Gran Canaria
Fernando Ilarduya
Fernando Ilarduya

Fernando Ilarduya

‘For me, Gran Canaria is freedom, happiness and home.’

Fernando Ilarduya and his husband founded Freedom LGTB, the association which organises the Freedom Festival and Maspalomas Pride, one of the best-known pride marches in Europe. Fernando originally comes from Pamplona, but he decided to make Gran Canaria his new home 10 years ago because of the great weather and, above all, because he felt free here.

Fernando, had you visited the island many times before moving here definitively?

Yes. I came on holiday because I was looking for somewhere to set up home. I tried other countries and cities, but I ended up picking Gran Canaria for the climate and for the LGTB world here, it’s Europe’s LGTB paradise!

I’d heard people talk about Yumbo, and Maspalomas and so I gave it a try. I liked it, it felt like a good fit for me and the following year, I bought my house and came to live here.

Fernando in Yumbo Centrum.
Yumbo Centrum.

How has your life changed since you moved to Gran Canaria?

In every way. I feel free, like I’d never felt anywhere else. It is just normal here: you can hold hands in the street, you can wear whatever you want...people respect you.

What are people looking for when they choose Maspalomas as a holiday destination?

As an LGTB city, they want to feel comfortable. In the end, we’re all looking to meet someone or make friends and, logically, it’s easy to find that here. Also, having a shopping centre practically devoted to us, plus hotels and apartments, all that makes us feel special; we fit in. And above all, people are seeking freedom. Here the most important thing is freedom, feeling like yourself.

Fernando in the Yumbo shopping centre.
Fernando in Yumbo Centrum.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Go out and party with friends at the Yumbo, at chiringuito 7, boat parties, parties in the AxelBeach hotel... I also go to the gym every day, because we like to look after ourselves. I also like walking alongside the beach. But basically, that’s it: sport, night-life and socialising, I’m a friendly kind of guy.

Fernando Ilarduya in the Axelbeach pool.
Mojito at Hotel AxelBeach Maspalomas.

Which spots on the island would you recommend?

I love the Guayadeque caves, they are just extraordinary. Suddenly, you get there, you go into the caves, and they serve you food and drink. And then there’s Mogán, the little port, the lovely’s a beautiful setting. It’s like a pretty micro-city, bursting with colours and a picture postcard!

What would your perfect day in Gran Canaria be like?

I’d go to the beach, come to Yumbo at night, go to the gym and eat out in a restaurant. Everything we’ve got right here. It’s pretty easy to have a perfect day here. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just easy living. You just don’t get the stress you find elsewhere. Maybe it’s because the tourists are all on holiday and everyone is more relaxed, but it’s a peaceful life.

How and when did the Freedom Association come about?

We’ve been working on it for the last six or seven years and set it up to manage and professionalise Maspalomas Pride. The members are business owners from the south of the island related to the collective.

What is the role of the association?

We work all year round for Pride and Freedom, to make us visible, noticed and to make the destination what it is, the number one LGTB tourist destination in Europe. More than anything, we’re all about visibility although we also provide advice on different actions that take place.

In the end, an LGTB association fights for the collective’s rights, even though there are no attacks here, for example. There have been no cases like that, no attacks to be reported or anyone you needs assistance. The people on the island are easy-going. The people that come here and the people that live here accept their sexuality, that’s why they are here. Having a LGTB association in Gran Canaria is not like in other cities because logically we are talking about different things. But for sure, we help whoever we can.

Which festivals or events on the island would you recommend?

Maspalomas Pride! Because it is a top quality, activist festival and because I organise it [laughs]...there’s a lot of love goes into it. We always want everyone to come, for them to feel free and I believe that it’s a unique experience.

It’s true that this is a more festive Pride, but as I always say, it’s activism through visibility. I would also recommend our Carnival, especially in the south of the island because it is more intimate and more international. It’s just wonderful to see tourists who are bowled over by it.

Fernando Ilarduya shopping in ADDICTED.
In the ADDICTED shop, in Yumbo Centrum.

Tell us a little bit more about Maspalomas Pride. How long does it last? What goes on?

The festival lasts 11 days and takes place mainly in Yumbo and in different locations, usually LGTB hotels or cultural spaces. The event schedule includes all types of activities: culture, a lot of music, parties, a parade...all to give the collective visibility.

How many people get involved in Pride?

We calculate that over 200,000 people pass through Yumbo during Maspalomas Pride. It fills up every night and many people come back again and again. People take part from all over the world, although mainly from Europe: Germany, United Kingdom, France and Italy. Although you’ll also come across people from China, Australia, United States, Latin America, Africa. People come from all over!

Do people tend to come back year after year?

Always. People fall in love with it the first time they come. I’ve been to Prides all over the world and there’s nothing like this. It’s the atmosphere, the feel of it.

Beyond Pride, what else do they do during their stay in Gran Canaria?

People normally don’t come just for 11 days, they usually stretch it out by a week, some people come for the whole month. At the start they just want to party, but they visit other places afterwards.

It’s fair to say that during Pride, they usually stay around here, but they do go to the beach, to chiringuito 7, for a stroll...there are lots of things. After the festival, they want to relax so, they travel around the island and explore areas like Tejeda, the Guayadeque caves, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Fernando Ilarduya walking near the Maspalomas Lighthouse.
Paseo de Meloneras.

Fernando, can you see yourself on the island in 10 years’ time? Would you choose to live on the island all your life?

Yes, and not just me. More and more people are deciding to retire in Gran Canaria. It’s logical, who’s not going to want to stay here?

In your opinion, what makes Gran Canaria one of the favourite LGTB tourist destinations in Europe?

This destination we have here. The weather is always good, the temperature is pleasant. The diversity and the freedom... That’s how you feel: free. You’re alive. feel alive. At least that’s how I feel. And then, apart from having a destination tailored for you, this is like nowhere else on Earth.

At Hotel AxelBeach Maspalomas.
At Hotel AxelBeach Maspalomas.
Fernando Ilarduya at the viewpoint looking out over the Maspalomas dunes.
Fernando next to the Maspalomas dunes.
Gran Canaria