Perpetual Spring and Summer, beautiful beaches, superbly equipped holiday resorts, watersports and waterparks, golf holidays, excursions and all round holiday fun are indeed what many Brits think of when they think of the Canary Islands, and it's all here in abundance. However there's more to the Canaries than Tenerife's Playa de las Americas and Gran Canaria's Playa del Ingles! Discover a diverse history stretching back beyond Spanish colonialism in the 15th century to the history of the Guanche original settlers, a huge selection of national parks offering some of the most exotic landscapes in the world including the laurisilva forests on Tenerife and La Gomera, the pine forests of El Pinar on El Hierro and the rugged heights of the Caldera de Taburiente National Park on La Palma. Ecotourism in the Canaries sits alongside the traditional resort holiday these days.
Most of the Canary Islands (7 islands including Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera, plus 6 little islets) is actually under the sea. What you see above water is only about 10 percent of a hugh volcanic mountain range formed 30 million years ago. Many will be familiar with the iconic Teide and Teide National Park on Tenerife, but perhaps less familiar with the barren beauty of Timanfaya and the volcano route on Lanzarote or the Fuencaliente volcanoes on La Palma (the most recent volcanic activity has actually been on La Palma in 1971). Cosmopolitan and bustling Spanish cities are here on the Canaries too, at Las Palmas the capital of Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz on Tenerife. Top beach resorts, stunning landscapes, art, history and culture galore - ever heard of Cesar Manrique? You certainly will on a visit to Lanzarote. With cheap car hire and cheap flights it's easy to push out in the Canaries and discover all these different flavours.
Lanzarote, of all the Canary Islands, has some of the best selection of excursions and tours. You can see why - Timanfaya National Park still has a little volcanic action bubbling away underground and a trip here is a must for any visitor. A pleasure to drive around, Lanzarote's road's are excellent so car hire to fully explore the island is highly recommended. Excellent Lanzarote beaches can be found at the main resorts of Costa Teguise, Playa Blanca and the biggest and oldest Puerto del Carmen which is popular with the British. Watersports abound, particularly windsurfing and surfing to the north on the stunning white sandy beach at Famara (one of the best in the Canaries). With it's crystal clear waters diving is a favourite on Lanzarote, especially around the resorts of Puerto del Carmen and neighbouring Puerto Calero.
The influence of the artist Cesar Manrique, a resident in the island for many years (he tragically died here in a car crash in the early 1990s) can be seen everywhere from his one time home the Manrique Foundation near Costa Teguise which displays many of his artworks, to various public art sculptures scattered around Lanzarote and other attractions such as the Manrique Cactus Garden and the sublime Jameos del Agua converted Cave.
It's all here in Lanzarote - history, culture and art, a stunning volcanically influenced national park, a choice of bodegas and a celebrated wine region in the interior, an off-shot island La Graciosa with deserted beautiful sandy beaches again and some informative and revealing museums on the history of immigration and emigration, agriculture and more. Lanzarote has it all, superb resorts, a buzzing art scene thanks to Manrique and a choice of pretty villages with great markets - check out Teguise's market.
Gran Canaria, an appropriate name indeed, is one of the big boys in the Canary Islands archipelago. It's popular and well known southern resorts - Playa del Ingles, Maspalomas and to the west Puerto Rico - have been around for a while and are little holiday metropolis in themselves. In terms of governance the 7 islands are split into two, with Tenerife (capital Santa Cruz) the main player within the grouping of Tenerife, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The eastern Canary Islands group refers to its big brother Gran Canaria (capital Las Palmas) and includes Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. Santa Cruz in Tenerife and Las Palmas in Gran Canaria serve as the two groupings' central administrative hub. There is still elements of competition between the two groups, a confrontation that stretches back to the beginnings of the Spanish conquest.
Gran Canaria was known as Tamaran to its original Guanche settlers. There are Arabic links in the name, as there are in numerous town and village names across the Canaries. Galdar and Telde were two central strongholds to the Guanche settlers before Spanish colonialists moved the focus to Las Palmas and the port. The southern resorts of Gran Canaria are party, sun, sea and chill hotspots, with a thriving gay scene in Playa del Ingles and Maspalomas. Many visitors, especially British come to these holiday delights, but there is much more to explore - move to the interior and you'll be astounded by the rugged landscape, green with pine forests in places, and with many historic and attractive Canarian villages.
Gran Canaria covers 1532 square kilometres. It's a varied landscape indeed, with a central mountainous area reaching a peak at Pico de las Nieves (6382feet/1945m) and with volcanic roots. There are a large number of barrancos or striking fertile valleys in Gran Canaria. If you look at a topographical map of the island you can see just how many - it's heavy going driving in both the central and western areas so Grand Tours are highly recommended on Gran Canaria, letting the expert coach drivers do the work! The fertile valleys jutt out from the centre. Parts of the centre and north of Gran Canaria are particularly green - it's a surprise if your touring and coming from the arid desert like souther where the main resorts and distinctive sand dunes of Maspalomas are situated. Banana plantations abound around Arucus and elsewhere in the north, as wells as some stunning pine forests.
You've diversity on Gran Canaria's coast too. To the west it's rocky and jagged around Mogan, with a few sandy bay beach breaks especially at the resorts lower down. Gran Canaria's southern shores are the big attraction for most visitors to the island. The south is distinctly dryer than the north - all year round sunshine down here in Maspalomas, Playa del Ingles and San Agustin. There's good winds too, making for excellent windsurfing and kitesurfing conditions!
For the best beaches, the best watersports particularly windsurfing and kite surfing and the most pristine beach resorts - Fuerteventura tops the Canary Islands charts. Named Fuerteventura meaning 'strong winds' post Spanish colonialism, the Guanche original settlers called it Maxorata (north of Pajara) and Jandia the second kingdom to the far south. When Spanish conquerors arrived in force on Fuerteventura (Bethencourt returned to the island in 1404 with reinforcements intent on conquering the island after Lanzarote's defeat), he found that their were two kingdoms on the island - Maxorata ruled by Guize and Jandia ruled by Ayoze. Fuerteventura's pre-hispanic Guanche history is well explored in a number of superb museums and cultural hotspots in the island's interior.
Fuerteventura today however remains best known for its excellent beach activities, and certainly some of the best beaches on the Canary Islands. The sublime and endless beautiful white sandy beaches of Sotavento and Jandia will have you salivating, with more beautiful beaches up north at popular British tourist hotspot Corralejo and some pretty bay beaches at attractive Ajuy to the west (black sand here) and El Cotillo to the north west of Corralejo (top kite surfing here!).
Alongside Majorca, Tenerife belongs firmly in the list of top destinations for British holidaymakers over the years. We've been with Tenerife since the beginning of the tourist boom here in the late 1950s and it holds a special place in British holiday history. The largest island in the archipelago covering an area of 2034 sq km, Tenerife has seen some changes over the years! Development of resorts (still in progress!) has occurred, first at Puerto de la Cruz in the north, then south at Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas, and to the west Los Gigantes, Puerto de Santiago and Playa de la Arena.
Today in Tenerife you can expect the highest standards of resort amenities across the Canaries, with a choice of excellent beaches, watersports, waterparks, golf resorts and a superb choice of a diverse range of excursions. The Brits love Tenerife so much, more and more of us are coming to live here permanently. Tenerife Resort favourites include Puerto de la Cruz to the north (still popular), and Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos to the south. (Los Cristianos now has excellent facilities for disabled travellers and Playa de las Americas offers the best choice of golf, waterparks, watersports and fun theme parks).
To the west around the iconic cliffs of Los Gigantes, sits Los Gigantes itself (a top marina here for diving and catamaran sailing) and nearby Puerto de Santiago and Playa de la Arena. Not forgetting fairly recent newcomers - top family resort areas such as Costa Adeje, an off-shot of Las Americas but with much more of a family vibe, and for specialist holidays the surfs up at Puerto de la Cruz, excellent kitesurfing and windsurfing at El Medano, superb walking holidays in the Teno Mountains in the west, the Anaga mountains to the north east, and Teide National Park in the centre.
Some of the best of Canaries cultural and historical hotspots are here too - the historic Canarian architecture in La Laguna and La Oratava is not to be missed, and Santa Cruz is a friendly and manageable capital with a superb choice of museums and galleries. It's soon to get a new tram system too! It's easier today to push out and explore the stunning and diverse landscapes in Tenerife either by hire car or on excursion tours. Incidently, the Guanches on Tenerife (alongside those on nearby La Gomera) put up the strongest resistance to the Spanish Conquerors. It was the last island to fall to Spanish colonialists.
Unlike most of the other Canary Islands (except El Hierro), La Gomera's focus for visitors is not to be found on the coast - which is mostly rocky - but in the centre of the island in the Garajonay National Park. Conditions on La Gomera, one of the smallest Canary Islands situated west of Tenerife, are perfect for the Laurisilva which need year round subtropical conditions with mild temperatures and high humidity. You'll find Laurisilva forests elsewhere in the Atlantic on some of the other Canary Islands, and on the Azores and Madeira.
The story of the laurisilva forests in these regions is a familiar one - after the arrival of the Europeans from the 15th century they were considerably eroded by ongoing development. Garajonay on La Gomera remains the largest and best preserved representation of an ancient eco-system. Half of all the Laurisilva forests on the Canaries are here in La Gomera.
There's a variety of landscapes today in contemporary La Gomera, which covers only 376 km squared. La Gomera is essentially an ancient massif, with a mix of rock spewed up during it's volcanic formation. Different rocks have eroded at different rates - hence the selection of Roques (harder rock resistant to erosion) scattered around the island. There's been no volcanic activity on La Gomera for 2 million years, and today distinctive features include canyons, hillocks, cliffs, crests, jungles, laurisilva forests and marks of settlement including terrace cultivation (hardwork this) on the hillsides. La Gomera is mountainous making driving around the island demainding and time-consuming along winding and ascending roads! Bear this in mind when heading out on trips.
The main settlement areas, and bases for visitors on La Gomera include San Sebastian (the capital and La Gomera's main port) to the south east, the Valle Gran Rey area to the west and Playa Santiago near the only golf course on the island and La Gomera's small airport. It's easy to take a daytrip to La Gomera via the fast ferry which departs from Los Cristianos harbour five times daily and the other way from San Sebastian to Los Cristianos 5 times daily. The boat trip is a mere 40 minutes. It's easy then to split your holiday with a week on Tenerife, and another on La Gomera. Binter Canarias flights arrive on La Gomera daily coming from both Tenerife North Airport, and Gran Canaria's Las Palmas Airport.
La Palma is still a relatively quiet Canary Island, and particularly popular with walkers exploring the magnificent Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente in La Palma's northern interior. In November 2002 the whole of La Palma was declared a World Biosphere Reserve. To the south are the Fuencaliente La Palma volcanoes and a popular and informative visitor centre is situated adjacent to Volcan de San Antonio. You can actually walk around the rim of San Antonio Volcano - a must do whilst on La Palma.
For sheer natural beauty La Palma comes top of the Canary Islands charts, and unlike many of the other islands, La Palma has so far avoided the influx of mass tourism. Work is currently afoot on an extra Terminal at La Palma Airport and there has been much protest from locals against it, concerned for the environmental affects on the island from the inevitable increase in visitor numbers!
La Palma's Airport is situated on the central east coast of the island near one of two main resort centres - Los Cancajos. The other main La Palma resort centre is Puerto Naos on the west coast. Both have beautiful black sandy beaches, with Puerto Naos' beach lined with palm trees to great effect. Relatively untouched and very Canarian and rural, La Palma offers some challenging mountain driving for sure! It's a joy of an island, nicknamed 'La Isla Bonita', and a paradise for walkers and nature lovers alike.
La Palma is a mix of high verdant mountains to the north, and arid, lower lying volcanic cones and lava outflows to the south. You'll find some of the best preserved rock carvings on La Palma - two of the best can be found at La Zarza to the north and Belmaco in Mazo to the south. La Palma is also famous for its Astronomical Observatory situated high up at El Roque de Los Muchachos - for star gazing worldwide you can't do much better than La Palma!
El Hierro certainly is the 'wild west' of the Canaries - the sweeping ravines, volcanic badlands, interior pine forest and the breathtaking views of El Golfo bay from the Pena Mirador will amaze - you do indeed feel like you're at the end of the world, as once this spot was before Columbus discovered America across the mammoth Atlantic.
Today El Hierro is a walker's paradise, with numerous old Camino trails across the island. It's the quietest of all the Canary Islands - there's not a huge amount of accommodation here (considered a blessing by many who come for the peace and tranquility of the island). Booking well in advance for both accommodation and car hire is highly recommended! Activities wise, you're looking at some of the best walking across the Canaries, plus a spot of fishing and swimming on naturally formed volcanic beaches and rock pools.
El Hierro is an island of immense mixes - pine forests to the south and interior, to the west volcanic badlands and a jagged coastline, and the views of El Golfo, where rocks soar upwards. Valverde, the only large town to speak of on El Hierro and the island's capital, sits to the north east near the airport. (one of three petrol stations on the island is in Valverde so fill up if you're picking up a car hire from the airport and then heading towards Frontera - the other two are in Frontera and La Restinga). Before Columbus went off on his jaunts, it was El Hierro that was considered the end of the world! There's an air of mystery here, which has a lot to do with its appeal.