The Spanish Canary Islands lie in the Atlantic Ocean off the north-west coast of mainland Africa. The seven volcanic islands of Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, Fuerteventura and La Graciosa benefit from the trade winds and the Azores High so in November through March temperatures rarely drop below 15 Celsius in Winter or exceed 29 degrees in the summer months.
The Canary Islands are home to many varieties of whales, dolphins, sharks (not man-eating) and turtles, with over 30 species to be found in the area. So take your time to appreciate the wildlife in their natural surroundings.
The smallest of the Canary Islands El Hierro has its fair share of forests, volcanic landscapes and underwater miracles. With the Gorona Del Viento hydroelectric plant, it is now completely self sufficient owing to this renewable energy resource. Also worth noting is that the Punta de Orchilla cape was famously marked on 16th and 17th century maps as the ‘0 Meridian’, leading to El Hierro’s nickname of the Meridian Isle.
If you enjoy scuba diving then El Hierro has over 40 dive sites to explore. La Restinga Marine Reserve has steep drops to 300 metres, underwater cliffs, caves and marine life; it’s one of the world’s dream diving sites.
Or above the water line, visit the Frontera Rural Park to see the highly unusual twisted junipers with trees standing a majestic 8 metres tall. Look out for the gigantic Garoe Tree which was sacred to the island’s early natives, providing them water from the leaves which caught the rain, as the centre at this site explains
In the Charco Azul natural seawater pool, El Golfo valley, you can bathe in the warm ocean water, then sunbathe on the wooden decking. But if you are looking for spectacular views then climb 700 metres above sea level to La Pena Viewpoint. There you are rewarded with the best view of the El Golfo Valley and can dine at the restaurant which offers traditional Canarian food.
Take your pick from 150Km of pristine beaches, coves and reef, or sample the local cheese, and fresh fish. With its long sunny days and brisk wind this island is heaven for wind and kite surfers too.
Cofete beach is wild and untouched as is La Concha beach whose natural reef is a haven for marine life in a spectacular crescent moon bay. To the South you will find the tranquil Costa Calma beach with its 10 Kilometres of white sand and turquoise water.
Corralejo Natural Park has its own 9 Kilometre beach and is a safe habitat for a unique selection of birds and flora, although the seals are long gone. The old town of Betancuria is in the driest part of the island and is home to the archaeological museum, which tells stories of the island’s distant past.
With its combination of desert, Macaronesian flora, pine forests and wellbeing centres, Gran Canaria has it all.
Las Palmas, is the largest city of the islands, and you can bathe in the atmosphere of Calle Triana as it comes to life in the evening The town boasts the ancient Cathedral de Santa Ana started around 1500, but completed in a different style centuries later. Or you can wander along the cobbled streets of Vegueta old town with its traditional Gothic and Renaissance architecture, contrasting with Puerto de Mogan – a charming coastal village with flower gardens and bridges reaching over the canals.
Nublo Rural Park is in the West and with its thirty small villages and Biosphere Reserve is the largest natural area of all the islands. The dunes of Maspalomas change their appearance daily and are not to be missed, but if a more urban beach is to your taste, then Las Canteras near La Palmas offers all amenities. If you prefer to swim in natural pools then visit the tranquil Agaeteand enjoy the cafes and fish restaurants nearby.
The Painted Cave is an archaeological museum and park charting the early history of the island, where you can see where the excavations have revealed early cave paintings, now protected of course.
Visit Lanzarote for a truly ‘out of this world’ experience, it appeals to both the sporty and the curious.
Located on the western coast of Lanzarote, Timanfaya National Park strangely resembles the surface of the moon. Just below the surface you can experience the geothermal activity which generates temperatures up to 600 C, with the carefully orchestrated demonstrations by the Park guides. Watch as they create a violent steam geyser or set alight dry brush using the intense heat. Walking tours and camel rides are also available for the more adventurous visitors. Perhaps visit the Green Caveswhere you can see the twisted shapes formed by molten magma as you head into the lava cave of red, ochre and green, or the Green Lagoon created from a sunken crater beside the sea.
Nestled among the red and black rocks of Lanzarote you will see the vineyards with their pits and stone walls protecting the young plants. Visit La Geria vineyard with its wineries and cellars which will offer you the opportunity to sample the local Malvasia wines that the island is famous for. Or if you appreciate art, visit the Cesar Manrique Gallery with his visions of the Lanzarote landscapes.
With its long sunny days Lanzarote attracts many sports people for cycling, swimming and watersports and the Papagayo Beachto the south with its white sand, turquoise water and rustic beach restaurant is a firm favourite. Alternatively visit La Francesca Beach to the north of Lanzarote, on the little islet of La Graciosa in the Chinijo archipelago. With no tarmac in sight – its golden beaches are perfect for sunbathing.
Granted World Biosphere Reserve status in 2011 La Gomera offers pristine marine and terrestrial ecosystems, with its temperate climate and prehistoric laurel forests of Garajonay National Park.
Travel to Agula the ‘jewel of Gomera’ just 30 minutes from the capita,l for magnificent views of the ocean and Tenerife’s Mount Teide volcano. Or you can explore the Valle Gran Rey with its palm-filled landscape and white houses, and black sand beach at its mouth which is lapped by the bright blue sea.
On the North coast is Los Organos Natural Monument, only visible from the sea, so named because of its vertical lava pipes resembling a church organ. Another famous rock formation is at Los Roques Viewpoint where the five blocks of rock mark the entrance to beautiful Garajonay National Park and marvellous vistas over the island.
Known for its unpolluted, clear night skies this is a mecca for astronomers, while those who like to trek can follow some of the 1000 Kilometres of trails through magnificent forests and deep gorges to find magnificent waterfalls.
At Fuencaliente you will find the salt pans with the white salt contrasting against the black soil. Meanwhile the old town of Santa Cruz de La Palma sits unchanged with its colonial manor houses and stone pavements.
This island, thought to be the most beautiful of the Canaries was named a World Biosphere Reserve in 2002 and from its peaks or the Roque de los Muchachos observatories you can wonder at the phenomenally beautiful, clear starlit sky.
La Caldera de Taburiente National Park in La Palma’s crater, is a circle of rocky peaks protecting vast areas of forest with its plentiful waterfalls and streams, or you can visit the less watery but magical Los Tilos Forest. The Volcanic Route is in the heart of the island and the trail will take you to the 1900 m peak affording a spectacular view of the whole island.
If you enjoy snorkelling, then try Puerto Naos with its black sand beach. Parasailing is also available here, and there are plentiful bars and restaurants.
With its eight golf courses and Europe’s largest water park Siam Park, Tenerife guarantees leisure activities for all ages. In Tenerife’s Parque Nacional del Teide take the time to discover the Teide volcano which rises to over 3700m and is the world’s third-largest volcano. You can take the cable car to the peak or hike the Telesforo Bravo Trail for a spectacular view. The park’s lunar landscape with its weird rock formations and lava deposits, is most definitely a sight to behold. The Rural Parks of Teno and Anaga offer a different landscape of either cliff top views or laurel forests, or you can watch the magnificent whales and other cetaceans, off the south-west coast. If you prefer to take it easy then El Medano Beach off the beaten track, offers 1 Kilometre of fine sand away from the urban bustle. For Spanish colonial architecture then visit La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the old town of La Orotava will take you back in time to the 16th century with its historic and artistic treasures hidden in the ancient streets.