ABOARD THE STAR FLYER – I questioned the appeal of Las Palmas, which has mushroomed from a cozy seacoast getaway of 60,000 people in 1970 to its present population of more than 400,000. Although the city center and its historic Old Town district of Vegueta are easily reached from the harbor, I decided to join the ship-sponsored excursion, figuring I’d see and learn more on the guided five-hour tour than I would poking around on my own.
Our excursion got underway with a stop to admire the city’s most iconic modern edifice, the striking Alfredo Kraus Auditorium, designed by noted Spanish architect Oscar Tusquets. The auditorium is shaped half like a fortress, half like a lighthouse, with a spectacular backdrop on the Atlantic Ocean. We strolled a short distance along adjacent Las Canteras beach, which was crawling with sunbathers, swimmers and surfers. Next stop was Parque Doramas with its serene gardens, fountains and waterfall – a park that also hides the city’s most exclusive hotel — the 1890 colonial style Hotel Santa Catalina.
Off to Vegueta, we roamed maze of cobblestone streets within the charming walled quarter, dating to 1478 and that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990. Vegueta’s most beautiful and prominent building is Casa Colon, where Christopher Columbus visited on the way to his first voyage to the Americas. The house now serves as a fine museum and gallery where we browsed a fascinating collection of artifacts and archives commemorating the discovery of the New World and the history of Las Palmas and Gran Canaria. Wrapping up the tour was a drive up to the volcanic crater of Bandama, an extinct volcano rising some 1,900 feet above Las Palmas. This lava-coated outlook provided a panoramic view of the city on one side, and Spain’s first golf course on the other.
Although it is a big and busy city, Las Palmas hides many treasures and I very much enjoyed the visit there.