Saturday, April 9, 2011

Traveling with kids to Gran Canaria: places to stay & beaches to visit

Our latest family vacation took us to the island of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands for two beautiful weeks.

Many of my friends in Canada and the US thought that going to the Canary Islands sounded exotic. For many Europeans however, the Canary Islands is a common-place destination and not really considered all that exciting. Lots of Europeans travel there for beach and sun vacations, especially in the winter months when the countries around the Mediterranean are too cold and rainy to enjoy the beaches and ocean.

After visiting, I think the Canary Islands is a great destination, though there are areas that are tourist traps to the n:th degree. As a family, we definitely had a great time and I would love to go back.

Getting there
For Europeans, including my Swedish family members who joined us in Gran Canaria, going to the Canary Islands means a 3-5 hour flight, depending on where you start out from. For us, coming from Vancouver, Canada, total travel-time to get there was more like 20 hours: Vancouver - Frankfurt, Frankfurt - Madrid, Madrid - Gran Canaria.

And yes, we were definitely wiped out by the time we arrived!

View of the hotel from the kids' pool.

The accommodation
We stayed at Sunwing Resort Arguineguín, which is a large family resort hotel mainly frequented by Scandinavians. The hotel is great for families with kids, with lots of facilities and services like washing machines and dryers, babysitting, on-site restaurants with kids' menus, a small deli/supermarket, a playground, plenty of activities for kids, a gym and a spa (that I never ended up using).

For those traveling with babies, there were strollers and high chairs available to rent for the duration of the stay.

There's buffet-style breakfast, lunch and dinner available at the hotel, and if you take the all-inclusive option, those are the meals that are included. The buffet breakfast was included as part of our stay, and there was a plentiful selection of everything from yogurt, cereal, pancakes, bacon, breads, and eggs. Some local cheese, ham and pastries were also available. It was an impressive spread.

The hotel has a baby pool and a kids' pool, as well as an adult pool. Both the kids' pool and the bigger, deeper pool were salt water pools which was a nice change from chlorine.The baby pool was covered to provide extra shade for little ones too.

View from our part of the hotel, towards the pool area below.

Our room was a "Big Family" room on the 2nd floor. It had a balcony, TV, a couch, lots of closet space, two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a bathroom with a shower. It was very clean, had great beds and was comfortable and roomy.

The harbor in Arguineguín.
Arguineguín is not the most touristy town on Gran Canaria, which is a plus in my book. It felt like a genuine town, with a life other than the tourist trade, even though there are certainly lots of hotels there. There were many good restaurants within easy walking distance of the hotel, a nice walkway along the beach, and several good supermarkets.

I'd definitely recommend both Arguineguín and nearby Patalavaca for anyone who is looking at going to Gran Canaria, especially if you're looking for something a little more quiet and laidback. Many other towns we visited were way, way more touristified and frantic. Of all the places we saw, these two towns and Puerto de Mogan, were my favorites.

The beaches
Most beaches in Gran Canaria, at least the ones close to towns and tourist centers, offer beach-chair and umbrella rentals. To claim a seat, just put your stuff down on chairs that look unoccupied and wait.

There's usually a guy walking around between the rows of chairs, ready to take your money and help you set up your umbrella for a few euros per seat, per day. 

Baby beach-tip: If you're bringing a baby to the beach (especially a pre-walking one), having a chair so you're off the sand and have an umbrella for shade is a definite plus!

I would have loved it if there had been a great beach right at the hotel, but that was not the case. True, there was a small, rocky/gravelly beach right next to the hotel, but we never went there.

There was also a small beach in the town center of Arguineguín, and another smallish beach in nearby Patalavaca, but we never went to either, even though they did look OK. They just didn't wow us I guess. 

A special note on beach-wear, or lack thereof: One thing for North Americans to be aware of: topless sunbathing is totally legal and common in Gran Canaria (whether this is a plus or not is a matter of opinion I guess). You will also see a lot of naked children on the beaches. Nudist sunbathing for adults is common, but is restricted to certain out of the way areas, mainly in the area of the sand dunes near Maspalomas.

Gran Canaria does have lots of beautiful beaches, and here are the ones we visited:

Playa del Ingles, looking towards the dunes (way off in the distance, past the masses of sunbathers.)
1. Playa del Ingles
This is a loooooooong stretch of beautiful sandy beach with gorgeous waves rolling in. The waves were probably a little much for really small kids (babies and toddlers), but for kids 3-4 years old and up it was awesome. Great sand to dig in, great water to swim and splash in, and lots of restaurants and shops just off the beach too. We had some really fantastic days on this beach, and when the waves were up even the adults had some serious fun in the surf!

It's a busy beach, but well worth a visit even if you will definitely be part of a biiig crowd.

The town of Playa del Ingles is a serious eye-sore though. It couldn't look more like a tourist-trap if it tried. Highrise hotels squished together, knick-knack souvenir-shops lining the streets, restaurants specializing in anything but local cuisine... all the stuff that makes me itch all over and want to run for the hills. Still, that beach explains why the town is so full of tourists. 

One note on washrooms: there are only a few public washrooms along this long beach. (I would have loved to see some stinky port-a-potties!) And if you find one, be prepared to pay 0.50 euros (cash, per person) to go inside. Have some coins available, and scout out the washrooms when you arrive, just to be ready if you have a "need to go now!" child. You can also use the washrooms at the restaurants when you have a meal, or ask the staff if you can use it even if you're not eating in the restaurant.

Near the dunes at Playa Maspalomas.
2. Playa Maspalomas
This beach is located on the other side of the famous sand dunes from Playa del Ingles. The dunes themselves are a nature reserve and a popular tourist (and nudist) destination. It's a beautiful beach, close by lots of hotels and shops in upscale Maspalomas, and to reach it you have to drive down some narrow streets between hotels and apartment blocks. It's worth the effort though.

Playa Maspalomas.

Beautiful sand, some rocks at the water's edge (not enough to bug anyone though), and some beach shacks where you can buy a small selection of drinks, sandwiches, chips, ice cream and ice-cold beer. I had two divinely cold cans of local Tropical beer here, lounging on my sun-chair while the kids enjoyed the beach.

Playa del Ingles is the better beach, but this was a nice one too.

Anfi del Mar.
3. Anfi del Mar
This is a man-made beach (I can't even imagine the cost and labor involved), consisting of sand apparently imported from the Bahamas! It's a kind of cove beach, protected from the surf and waves by a man-made reef (otherwise all that sand would wash away with the storms I guess).

The sand is beautiful, the water is very calm and clear, and this is a good place if you have very small children: they can play here without any danger from currents or waves. We enjoyed our day here and it was actually possible to walk to this beach from our hotel in Arguineguín (the walk took about 30 minutes) along the seawall promenade.

Set back from the beach there are restaurants and stores and a massive apartment complex called Club Anfi. There were a lot of nice-looking restaurants and bars, and a convenient parking garage with elevators that go right down to the beach.

A highly recommended beach if you're traveling with toddlers or babies.

4. Playa Amadores
This beach is located on the south coast too, just past the town of Puerto Rico (which looked like a Playa del Ingles in miniature). Like Anfi, it's a man-made beach and protected from the open ocean, so no good waves unfortunately. There is ample public, free parking at one end of the beach.

This beach looks gorgeous, but the one detracting factor is that the restaurants and shops are very close to the beach, and that there is a serious sense of tourist-hustle in those shops and restaurants. It was the one place where I felt uncomfortable because restaurant employees were almost physically grabbing us to push us into seats as we passed.

This beach would be really good if you're traveling with very young children, but for a better beach-experience, I'd rather recommend Anfi.

Right outside the hotel, just before sunset.

About the climate
March, when we visited, is still spring time in the Canary Islands, so it was nice and green on the mountain sides, and not blisteringly hot in the daytime (though the sand did get hot enough to scorch my feet!).

In the daytime, temperatures got up to about 25-29 degrees Celsius and it was sunny and gorgeous every day. At night however, and even in the mornings, it did get cool enough to warrant a sweater.

The water was nice too, but not tropically warm: this is the Atlantic after all. Water temperature was probably 19-20 degrees Celsius, and a bit warmer at the man-made beaches like Anfi del Mar and Amadores.

You can read more about places to eat and things to do in Gran Canaria here.

All photos taken by me, my husband, and my parents. Map thanks to


  1. Seems so great to have the vacation there. I also love to travel with my kids. It gives us more time to get together and have a bonding moment. Thanks for sharing this to us. I've got an idea.

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  2. Just stumbled across this blog post as I'm getting ready for our trip to Gran Canaria - some lovely tips, especially about the beaches!


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