Panorama from one of the helicopter landing zones in front of the MAGIC telescopes of the Los Roque de los Muchachos International Observatory on La Palma. Beautiful landscape overlooking the dark sky site above the clouds.
Overview and HistoryThe 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 ThereThe 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.TransportationHighway 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 CultureThe 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, RecommendationsHere'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.