Destinations · Mediterranean
March 05, 2020 Words: Stephen Milioti

The Scoop on the Canary Islands

Nature is the main attraction in this untouched tropical paradise.

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The most southerly region of Spain, the Canary Islands — located in the Atlantic Ocean, near the Moroccan coast — have historically been considered a bridge between four continents: North America, South America, Europe, and Africa. That makes them a critical navigation port. They also happen to be a tropical paradise. A perennially popular destination for sun-seekers and nature enthusiasts, this archipelago is comprised of eight islands: Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, Lanzarote, La Gomera, Fuerteventura, El Hierro, and La Graciosa (the last one was officially declared the eighth Canary Island in 2018). All have a different personality, but one thing in common: nature is the main event, and even the most developed, populous areas have remained untouched and authentic.

The Basics

From June through October, the high temps here are between 75 and 80 degrees F (25-27 C) — but all other times of the year, the highs rarely venture very far below 70 degrees F (21 C). Winter sees above-average rain at times, but not enough for people to rethink heading to the Canary Islands — both winter and summer are full of travelers on holiday. If you ask them, those are the best seasons to go. But if you’re willing to give up a few degrees for fewer crowds, spring and fall will be your favorite time to go.

The Most Popular Islands

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria houses the Canary Islands’ largest city — Las Palmas — a great place to base a vacation to the Canaries. Its biggest attraction is Playa de las Canteras: This beach, with its 2 ½-mile (4,000-meter) long shoreline, is known for its gentle aquamarine waters and beautiful promenade. Another popular beach, Playa de Maspalomas, is known for its picturesque sand dunes and historic lighthouse that dates back to the late 19th century. When you need a break from the beach to do some shopping and dining, stroll Calle Triana and the lively surrounding streets, just a few miles south of the beach.

One of the greatest cultural treasures not just on Gran Canaria, but anywhere in the Canary Islands, the Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave) — discovered in 1862 — is an archaeological museum and park that displays excavated artifacts from the Canarii, the island’s original inhabitants. Finally, don’t leave the island without seeing Roque Nublo (“Clouded Rock”), a rock formation that rises more than 250 feet (76 m). A one-hour hike gets you to the top, and the views from there are spectacular (on clear days you can see all the way to Tenerife’s Teide volcano).

Tenerife

The uniquely rocky landscape of this breathtaking island is what draws people from all over. Its main attraction is the Parque del Teide, a national park in the middle of the island, which contains the spectacular Teide, which rises 12,200 feet (3,720 m) high. The rest of the park is also a treat; any of the 20 different hiking tails will take you past unusual, almost otherworldly rock formations and colorful lava deposits. When you’re done experiencing this natural wonder, head to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, home of the Canaries’ largest public square, Plaza de España, to mingle with the locals and take in a concert or opera at the Auditorio de Tenerife (defined by its whimsical, sailboat-like design).

La Palma

Nature lovers will favor this Canary — the entire island is a biosphere reserve, and its main attraction is the Caldera de Taburiente National Park. Essentially one big crater, this park has it all: volcanic peaks, dramatic waterfalls, gentle streams, and placid groves. The El Paso Visitors Center will help you choose a trail based on what you want to see most.

Lanzarote

This is the most surreal of the Canary Islands, with an extraterrestrial vibe. Timanfaya National Park — a geothermal environment that looks like the moon’s cratered surface — can only be seen via guided tour (on foot or by bus) due to its fascinatingly unpredictable terrain: Temps just below ground can reach 1,100 degrees F (593 C) — you’ll not soon forget watching a steam geyser spontaneously erupt when your guide tosses water down a hole in the ground.

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