Lying just off the southern coast of Morocco, far to the west in the Atlantic ocean, the Canary Islands are best known for their balmy seaside resorts and year-round sunny weather. But it’s the startlingly interesting landscapes of these seven volcanic islands and their islets that will catch your attention. Think black-and white-sand beaches, verdant and active volcanic peaks, lunar landscapes, star-streaked skies, giant sand dunes and colourful towns.
Tenerife is the group’s largest island. On it you’ll find the enigmatic crest of giant Mount Teide and its lush national park, and two of the islands’ principal cities, capital Santa Cruz de Tenerife and World Heritage Site San Cristobal de La Laguna. Colourful Fuerteventura lies just 60 miles from the African coast and manifests a decidedly North African feel in its architecture and landscape. Waves, wind and some of the biggest and best beaches in the Canaries are also a draw. Gran Canaria is home to the archipelago’s most populous city, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which shares the duties of Capital with Santa Cruz de Tenerife. In its centre, you’ll find the peaks of the Roque Nublo and Pico de las Nieves and in the south, the arresting and spectacular Maspalomas Dunes. Easternmost Lanzarote is celebrated for its great beaches and stark landscape of crinkly black lava fields.
The absence of golden beaches on tiny La Palma has kept sun-loungers and developers at bay, but it’s arguable the most beautiful island of the archipelago. Designated in its entirely as a biosphere reserve, it is the greenest of the islands with rainforest canopy in the north and abrupt rock formations in the south. Characterised by green valleys and towering cliffs whipped into shape by erosion and volcanic activity, little La Gomera houses the Garajonay’s National Park, while El Hierro, once believed to be the westernmost land in the world, is the smallest of the group and declared a Biosphere Reserve in 2000.
What to do
- The Canaries host four of Spain's 13 National Parks: Parque Nacional de la Caldera de Taburiente, Garajonay Parque Nacional, Timanfaya Parque Nacional and Teide National Park
- Optimal conditions for stargazing with two observatories are located on the archipelago
- Surf, kite-surf, snorkel and dive
- Hike in the mountains
- Take a tour of an active volcano