Bear Island

Story by Seth Bracken, September 2018 Issue.

I want to let you in on a travel secret. Well, it’s a secret for most Americans, but it’s something the Brits and Germans have known for years.

There are seven Spanish islands located about 100 miles off the coast of western Africa. And, on top of ideal weather, sandy beaches, rugged volcanic mountaintops and gorges, one town on the Canary Islands – Playa del Ingles (English Beach) – just so happens to be a gay oasis. Think Palm Springs meets Key West, but bigger. We’re talking dozens of gay resorts, gay bars and a lively gay beach – even an entire four-story (mostly) gay complex called the Yumbo Center.

And in March, it became a whole lot hairier.

Photo by Seth Bracken.

The third annual Bear Carnival attracted hundreds of bears, cubs, otters and their admirers to the seaside town of about 36,000 people. While not nearly on the scale of the more popular bear events, such as Sitges or Provincetown Bear Weeks, Bear Carnival has its own unique appeal.

Many of the events took place in the center of gay life on Grand Canary, the Yumbo Center. This outdoor gay mall boasts multiple drag cabaret shows, half a dozen cruising bars, several bear bars and a myriad of clubs, pubs, cafes as well as clothing, leather and sex stores.

The Yumbo Center is far from glamorous. The glitzy Vegas strip or the boardwalk of South Beach, this is not. Built decades ago, it’s unpretentious, affordable and some of the easiest gay bar hopping in the world.

Photo courtesy of

The Bear Carnival took full advantage of the Yumbo and each night the crowds spilled onto the walkways in front of the bear bars. As the night progressed, the party slowly moved upstairs where the clubs and cruising areas were located.

Bear Carnival hosted what was billed as the largest bear pool party in Europe, several island tours, a pirate-themed booze cruise to take in the coastline and a performance from Doctor Woof, a delightfully charming quasi-drag performer who competed on “The X Factor UK.”

But it wasn’t the parties, the gay beach nestled into Sahara-like sand dunes, or even the gay mall that made the week so terrific. As cliché as it may sound, it was the people. A true Goldilocks event, it wasn’t so big that you got lost in the sea of men, but it was big enough that there were always new people to talk to and new friends to make. Something about the unassuming nature of the island seemed to make everyone more amicable.

I partied with an exceptionally good-natured group of blokes from the United Kingdom. I loved chatting up the salty Parisian who seemed to secretly relish the undemanding nature of the event. And I was tickled to see a Facebook friend request come in from a Polish cub who gleefully bounced down the gigantic inflatable slide at the pool party over and over with me.

Photo courtesy of

Grand Canary is the type of place Jimmy Buffett would probably feel right at home. It isn’t glamorous. It’s rough around the edges and more than a bit unrefined. But it doesn’t try to be more than that. Hotels are affordable, food is cheap, the pours are long and the drinks are reasonably priced.

The island is easy travel. You don’t need to buy a ticket in advance for the drag bars or try to keep a social calendar for when the shows are happening or bars are going to be worth visiting. Show up any night of the week and if the bar you’re at isn’t what you’re looking for, walk two storefronts down and find one that is. It’s not an island to put on airs. It’s an island where you can comfortably walk the streets holding your boyfriend’s hand and enjoy the low-stress nightlife, gorgeous beaches, winding mountain roads and so much more.

Next year’s Bear Carnival is already on the books (March 30-April 7). And as the event grows, hopefully the intimate and undemanding charm isn’t lost.

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