The Canary Islands are an archipelago of islands off the coast of Africa, providing warm sandy beaches, and amazing diversity of terrain, unique architecture and an endless array of activities. Typically, we’d associate the islands with tacky British holidays and run a mile were they suggested for our destination list. However, there is so much more to the islands, and they can offer a perfectly cultured and relaxing holiday as well as breath-taking scenery and nature. Here’s how.
Tenerife attracts over 10 million visitors a year, primarily because of its guaranteed sunshine. The white sandy beaches, cheap cocktails and popular clubbing scene for Brit holiday makers often defines Tenerife, but there is also so much more than this.
There’s an array of museums, modern art galleries and high fashion shopping to keep you busy. Look beyond the town and there are tropical forests, beautiful old colonial towns and the tallest mountain in Spain: Pico del Teide. The snow covered peaks of the Pico del Teide makes it a stunning and dramatic place for hiking. A popular spot for holiday goers looking for more than sun, sea and sand is the Teide National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site comprised of a 10-mile-wide volcanic crater. It dominates the centre of the island and can be seen by taking a cable car which provides striking views of the area.
Lanzarote is known for its volcanic landscape which has been adorned with unique creations by the visionary architect and environmentalist César Manrique. Manrique’s aim was to save Tenerife from being destroyed by quick and urban development and his art has become great tourist attractions all over the island. Tenerife is surely developing and becoming rather more upmarket than the expected Irish bar and pie and chips destination for Brits. Instead it hosts and eco-friendly space for hiking, cycling, surfing and enjoying the architecture.
Of course, there are many white sand beaches to lay on, and good restaurants to eat in, as well as clear water to splash around in. For a peaceful day of swimming and relaxing in the sun, take a boat over to the island of La Graciosa off the northern tip. The island is idyllic, with no roads, and a handful of good fish restaurants to choose from.
The Timanfaya National Park is a must see in Lanzarote due to its unique ‘martian’ landscape, being the site of more than 100 volcanic eruptions that devastated the landscape. A restaurant designed by César Manrique can be found at the summit, where meat and fish are cooked on a grill using heat coming up from inside the volcano.
Another great site is the César Manrique Foundation, previously his home, built into the boulders in a lava field. Work of his contemporaries, such a Tàpies and Picasso, is displayed in the exhibition space on the ground floor. Basalt steps lead down to a turquoise pool and five lava bubbles linked by passages in the volcanic rock.
The diversity of terrain makes Gran Canaria a spectacular island. Its lush green north appears worlds away from the desert terrain of the south and the entire coast is lined with beaches and overshadowed by the peaks and mountains of the islands centre. Gran Canaria is the third largest of the Canary Islands but holds almost half the population and people are often deterred by the purpose built resorts that spoil the beautiful coastline.
However, there are places to find peace, particularly by hiking, or try the Montana de Arena beach on the south of the island, known as Sand Mountain, providing a lot more towel room and peace and quiet. The historic capital of Las Palmas is also a winning aspect of Gran Canaria and is lively and has the essence of a complete mix of cultures and great cuisine.
Fuerteventura lie less than a hundred kilometres away from the African coast and is the second largest of the Canary Islands. There has certainly been the least amount of development done to Fuerteventura and the best and biggest beaches can be found here. The beaches are buzzing with surfers and windsurfers from around the globe who come to master the huge waves here.
Alike the other Canary Islands, there are volcanoes to climb here, and beautiful hiking landscape and scenery. The most visited resort is Corralejo, a hub of activity for families and other visitors enjoying the tapas and wine bars on offer. In 2009 Fuerteventura was declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and it’s colourful but volcanic landscape is unique and striking.
La Palma is known as ‘The Pretty Island’ and it’s easy to see why. Parts of the island are colourful rainforest whilst others are dramatic, vast volcanic terrain. There is a noticeable lack of tourist congestion due to the absence of big sandy beaches and this makes the island feel unspoiled and unlike the other Canary Islands it appears impossible to find an unpleasant area.
Its capital Santa Cruz is architecturally stunning and characterised by its colonial layout and magnificent traditional atmosphere. But don’t worry, if you really can’t stand the thought of no beaches there are some options to get your sunbathing fix. Puerto Naos is a black sand beach ideal for sunbathing and snorkeling and swimming without the crowds of the typical beach setting.
La Gomera is often overlooked and due to this it is unspoiled and picture perfect. It hosts palmed lined beaches, mountain villages, rainforests, banana plantations and beautiful views. It truly is a haven for walkers.
Mirador de Abrante is a mountain viewing point, with a unique seven-metre glass ‘skywalk’, looking over the pretty village of Agulo. There’s also a restaurant to dine in and enjoy the views. Another exciting trip is to go on a whale watching excursion, hitting the waves of the sea in hope of spotting one of the giant, majestic animals.
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Which island is your favourite and why? Let us know in the comments below.
(Cover photo courtesy of allcanaryislands.com)