Canary Islands

Overview

Introduction

Spain's seven Canary Islands all boast a fair, springlike climate year-round. Visitors flock to the islands' casinos, golf courses, tennis courts and natural wonders, including fairly good beaches of white, gold and black sand. We suggest staying at least three nights on any of the following islands:

Fuerteventura—The second-largest and least densely populated island of the archipelago offers the seclusion of a mountainous interior as well as two fairly well-developed resorts (at Corralejo in the north and Playa de Jandia at the opposite end of the island). Each has miles/kilometers of gold-sand beaches and dunes, often windswept. In the interior is Betancuria, a pleasant town with nicely preserved buildings from the period when it served as the island's capital.

Lanzarote—With its black- and gold-sand beaches, multihued volcanic landscapes (there are 300 volcanoes) and a lazy feel in the air, Lanzarote can be a great place to rest, although it has become immensely touristy, with new hotels and residential developments popping up like mushrooms.

Puerto del Carmen, on the southeast coast, is the busiest of the resorts. Playa Blanca in the south and the Costa Teguise north of the capital Arrecife are also developing rapidly. The late artist Cesar Manrique contributed a lot of grace and flavor to the place. His works range from the interior design at the airport to the revival of many public buildings and preservation of the local architecture and landscapes. The Fundacion Cesar Manrique near the village of Tahiche is located in the artist's former home, which he constructed in the midst of a lava field. Some other of his projects worth visiting include the Jameos del Agua (restaurant and theater built in a tunnel carved out by a lava flow), the Jardin de Cactus (laid out in an old quarry) and the Mirador del Rio (a cafe and restaurant overlooking the nearby island of La Graciosa).

Another natural wonder worth visiting are the Cuevas de los Verdes in the northern part of the island. Volcanic eruptions and lava flows created one of the longest series of underground caves in the world.

Gomera—This island, Columbus' last stop for supplies before sailing to the New World, has a laid-back lifestyle, balmy climate, fresh fish and unpolluted waters (though few beaches). Although there is a small airport with connections to the islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, most visitors arrive via ferry service from the port of Los Cristianos in the southern part of Tenerife.

Very hilly, lush and quiet, Gomera is a nice change from the bustle of the other islands. Diving, fishing and sailing are popular activities there. Garajonay National Park is on Gomera and is a must-see. The main commercial center and capital of the island is San Sebastian, which is on the eastern coast. Vallehermoso in the north and Valle Gran Rey in the west are two of the main centers for visitors. Go to the island to appreciate its unspoiled natural beauty.

Gran Canaria—The most-visited island, Gran Canaria is popular year-round with package-tour visitors from other European countries. Gran Canaria offers golfing, yachting, a wide variety of shopping, casinos and great beaches. Las Palmas is the island's principal city and the capital of the Canary Islands. Despite its poetic name, it's a rather unattractive seaport, although it does have Vegueta, the interesting old quarter. The biggest tourist infrastructure on the island is centered around the resort of Playa del Ingles and the impressive sand dunes of Maspalomas in the south.

Gran Canaria has the most hotels of any Canary Island. Because of the large numbers of tourists who go there, anyone looking for a quiet island getaway should look elsewhere.

Hierro—The smallest island in the Canary chain, Hierro is served by air from Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Volcanic in nature, it has many verdant valleys and hillsides. The tiny island has few tourist facilities—it's only for those who really want to get away from it all.

La Palma—The greenest and lushest of the Canary Islands, La Palma is fairly small, with very few beaches, a circumstance that has held mass tourism at bay—sun seekers tend to go to the other, larger isles. La Palma is interesting for its pretty towns and steep, rugged geography. There is a visitors center just outside the town of El Paso, which will offer information on the island as well as Caldera de Taburiente National Park, where peaks rise as high as 8,000 ft/2,438 m.

Cigar smokers should take advantage of the high-quality, inexpensive, hand-rolled cigars that can be purchased everywhere (the cigar-rolling technique came by way of Cuba in the past century).

Tenerife—Another hugely popular island, Tenerife, the largest of the Canaries, has both flat areas (covered with banana plantations) and mountainous areas. The volcanic Mount Teide, the centerpiece of Teide National Park, is the highest mountain on Spanish territory. More than 12,000 ft/3,660 m tall, it soars above much of the island. Take a tour or drive to the summit and then switch to a cable car for the final ascent.

The northern side of the island is green and tropical, and the southern side is dry, with near-desert conditions. Tenerife's largest city is Santa Cruz, where you'll find a wide variety of tourist accommodations and activities—including what we think is one of the best Carnival celebrations in Spain (on par with the one in Cadiz). It also has some nice colonial buildings and pleasant parks—a good choice as a base if you prefer to stay outside the typical tourist resorts. North of Santa Cruz, occupying the northeastern part of the island, is the green and rugged Anaga mountain range, a good spot for organized hikes. On the northern coast is Puerto de la Cruz, a resort area that attracts a lot of visitors.

The south, which has the island's best beaches, is geared to huge crowds with full-service resorts and apartments in the concrete jungles of Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas. At Guimar, near the midway point up the eastern coast, there are stone pyramid platforms, believed by Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl to prove ancient links with the Americas. They are preserved in the Parque Etnografico Piramides de Guimar.

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