Canary Islands

Overview and History

The Canary Islands lie off the west coast of Africa and exist as an autonomous community belonging to Spain.

There are seven major islands in the archipelago and one minor island, then several small pointy bits which grumble about their diminutive status. The big ones are Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, La Palma, Lanzarote, El Hierro, and La Gomera.

The whole group is the result of volcanic activity from 60 million years ago, which is why the beaches have black sand for you to crunch along on. There are no active volcanos at the moment, but one never knows. Another way to say it is that these islands are part of the Atlas Mountain range which can be traced across northern Africa.

At one point in the 16th century the islands were called "the sugar islands" for their production of cane sugar. The economy has since developed wineries, agriculture and now tourism as principal activity.

Getting There

The Canary Islands have six airports in total. Here's a quick reference for the airports. The main international airport is Gran Canaria Airport, the gateway to the islands. It's 18km south of Las Palmas and has EU, International and Inter-Island terminals.

Transportation

Highway maintenance to the Canary Islands is sorely lacking, ha ha. Ferry service connects the islands to each other, but you can also take a small plane to hop between them.

On the islands you can rent a car but be sure to carry your passport and license with you all the time. People ride bikes and take the guagua bus to get around. (It's pronounced "wa-wa".) Bus schedules can be infrequent or sporadic. Tenerife and Gran Canaria have impressive public transport systems that cover most of their islands.

People and Culture

The Canary currency is the Euro; the islands are one of the farthest outlaying regions of the Euro zone.

The culture is undoubtedly Spanish, but the mainland custom of kissing on both cheeks when you say hello can be abbreviated to only one kiss. You need quick reflexes to get it right. There's an accent that's a little bit different from mainland, and not quite the same as South American spanish either. The saying is that islanders talk "with potatos in their mouth" because of their lazy-sounding pronunciation.

Things to do, Recommendations

Here's a basic look at the main islands. The way we see it, if you need directions for how to have fun on a tropical island full of fruit and fish, you're beyond our help.

The largest island is Tenerife with about two thousand square kilometers and a wide variety of plant life and terrain. It is home to the highest point "in Spain", the volcano El Teide at 3718 meters. Tenerife has excellent weather all year round, with a wide variety of terrain and vegetation including crops such as bananas, tomatos and potatos.

La Palma does not have very many beaches, and they are not very long. Two popular ones are in Puerto Naos on the west side, and Los Cancajos on the east. Most of the island is a biological reserve. It's known as "the green island"; come here for the mountains, sweet bananas and vineyards.

On Gran Canaria you can choose from endless sandy beaches, dunes, mountains and also lush green scenery. This island is home to more than half the population of the Canary Islands.

Fuertaventura has the oldest history. Homer mentioned it in his brief travel guide called "The Odyssey." Its name may come from the expression "What a great adventure!", or possibly, "strong wind." It's only separated from continental Africa by a narrow channel. Fuertaventura has the longest of all the beaches, and wonderful fine sand.

Lanzarote is a Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO declaration, and comprises one of the six universal models of sustainable development according to the World Tourism Organization. Lanzarote is the farthest East of the major islands and has a year-round average temperature of 22 degrees C.

La Gomera sports a National Park with dense forestation, crossed by deep ravines and surrounded by a perimeter of cliffs along most of the coast. Islanders have a special whistling language to communicate across the gorges in the forest.

Text by Steve Smith.

Marco Maier
Roques de García, Tenerife
Marco Maier
Teide Viewpoint at the upper cable car station "La Rambleta"
Marco Maier
Teide Cable Car Station - Tenerife
Marco Maier
Mirador La Centinela Tenerife
Marco Maier
Restaurant Mirador La Centinela
Marco Maier
Mirador La Centinela, Tenerife
Lothar Roessling
Lanzarote Volcano Guardilama
Lothar Roessling
Lanzarote Shipwreck
Marco Maier
Teide and Montaña del Alto - Tenerife
Marco Maier
Playa de Las Teresitas - Tenerife, Spain
Banick
Degollada De Las Yeguas
Vasilis Triantafyllou
Famara Surf Mirror Beach Lanzarote
tipurano
Dunes of Maspalomas
Gregor Hartmaier
Fundación Cesar Marique Lanzarote
Jan Koehn
Mirador Del Rio - Window
Jan Koehn
Mirador del Rio - Roof Terrace
Julio Rosquete
Teide Tenerife 2009 12 12 Juliorosq
Florin NAE
Mirador Teide Tenerife
Chris Witzani
Puerto tazacorte la palma kanarische inseln
Chris Witzani
Puerto tazacorte la palma promenade