Spain is big, and Spain is beautiful. It is too big in extension for me to know it all, yet, being more than twice the size of Great Britain, for instance. Perhaps you may have taken one or the other opportunity already to explore some parts of Spain: Barcelona, Madrid, parts of Catalunya and the Pyrenees, Andalucía perhaps with Toledo, Cordoba and Sevilla, as well as Marbella and Malaga.
Perhaps you might even have visited the Duero region on a wine tasting expedition, or the Rioja area, and, maybe on a culinary outing, Donostia (San Sebastián to non-Basques) and Bilbao as well. There are so many places of such great appeal.
And you may have explored some of the Balearic islands. Well done if you have. Sad really if you have not.
Some of you may be fortunate enough to also have explored some of the Canary islands. Surely you will be happy to confirm that Spain is also beautiful and full of surprises outside of its European mainland territory. If you haven’t visited yet, I urge you to do so any time soon.
In the meantime, I invite you today to join me on a virtual outing, visiting some of the ‘Happy Islands’ as the Canary islands are often called.
This paradisiacal group of islands, with an ideal climate and a constant temperature throughout the year, consists of seven larger main islands (Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera, El Hierro) and a few smaller ones (Alegranza, Graciosa, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este, Roque del Oeste, and Lobos).
Surprisingly, the landscape of each island is quite radically different from one another.
Greeks and Romans reported on this archipelago of volcanic origins, and called it the Garden of the Hesperides, as well as Atlantida. Some historians suppose that the legendary continent of Atlantis was located here.
The islands’ original population was called Guanches, a people related to the Imazighen (Berbers) of North Africa. The principal activities of the Guanches were shepherding, agriculture, gathering fruits and fishing.
People from Mallorca established a mission on the islands with a bishop, that lasted from 1350 to 1400 A. D., and from which various paintings and statues of the Virgin Mary remain that are venerated today, just as they were in the past by the converted Guanches.
In 1492 the ships of Christopher Columbus’ fleet stopped in Tenerifa on their travels to discover the New World, stocking up on food and water supplies. A few years later, 1496, the islands were claimed permanently for the Spanish crown. The Islas Canarias have been Spanish ever since.
The islands are the remaining cones of long-extinct volcanoes, some of them very steep. The highest point (the highest in all of Spain’s territories) is the Pico de Teide mountain, located on Tenerifa. It stands at 3,718 m.
If you have not been before, the Pico de Teide, now a UNESCO world heritage site, may be a good starting point for a first visit to the Canaries, as would be the Anaga mountain range in the north of the island. Tenerifa has two airports, one in the south where you find most of the tourist areas, and one in the north, connecting with Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the island capital. In fact, it is also one of two capitals of the Canary archipelago, the other one being Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tenerifa is lush in the north with ample banana plantations and rampant palm tree groves. Puerto de la Cruz in the north hosts a major international festival, El Carnaval. If ever you fancy some Rio style carnival at a third of the distance, make your way to Tenerifa in February. You will not be disappointed.
A great bonus for a visit to Tenerifa, apart from its brand new, modern style concert hall, is also its ferry boat connection, from the south, to the unspoilt island of La Gomera. This island is so beautiful that words fail me (see photo above). The upper reaches of this densely wooded island are almost permanently shrouded in clouds and swirling mist, a fact which has created lush and diverse vegetation. This is the Garajonay National Park which enjoys UNESCO recognition and environmental protection. La Gomera is the second smallest of the main islands of the Canaries and for that reason has only the smallest airport.
El Hierro is the smallest and furthest south and west of the Canary Islands, with a tinsy airport only, plus a boat harbour connecting with Tenerifa. El Hierro is an absolute gem.
Lanzarote prides itself of a live volcano. Due to the recent eruptions during the 18th and 19th centuries, many parts of Lanzarote appear as if from another world, often described as lunar. It is for this reason that a number of big budget film locations are to be found on this island.
The summer Trade Winds and winter swells of the Atlantic make Fuerteventura a year-round surfers’ paradise. Much of the interior, with its large plains, lava scapes and volcanic mountains, consists of protected areas which can be best explored in a four wheel drive.
La Palma is probably the least visited of the Canary islands, and for its natural beauty one would wish that this would remain so. But if you must visit, you better go now.
Gran Canaria is the most touristy of all of the Canary islands and for this reason, it is not my favourite. I would recommend a visit there only after you have been to all the others.