrong, I put the alarm clock on 15 minutes earlier to give me extra time. Indeed, I was never able to access the parking lot, and after handing over the keys to my understanding travel buddy, I ran to find a taxi, 500 m from the hotel with, of course, my scuba diving bag in tow. Fun, right?
Anyway, all these things that can happen while travelling have happened to me in the past and will happen to me again. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is now another possibility of things that could go wrong. Seriously, when I saw the images of the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupting, every other issue looked kind of small… Somehow, by showing me I could still handle things, this volcano reignited my wanderlust.
If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to WAD Newsletter to receive the latest posts directly into your inbox.
This article was written in partnership with the tourism board of Gran Canaria. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.