Sunday, April 10, 2011

Traveling with kids to Gran Canaria: where to eat & what to do

Our recent family vacation in the Canary Islands was a great trip, and included a lot of good food and some fun excursions too.

Catch-of-the-day dinner at Sagitario in Puertolavaca: papas arrugadas with mojo rojo & grilled fish.
The restaurants
We ate some great food in Gran Canaria. The seafood was especially nice, including the fresh fish, squid, and octopus.

My son loved the local grilled prawns, and the local dish "papas arrugadas" or "Canary Island potatoes", which are small potatoes baked with lots of salt. My daughter is in a very picky eater stage right now, but she liked the local steak, and, occasionally, the fish. For one of our restaurant lunches, to my complete amazement, she ate a whole plateful (literally) of grilled fish!

My own favorite dish was the grilled chipirones (squid). I also loved the spicy mojo rojo sauce that was served with a lot of dishes, and the local goat cheese, which was kind of like a softer and less salty feta cheese. 

A note on kid-friendliness:
All the restaurants we visited were very welcoming to families with kids, and all had high chairs available. However, not all of them had kids' menus. The restaurants in the most touristy spots did (and those menus usually included fare like pizza, pasta, burgers, and chicken nuggets), but in other places we had to choose from the regular menu. One tip: look at the tapas/appetizer menu too for kid-choices. The dessert menus usually really tickled my kids' fancy: lots of big, elaborate ice cream dishes!

Here are some of the restaurants we ate at that I definitely want to recommend: 

1. Apolo XI in Arguineguín
This is an excellent place to go for local cuisine. Friendly staff (that took a particular shine to my son, calling him Don Pedro for some reason), nice tapas, and particularly good seafood dishes. Their octopus cooked Galician style was awesome.

We sat outside right across the street from the beach and harbor and got to see the sun set during our first visit. There was no real kids' menu, but my son loved the king prawns, and my daughter did OK with a weird little dish that consisted of rice, french fries, sausages and a fried egg (!). 

2. Canarias I in Arguineguín
This place is located in a residential area, and unfortunately does not offer outdoor seating. Nothing wrong with the food though. The local and Spanish dishes are really nice, and I particularly liked their swordfish with garlic and parsley.

This restaurant serves big portions, and the food is very good. There is a small kids' menu with choices like steak and fries, spaghetti bolognese, fish and chips and more. The service was alright, though the staff did feel a bit inexperienced at times. 

3. Sagitario in Patalavaca
This restaurant sits right on the beach-walk next to the hotels along the beach in Patalavaca. They specialize in fresh fish, and local cuisine with some Danish/German/British stuff thrown in for good measure. The fish was excellent, and so was the wine list: ask for the local, white wine produced in Gran Canaria (it was amazing). I regret not buying a couple of bottles to bring home!

Sagitario does have a kids' menu, and my daughter ate the chicken nuggets and fries (I know, not exactly local cuisine...) while my son had the spaghetti (he loves pasta and will usually go for that option if it's available). It was also a nice place for the kids because they could go for little walks and look at the ocean during dinner, instead of going nuts just sitting still at the table.  

4. Cueva Pirata in Patalavaca
This restaurant is right next to the road between Patalavaca and Arguineguín. It sits up high on a cliff, and has a pirate theme throughout with gangway "bridges", and pirate-y tunnels leading to the bathrooms. (My daughter was so fascinated by the tunnels that she asked to the bathroom about 5 times...)

The food was very good. My husband loved the onion soup and the swordfish was excellent. There is a kids' menu, but no outdoor seating, though there is a nice view view of the ocean from the big windows.

Things to do
Most of our time was spent by the pool at the hotel or on various beaches, but we did go on some great excursions too.

The kids' pool at Aqualand.
Aqualand
I was ready for the usual water park mayhem when we went to this place, but it wasn't busy at all when we arrived. Definitely the most laidback visit I've ever made to a water park! There were lots of available sun-chairs, virtually no lineups for the many (and some very crazy-scary-freaky) water slides, and lots of space for kids in the kids' slide and play area.

There are about 30 different water slides (from kiddie-style to screamingly terrifying), pools, a "river", play areas, and a sea-lion show thrown in for good measure.

The only problem? My kids thought the water was too cold and most of the slides were too scary. They did enjoy playing in the kids' pool, and my daughter liked watching some of the sea lion show, so we did have a good time anyway. And for more adventurous kids and older kids this place would have been heaven.

One caution: Getting to this water park was hard work. We got lost and drove around Maspalomas for a long time before we found our way out of all the roundabouts and one-way streets. If you go, either take a tour bus there (easiest), or have a really good map and study it beforehand AND have someone at your hotel fill in the route on that map. Be aware that there are not a lot of signage in the town of Maspalomas that will guide you towards this attraction.

One of Puerto de Mogan's lazy, well-fed fat cats.
Walking around Puerto de Mogan
This is a popular fishing village on the south coast with beautiful buildings, a marina, lots and lots of restaurants, shops, and a beach.

It is heavily infused with tourists but still managed to feel "real". A nice place to go for a stroll and a meal. The kids enjoyed looking for fish in the (surprisingly) clear water in the harbor, and watching all the stray cats: the fattest strays I think I've seen anywhere.

The church in Mogan.
Mogan
This mountain village, located some kilometers inland from Puerto de Mogan, makes a great destination if you want an easy taste of the mountains of Gran Canaria. You drive up the narrow road heading up the valley, past a multitude of tiny villages and many beautifully, brightly painted houses.

The town of Mogan itself has a beautiful little church and a lot of gorgeous mountain scenery surrounding it. Not a lot for the kids to do in this town, but my daughter was fascinated by the paintings in the small church, especially the one showing the eternally damned. Her comment: "Those people don't look very happy."

View from the cliffs along the west coast of Gran Canaria. We were about 400 m above the ocean!
A drive around the island
On our last week in Gran Canaria we went for an adventurous drive around the island. It is a pretty small island, so this is totally do-able as a day trip.

We headed inland from Puerto de Mogan, past Mogan, and into the real mountains where the roads were so winding (and windy!) that anyone with a propensity for car sickness (me) felt like throwing up for most of it.

Even with the car sickness, it was an amazing tour. The view from the cliffs hundreds of meters above the ocean on the west side of Gran Canaria was breathtaking. For the kids, the highlights were the stops we made along the way to gawk at the scenery and almost get blown off the mountain tops.

We ate lunch in Puerto de las Nieves, the harbor of Agaete, and then kept driving all around the island and back to our hotel in Arguineguín. 

A note on driving: Be advised that while driving on Gran Canaria's well-maintained main roads is easy-peasy, the mountain roads are narrow, and often have dramatic cliffs towering on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other side of the roadside fence. Bring a good map, some motion sickness medication if you're so inclined, and a camera!

The cave site at Cuatro Puertas.
Caves!
There are several cave sites in Gran Canaria, and on our round-the-island drive I had promised the kids we'd go look at some caves. However, we missed the turn-off for the famous "Painted Cave", and instead decided to try to locate the more obscure Cuatro Puertas site.

It took some detailed map-studying, but we did find the site. It's located off an inland road between Telde and Ingenio on the south coast. You make a turnoff from that road, heading up a hill, and then the road just ends. After that, there is no signage, just a rough gravel road up the hillside until you reach the site itself. Once there, there is some signage explaining the history of the caves and the religious rites that may have been performed on the hilltop.

View from the cave site.
The site is called Four Doors, Cuatro Puertas, because the main cave has four big openings. To me, the site was curiously undeveloped for tourists: no entrance fee (good), no signage until you're almost at the caves already (bad), and no real visitor center that might help explain more about the significance of this ancient, archeological site.

it was an extremely windy spot (poor cave men!), but there's an awesome view of the coast, and the kids did like clambering around on the rocks and looking inside the caves.

Kissing the official Canarian dogs outside the cathedral.
Las Palmas
This is the capital of the Canary Islands and it's a big city. We kind of got lost driving around it, and my advice is: have a map, study it before you drive into the city and know exactly where you want to go.

The main event for us was walking by Christopher Columbus' house and visiting the big cathedral in the old part of the city. We took an elevator up to the top of the cathedral and got a great view of the city. However, I think the biggest thrill for the kids though was running around the big square outside the cathedral chasing pigeons, and hugging the statues of the original Canarian dogs.
You can read more about our trip, including tips on places to stay and beaches to go to here.

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

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