When gay men find a place they like, they tend to stick to it. That's why Gran Canaria is still our resort of choice after 30 years. Accommodation is plentiful and you can get flights from operators like EasyJet, Jet2, Vueling and RyanAir for little more than £70 return including taxes. For OutUK Neville Walker reports from Spain.

At about 10:30pm every night of the year there's a shift change at the Yumbo Centre in Playa del Ingles, Gran Canaria. It's not the staff who are changing over, but the clientele.

Before 10:30pm, families browse cheap leather goods and sportswear. German couples with lemon sweaters over their shoulders relax with an after-dinner drink.

After 10:30pm - curfew time for families and yellow sweaters - the centre fills with a very different, more hedonistic crowd: higher spending, better haircuts. It may be the archetypal package-tour resort, but Playa del Ingles with Maspalomas is also the biggest gay resort in Europe. And the Yumbo Centre is its epicentre.


Drag artiste Sandra Lumumba's map lists 47 gay venues there, mostly bars. It's more than either Soho or Canal Street in Manchester can offer, and it's also very much a male scene.
For a while, the two worlds meet and mingle. A few straight tourists stay longer to take in a drag show, safely risqué and - performers aside - not particularly gay. But the two worlds are, for all their peaceful co-existence, astonishingly separate.

CATERING FOR GAY VISITORS

For gay tour operators, Gran Canaria represents up to 90% of their winter business. Despite new trends in gay travel, Gran Canaria and the other gay favourites - Ibiza, Sitges, Mykonos and, to a lesser extent, Torremolinos, Palma and Benidorm - show no sign of losing popularity. For these places, gay tourism is an important part of the local economy, which translates into a welcome for gay visitors rather than just grudging acceptance.
Rob Harkavy, director of one leading gay tour operator says, "Hoteliers love the fact that we're a gay company because they tend not to get their hotel rooms or apartments smashed up, and they tend not to get complaints from other residents about terrible drunken revelry at 4am."

The established resorts offer facilities on a massive scale for gay visitors. Sheer size creates a safe and welcoming atmosphere, and there is little if any reported homophobia or violence against gays. It would be hard for new destinations to muscle in - the promise of two gay bars isn't enough: 22 and you might be in business. It's one reason the list of gay favourites changes so little.


Zipper Video's Euroboy Hard 4 video was filmed in Gran Canaria.

FUN IN THE DUNES

The gay visitor's typical day in Gran Canaria doesn't start early. Most exclusively gay accommodation isn't in the concrete jungle of Playa del Ingles but in its bungalow suburb of Maspalomas, which is quieter, leafier and easier on the eye. But Maspalomas boasts one of the most spectacular beaches in the Canary Islands and gay visitors take full advantage. Gay beaches tend to be quieter, more remote and less spoilt by mass tourism. Maspalomas offers seclusion in abundance. There's a gay section of the rather windy beachfront, but there's also a substantial gay section in the vast dunes behind it. The dunes are the daytime counterpoint to the Yumbo Centre, big enough for everyone to have a dune each if they choose. Trees act as windbreaks and help create suntraps as well as offering privacy. It's no coincidence that the gay section is adjacent to the naturist area: both groups crave privacy and many gay men like to sunbathe naked.

AFTER DARK

After a day on the beach, many gay men make their way to the public terrace in front of the Riu Palace Hotel in Playa del Ingles. It's a chance to see what the people from the next sand dune look like up close and to watch the sun set behind the Maspalomas lighthouse. Some go on to the Cita Centre for coffee and cakes at Café Wien. It's one of the few culinary highlights of southern Gran Canaria and suggests Austrians are rather better at patisserie than they are at politics.

After sunset, many take a disco nap to prepare for the night ahead. Dinner tends to be late, and it's often nothing special: few restaurants in Playa del Ingles rise above the steak and seafood mediocrity of the tourist menu.

Soon it's 10.30pm again and time to go back to the Yumbo. It offers gay bars of every type - convivial places, cruisy ones and even bars for gay pensioners, who can have a waltz and a schnapps at Na Und.

Bars with open-air terraces are a great way to make eye-contact or there's plenty with dark-rooms to make other types of contact. Cruise, Construction, The Block, The Cellar, Mantrix are a few names of places you would enjoy wether you weanted to cruise or not, all have dark rooms. There's also a sauna up on the 4th floor open daily from 4pm until 2am, gets very busy if the weather has been bad all day.

While straight visitors lap up the drag cabaret at Café Labelle, gay men prefer the leather and feathers at Centre Stage, where every night is Julie Andrews night.

But the nightlife doesn't really get going until around midnight, when the slicker, more international bars on the top floor start to fill up. Each pumps out the latest Euro-hits on video. Tubos is the first to fill, then the crowd moves around to Mykonos before reaching the Metropole Disco. The process takes three hours.

The crowd is younger than in the downstairs bars, with more evidence of time at the gym.

Despite the absence - except at weekends - of Canarian men, this procession from one bar to another is the most Spanish feature of Gran Canaria's gay nightlife. Drinkers who linger too long in one bar will find it empties as the in-crowd moves on. At 4am, the upper level winds down and the large disco bars on the opposite side of the centre around XL crank up the energy. You haven't really done gay Gran Canaria until you've been at one of the clubs until the bitter end. No wonder the gay presence seems to melt away during the day. Gay men rarely have the best suntans on the plane home.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Café Labelle (Yumbo Centre)
Café Wien (Avenida Francia, 35100 Maspalomas; T: +34 928 76 03 80)
Cruise (Yumbo Centre)
Construction (Yumbo Centre)
Hotel Riu Palace Maspalomas (Avenida de Tirajana, S/N, 35100 Maspalomas; T: +34 928 76 95 00)
Mantrix (Yumbo Centre)
Metropole Swimming Club (Calle Poeta Alonso Quesada, S/N, 35005 Las Palmas; T: +34 928 24 43 46)
Mykonos Bar (Yumbo Centre)
Na Und. (Yumbo Centre Website)
The Block (Yumbo Centre)
The Cellar (Yumbo Centre)
Tubos Bar (Yumbo Centre)
Yumbo Centrum (Avenida Estados Unidos, 54, 35100 Maspalomas; T: +34 928 76 41 96)

S/N stands for "sin número" which means no number in the street!

Revised June 2017.

 

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