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Gran Canaria – Carnival

Sardines and Sequins


Yes, the Carnival (or Carnaval to you Spanish speakers) season is well underway, with festivities taking place all over the world. Lee Hudson popped in to witness this year’s event in Gran Canaria’s ever popular gay holiday resort, Playa Del Ingles.

It’s the beginning of February and the Yumbo Centre is packed for this colourful extravaganza. The huge stage set is lit by pulsating colourful beams, the TV cameras broadcast on huge screens at either side of the stage, and the leading ladies took to the stage in some spectacular carnival outfits. In truth they were more than just ‘outfits’, they were spectacular mini-floats covered in multi-coloured feathers, tinsel, brocade, sequins and all manner of other adornments… and this was just the starting point for the week… to chose a Carnival Queen. Several extravagantly be-dressed competitors took to the stage (helped by a couple of scantily clad muscular lads) and the cameras swooped in for close-ups of each fantastic creation. As the judges went off to pontificate on the eventual winner, dance troops, singers, salsa bands all entertained the multitude and each act was of an exceptionally high standard – as you’d come to expect from the Maspalomas Carnaval (which has something to do with honouring the sardines that brought forth the island’s riches). It’s truly amazing that only the week before, the islands capital, Las Palmas, also hosted a similar mega event that went on for a week and the fantastic thing is… both events include the riches that its gay culture offers. Hell, there’s even an award for the best Carnival Drag Queen.

So, a week of dancing and celebration got underway; a time when all the villagers come down from the hills and party till the early hours. As the Yumbo is the centre of gay life in Playa Del Ingles (with over 50 bars, drag shows, clubs, saunas, coffee bars and restaurants) everyone seems to be happy and content to mix and have fun. Bring your dancing shoes as that Carnival rhythm is very intoxicating, and the totally relaxed atmosphere is simply gratifying.

Back in the early 80s I used to regularly come to Gran Canaria but haven’t been back for over 10 years, so I was keen to see what, if anything, had changed? Well, in those early days the gay life centred around the dunes (nothing changed there, the afternoon coffee and cake in the Cita centre and the night life at the Nilo Centre. Now the Yumbo Centre is unbelievable, where all kinds of folk, and of all ages, seem to congregate for a chat, a drink and let’s not beat around the bush here, a little bit of a cruise. Watching the guys (there is someone for everyone; bears, twinks, skaterboys, clones, daddies, muscle Marys, drag queens…) saunter past is very nice… especially whilst sipping some cocktail concoction. Most of the islands 2-million plus visitors flock to the south of the islands and I would suspect a huge proportion of those are gay because the place is just so welcoming. There are totally gay complexes (back in the 80s I remember only one totally gay complex called Los Turbitos based out in San Augustin), hotels, bungalows and apartments as well as innumerable gay-friendly establishments… none seem to bat an eyelid as to your sexual preference.

If you are planning on a trip to the sun in May… you might like to think about visiting the island’s Gay Pride event that takes place from the 5th to the 13th… this is when Playa Del Ingles will really come into its own.