take Canary Island holidays?
The sun-soaked, sub-tropical Canaries has a superb, year-round climate (thanks to their hot, dry, southerly location off the coast of Africa that is moderated by the Gulf Stream and Trade Winds), a no-jet-lag four hour flight from the UK, fine beaches and extraordinary volcanic landscapes and parks.
Also, in spite of the relatively small size of this island group four of Spain's seven biggest nature reserves are found in the Canary Islands.
The Canaries islands have been tourist-oriented for many years and have a well-developed and reasonably priced vacation industry that caters easily to both beach lovers and wilderness hikers, with regular low-cost flights from the UK and other European countries.
These islands are a part of Spain but are not located in the Mediterranean like the Balearic islands of Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza.
The Canaries pop out of the Atlantic Ocean near the coast of North Africa's Morocco and consist of seven islands, two of them not-so-touristy volcanic blobs (Hierro and Gomera) and five of them full-on holiday destinations: Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and La Palma.
So, how to choose your holiday island? The big five all have good weather (La Palma is the wettest), volcanic scenarios, large beaches and all the usual tourist entertainments and facilities.
The two busiest islands are Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
Columbus museum, Gran Canaria
Gran Canaria might be the thinking man's choice for the museums and history of Las Palmas, the most cosmopolitan city in all the Canaries, but is also a gay play-pen for exuberant action in Playa del Ingles and the dunes of Maspalomas.
Tenerife coast at dusk
Tenerife is arguably the wildest, late-night party place of the Canaries but also supplies a great number of daytime activity options and superb beaches.
Cesar Manrique's house, Lanzarote
Lanzarote, Land of the Volcanoes, is rugged and spectacular and could be the arty traveller's choice due to the island-wide vision and determination of brilliant artist and architect Cesar Manrique, coupled with a fine cluster of volcanoes.
A Sotavento beach wind-break, Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura offers massive white beaches, great wind and kite surfing in a low-rain but strong-wind environment but little in the way of interior sights, walks, cultural or historical interest. And free-range free willies...
Puerto, La Palma, The Canary Islands
La Palma is much quieter, much greener and a fair bit wetter than the other Canary Islands, as well as being furthest from the African coast. It doesn't depend on tourism but still has three main holiday centres, Los Cancajos, Puerto Naos and Tazacorte, the last two having statistically the most sunshine. All three have black sand beaches, but the island doesn't have many other options.
Tourism on La Palma is low profile and Spanish the main language so don't go there for sunburnt beach life, wild night moves or locals nattering in English. Walking is the main attraction on La Palma with hundreds of marked trails across the island, long and short, individual or guided tours.
La Laja valley, La Gomera, The Canaries
La Gomera is one of the least-developed islands with the pleasant beach and port town of San Sebastian, an OK beach resort called Playa de Santiago and agreeable but German-dominated resorts that do not welcome Brits at Valle Gran Rey.
Walking or biking the island's forests and ravines is fine but note that roads run over the summits of Gomera's hills so high-solitude is not easy. Golf, scuba diving, sailing and whale watching are favoured pursuits.
View of El Hierro, The Canaries
El Hierro is the Canaries' smallest island, a tiny space of green mountains, twisted lava, steep cliffs, rolling hills and forests with a sea drop-off that is great for scuba diving and a Marine Reserve of volcanic caves and tunnels that is rich in hammerhead sharks and manta rays. In addition the island also offers the usual windsurfing, kiteboarding, walking and mountain biking. Valverde is the capital and the only town on the island to offer any night life
- A lot of the Canaries' tourism is of the low-level package-holiday kind, with style-free hotels to suit. Fuerteventura!
- Beaches are sometimes of black, volcanic sand but others are made of softer stuff and increasingly man-made golden sand beaches are being installed (picture at top).
- The Canaries don't offer any major tourist sights other than volcanoes and/or mountains, though there's no shortage of dramatic landscapes or pleasant towns.
Canary Islands Weather:
Best: Just about all year (perhaps avoid July-August crowds and prices?), and described by some (marketing people?) as perpetual summer, with almost guaranteed sunshine, very little rain or humidity and temperatures generally between 18C in winter and 25C in summer.
However, the summer can get overheated inland and dust storms (see Calima below) occasionally blow in from Africa.
La Palma island is the exception to the little rain rule, seeing a fair amount of grey skies and precipitation but as a result is greener than the other Canary Islands.
Every so often, particularly during the summer months, a climatic condition known as The Calima occurs. This is basically a dust storm blasted across from the Sahara that causes an unpleasant, gritty fog which not only discourages beach action and makes sightseeing and picture-taking less enjoyable but also may trigger allergic reactions or breathing difficulties in sensitive people. The Calima can last from an hour to a week.
Spanish visitors tend to holiday in the Canaries in the summer months of July and August, Europeans the rest of the year.
n.b. water temperatures are not very warm, ranging from 18C in winter to 22º C in summer.
See Tourist Attractions for
Spain's Main Attractions
Lanzarote's best beach? Papagayo, Canary Islands, Spain
Things to do in the Canaries:
Beach life: generally excellent due to endless sun, sand and coastal activity options but somewhat lacking after-sun exotic/Spanish culture and in some areas - notably Fuerteventura - nudists roam wild scaring the wildlife.
Windsurfing/Kiteboarding/surfing: most of the Canary Islands are perfectly suited to these water sports with near-constant sunshine and winds. Fuerteventura is the scene of annual windsurfing championships
Deep Sea Fishing: brilliant in the Canaries, positioned as they are way out in the Atlantic.
Walking/mountain biking: the islands offer interesting, well-marked hiking trails of varying lengths, with the exception of Fuerteventura which is too dusty inland (and gets overrun by motors) but has some good coastal paths.
Rental vehicles: Take care with your choice of car hire and insurance. Off-road driving can be quite unsafe and damaging and the rental agents may try to weasel out of liabilities and hit you with a big bill.
Fundamentally if you want to go off-road then get a dedicated 4x4, preferably a beaten-up one and double-check insurance clauses!
Don't drive too near other vehicles off-road as bouncing stones will chip the paint off your front end and don't hurtle past walkers at high speed, this is extremely antisocial as dust and pebbles will blast them into a fury...imagine meeting them later in a bar!
Rental insurance does not normally cover other islands than the one you are renting on.
Lava ribbons on El Hierro, The Canaries.
Getting there: Most scheduled British flights land at Tenerife's Reina Sofia airport. From there it's a domestic flight to another island or a ferry job unless you're staying in Tenerife.
Language: The Canaries is Spanish territory so their native tongue is obviously Spanish, though just about anyone involved in the tourist industry speaks English unless you're in a German-dominated holiday resort area. An interesting language option for some visitors might be to learn Spanish and take a holiday too.
EU citizens do not need visas, nor do many other country residents
- including USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, for visits
up to 90 days.
Spanish sockets are mostly 230v and take 2 round pin plugs.
Spanish pharmacists usually speak good English and have wide powers
to prescribe medicines. i.e. try them first for small medical
problems. The sign is a fat illuminated green or red cross.
Gran Canaria | Tenerife | Lanzarote | Fuerteventura | Canary Islands Map