The Canary Islands, so named because the islanders apparently used to worship dogs (Canary/canine, get it?) are a little cluster of Spanish islands situated in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to the coast of Morocco than Spain or anywhere else in Europe. They’ve only been officially Spanish since the 1400s, and before then they were inhabited by actual native locals, giant lizards and giant rats, and other endemic species of which exact kind I’m not actually sure. All I do know for definite is that there is far more to this place the beachfront resorts that first meet the eye: a whole ginormous range of landscapes, climates and people. By the way pals, at this stage I should let you know, the reason this is titled a ‘brief’ guide is because it’s only about the islands that I’ve actually visited. Otherwise I might as well copy and paste off the internet about places I have no actual knowledge of, and that would be no fun for you and definitely no fun whatsoever for me. So unfortunately Fuerteventura and La Gomera will have to wait, but here’s a bit of what the rest have to offer.
The biggest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife also has the most inhabitants, the biggest number of tourists (around five million per year), and is home to some very lovely beaches, as well as the third largest volcano in THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD. (Which is also the highest point of elevation in the entire of Spain, because it is technically a Spanish island after all) You know, big is beautiful and all that jazz. Mount Teide is the name of this glorious and very much actively volcanic snow-capped beast, and it sits at the centre of the island within Teide National Park. Legend has it that the devil captured the god of the sun and stuffed him inside the volcano for a bit until the supreme God came along and helped them get the sun god back out again (poor thing), and ancient offerings to these gods have been found buried in the surrounding areas. Pretty awesome I’d say.
The capital of Tenerife (and in fact of the entire Canaries), is Santa Cruz, a city with truth be told, a surprisingly urban vibe. There is graffiti all over the place, and the crown jewel of the city is the fairly new Auditorio de Tenerife, home to the Tenerife Symphony Orchestra, which reminds me strongly of some kind of Trojan helmet (maybe that was the intention, who knows?). If you stroll down past there, even further past a ginormous lido, and further still to a mysterious hill, you’ll find a tropical garden/palm tree growing location sitting on top of the hill which is actually an old rubbish dump. (It doesn’t look anything like a rubbish dump anymore, promise) It makes a very tranquil little oasis and when I discovered these gardens at the top of the hill I felt like the only person there; the only sounds were the creaking of branches, mysterious birdsong, and the frantic scuttle of lizards fleeing as soon as they felt my presence. Classic lizard behaviour.
The quietest and least touristy of The Canaries that I’ve thus far visited, La Palma is a real hidden gem which I felt full on lucky to see. The island is much more green and fertile than the more Southerly Islands, full of fruit trees, particularly bananas aplenty, and tropical flowers galore. I was basically in love with the place, you guys. There are hundreds of footpaths and tracks connecting pine-covered mountains, valleys and waterfalls, so for those who appreciate getting out and about and generally being astonished at the world- this place is perfection.
Although all of islands in the archipelago are volcanic, this place is widely considered to be the most active one of them all, and in recent times more and more tiny earthquakes have been felt on La Palma, causing a mild panic about whether this means a volcano eruption at some point in the near future. All I’m saying is, I do hope not, as aside from the terrible repercussions it would have on the islanders (and potentially people further afield too), this is one of the most stunning places I have ever seen.
Related: One Day in the Island of La Palma
I went surfing in Gran Canaria. I say I went surfing, but it’s the first time I’d ever tried and in reality despite being in the water for around two hours it was 99% me being battered by the waves and 1% standing up/crouching in the style of my nephew when he needs the toilet. We hired surfboards and wetsuits from… and then proceeded to the beach barefoot, dodging piles of dog mess that careless owners had carelessly left lying around the street. Good one, careless owners.
So there I was, beginners surfboard strapped to my ankle, wetsuit on, barely able to tuck the board under my arm, but ready to take on the waves with every ounce of energy I had in me. (The attitude I had towards surfing was seemed more like the attitude you’d have going into war, to be honest. GRIM DETERMINATION.) I actually began to shout at the waves in fury, then at my surfboard, then at myself. One of the things that gets me right riled up is when I can’t do something within the first 5-10 minutes of trying, and then I generally find it impossible to stop trying until the job is done; and that, my friends, is where the element of exhaustion comes in,particularly as a rather small human being attempting to battle the actual ocean. Needless to say I’m not a professional quite yet, but considering I’m actually rather terrified of open water I was genuinely rather proud of myself for even trying.
Before my surfing encounter, the only thing I knew about Gran Canaria was that there are a lot of package holidays available there. I’d also seen plenty of Facebook pictures during my sixth form days of ‘girls holidays’ or ‘lads holidays,’ which strongly put me off of the idea of two things: group holidays with The Girls, and Gran Canaria as a whole. Home to some beautiful beaches and with over a third of the island being a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve containing sand dunes, forests and ravines, I’m happy to say there is much more to this place than my Facebook feed would have once had me believe.
I’ve grown to really love this little crazy-looking island. From my days of hanging out with my grandad having a leche leche (that’s a Canarian coffee made with condensed milk) at The Galleon in Puerto Del Carmen, lazing by the pool, and doing the classic holiday activity of swimming with sea lions (true story), to nowadays having uncovered more of what the place has to offer in the form of its volcanic lunar landscape, the architecture of Cesar Manrique, and the green cacti and succulents spreading across the vast expanse of land, this island is pretty darn tootin’ unique. Once known just for the classic family holidays and as Retirement Central Station for ex-pats (why they are called ex-pats and not immigrants I will never truly understand), Lanzarote is also good for those wanting to get outdoors- cyclists love it, and there are some awesome beaches for surfing as well. (Some of them more dangerous than others- I was invited to go to after my first Gran Canaria surfing escapade, but the invitation was followed up with ‘the waves there are supposed to be amazing! Someone died surfing there last week!’) I politely declined.
Related: What to do in Lanzarote
- Due to the masses of tourists that come to enjoy the sun every year, most of the islands’ airports are served by a plethora of airlines offering a plethora of prices, meaning if you book at the right time you can get there and back from mainland Europe very cheaply.
- Although I’ve never done it, it’s also possible to get ferries between some of the islands. Just so ya know.
- Coffee is cheap! Food is cheap! I feel like this is worth mentioning.
- Although in general The Canaries are full of English-speakers, I’d still highly recommend brushing up on your basic Spanish before you visit, especially if you’re wanting to get a bit more off the beaten path. Firstly out of politeness, and secondly because in order to learn from the locals, Spanglish is sometimes the best way forward.