Area guide – Canary Islands

12 Feb | 21 min read

An Island paradise for anyone seeking year-round sun, the Canaries combine the best of Spain with an African climate and a diverse natural environment that is all their own.

From the thrills of the coastal resorts, to the tranquillity of ancient forests and mountains, with plenty of excitement and culture in between, the Canary Islands offer something for everyone.

The Canary Islands are quite unlike anywhere else, an archipelago of seven islands formed from the tips of volcanoes that erupted from the seabed 14 million years ago. Today things have cooled a little; you will find a variety of stunning landscapes to explore, including the highest mountains in Europe, seas that are warmed by volcanic lava and 65-million-year-old forests shrouded in mist.

Closer to the west coast of Africa that Spain, the Canaries include the perennially popular Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The location means you will enjoy sunshine all year round and a consistent climate that averages at 17 ºC in the winter and 24 ºC in summer thanks to a cool offshore breeze. You’ll be living in the land of eternal spring!

Although ruled by Spain, the Canaries have their own distinct character. With a population that is as European as it is Spanish, you will be moving to a diverse, multicultural society, with friendly faces to be found from former residents of England, Germany, Scandinavia and beyond.

While the tourist resorts swell in the summer months, there are plenty of out of the way locations for you to explore that have retained their individuality. The architecture and culture of the islands draws on the colonial era of the 15th century, while the influence of years of trade and immigration from Latin America can be found in the food, language and atmosphere.

These are islands of great contrasts, with party resorts like Playa de las Americas on one side, and cultural centres like Santa Cruz in Tenerife and Las Palmas, the capital of Gran Canaria on the other. You can spend your days lazing on a sun lounger on the famous black volcanic sands or learn to windsurf in Jandía, Fuerteventura. The canaries truly have something for everyone.

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Gran Canaria

Nicknamed the ‘mini continent’ by the tourism board, Gran Canaria has a variety of microclimates including an alpine north, an arid south, a fertile centre and a breezy, white sandy coastline.

Thanks to the microclimates brought in by the trade winds and the volcanic foundation of the island, Gran Canaria contains mountains, ravines, plantations and plentiful beaches all within the 50 km diameter. One third of the island is in the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) run by Unesco and includes over 30 different protected natural areas.

Tourists tend to gravitate towards Las Palmas, the capital and the coastal resorts. The Playa del Ingles offers a buzzing beach and nightlife, Meloneras hosts upscale villas and boutiques, Maspalomas has the famous wind-sculpted dunes and separate beaches for families, nudists and the LGBT community while Mogán has a loyal year-round following with residents of the island.

Motorways connect Gran Canaria airport with Las Palmas and popular resorts and there’s an extensive bus network encircling the island. Apart from banana and tobacco exports, tourism is the most likely sector for job seekers. Both English and German languages are in demand and Northern European expats keep the service industries going over the winter months. There are schools aplenty and a large hospital in the capital.

Enjoy the Painted Cave, an archaeological museum and park in the town of Galdar. Pasito Blanco offers golf courses and close to Agüimes is a crocodile park and reptile zoo. In the 19th century, Gran Canaria became known as a place of ‘Grand Rest’. Visitors came for the spas at Azuaje and Berrazales. Nowadays there’s a range of spa and wellness centres all over the island. Celebrate Carnival in either Las Palmas or Maspalomas in February-March. Maspalomas has hosted the Gran Canaria Gay Pride festival for nearly 20 years. Residents also enjoy whale watching, water sports, hiking, biking and deep-sea fishing.

 

Lanzarote

This volcanic Canary Island located off the coast of West Africa is a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve and is known for its surreal landscape of volcanoes, year-round warm weather and beautiful beaches.

Enjoy art, culture and outdoor life in truly epic surroundings, so get yourself a slice of this increasingly up-market island while you still can…

This small island (37 miles long by 12 miles wide) is located off the coast of West Africa, and forms one of the seven Canary Islands. A UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve, Lanzarote is known for its surreal landscape of volcanoes, year-round warm weather, and beautiful beaches. The climate is relatively rain-free, which has resulted in a parched, rocky landscape with a surreal, otherworldly quality that looks like it has been lifted straight from a science fiction film – and indeed, it has: Lanzarote has been used as the location for several sci-fi and fantasy films, including One Million Years BC. Gone are the bucket-and-spade associations of yore – Lanzarote is turning into quite an upmarket destination. Its eco-friendly credentials are second to none thanks to the influence of the visionary artist, architect and environmentalist César Manrique, who tirelessly lobbied planning authorities to prevent Lanzarote from the ravages of over-development. As a result, you won’t find any high-rise buildings or billboard advertising here.

You will, however, find beaches – and lots of them. Yes, there are the usual long stretches of fine, gold sand, spilling into pristine waters but head to El Golfo in the southwest where you’ll also find a very gothic black sand beach complete with its own acid green lagoon. The surrounding waters are equally varied – whether it’s calm water you’re looking for or perfect waves for surfing, you’ll find it here.

With 300 volcanic cones, the Island has many uniquely beautiful sites, such as the scorched badlands of Timanfaya national park. Here, volcanic cones glow with a fire-and-brimstone palette of deep reds and charcoal blacks, bubbling mud pots (fumaroles) spit and hiss and mini geysers fume and steam with infernal fury. Continuing this diabolic theme is the Cueva de los Verdes, a stunning underground cave system with its own lake that could easily double up as a Bond villain hideaway. These caves also act as a concert venue; you can enjoy live classical music in this haunting setting with perfect natural acoustics. Emerge from this idyllic subterranean lair and head to César Manrique’s fabulous Mirador del Río, a lookout post in the Famara mountains that allows you to view the oldest salt lakes in the Canary Islands in true arch-nemesis style. Manrique also created the Jameos del Agua, a unique art, culture, and tourism centre based in a series of caves. Here, you’ll find a varied programme of live events including music, theatre, dance, and cinema in stunning cave surroundings.

There are also plenty of historic towns to discover, such as the old town of Puerto del Carmen. Inland, you’ll find the beautiful whitewashed town of Haria, located in the valley of 1,000 palms. Why not pop along to the weekly artisan market which takes place here every Saturday or visit its small art gallery located in the old well or aljibe? If you are looking for something a bit more cosmopolitan, head to Arrecife, the island’s capital. This coastal city is home to around half the island’s inhabitants and offers plenty of urban hustle and bustle including shopping, nightlife, parks, promenades and beaches. Just five km south of the capital is Lanzarote airport, which offers flights to most of Europe. What are you waiting for?

 

Tenerife

Known as the Island of Eternal Spring, Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands, an archipelago off the West coast of Africa on the same latitude as the Sahara Desert.

Tenerife has a rich cultural make-up as well as a diverse range of territories. It’s clean, warm, well set up for international travellers and ideal for a leisurely lifestyle.

Famed as Spain’s highest peak, Mount Teide is a dormant volcano that dominates the island’s landscape. From ancient forests to lava fields, and snowy peaked crests to famous basalt black sanded beaches, Tenerife packs a huge amount of diverse terrain into a small area. According to Spain’s Health and Industry Ministry, Tenerife is one of the cleanest places in the country with an air pollution index well below the national average. That’s partly down to lack of industry, but also down to a heady sea-breeze. At the moment of counting, there are 13 Blue Flag beaches during peak season and National Park status protects much of the interior.

Tenerife claimed global significance when Spain conquered the Americas, with the port town and now capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife providing a trading point for sailors heading across the Atlantic. Tourism began in earnest with the Victorians and now accounts for a considerable part of Tenerife’s economy — with 78% of the population in the service industries.

Because of its international population, many businesses and services are open from 10am until 10pm, with only the smaller towns honouring the siesta break. It’s the best island in the Canaries for airport travel, with two international airports (North and South) growing exponentially, with 24 new routes added in the winter season of 2019 alone.

As for leisure, there’s shopping centres, water parks, restaurants and nightlife aplenty. While water sports, football, volleyball, deep sea fishing, golf and sailing are popular, native sports still thrive on the island. These include Canarian wrestling and Bola Canaria, a game similar to French Boules. Then if you like dancing, there’s the Santa Cruz Carnival, second only to Rio de Jinero, a world-class event that lasts for 3 weeks.

 

Fuerteventura

There’s definitely something in the air on this otherworldly island of mountains, desert-like sand dunes, and sea breezes filled with mood boosting negative ions.

Move to an island of incredible landscape, art, sculpture and sacred spaces, where you’ll enjoy endless days in the sun, and be inspired by the truly breathtaking scenery.

Fuerteventura is the second largest of Spain’s Canary Islands and lies just 100 kilometres off the African coast. The landscape is beautiful and strange: the desert-like sand dunes of Corralejo gently peak and recede into deep slacks, while the badlands of the Malpais Grande rise dramatically in shades of deep russet and gold. The scenery is arid, otherworldly, and starkly beautiful, and its sea breezes are filled with mood boosting negative ions.

Yes, there’s quite literally ‘something in the air’ in Fuerteventura; perhaps this is why people frequently describe feeling an almost ‘spiritual’ connection to this mysterious island. The tranquil village of Betancuria features a Museum of Sacred Art, where you can explore religious iconography which spans all imaginable forms. There is the Mars-like ‘sacred mountain’ of Tindaya, which was believed to have magical properties by the island’s aboriginal inhabitants, and features mysterious, foot-like engravings at its base. Venture north and you will find the Barranco de los Encantados near Oliva – vast and unearthly canyon sand sculptures which look like they could have been lifted directly from the set of a Star Wars film. And perhaps they were in 2017, the island served as a location for Solo: A Star Wars Story

Of course, there’s more to do here than ponder the mysteries of existence – 150 kilometres of beaches with warm winds from the Sahara create a perfect environment for windsurfing. You could lose many a halcyon day on these clear, turquoise waters, or lazing on fine, white, seemingly infinite sands. There are many beaches to choose from – head east to the island’s capital, Puerto del Rosario and you’ll be rewarded with a blue-flag beach with all the trimmings: showers, toilets and changing rooms plus restaurants and shops just 10 meters away. Take a stroll around the town and you’ll find works of art practically everywhere you look, as the area doubles up as an open air sculpture park and contains more than 100 works.

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