- SMB Vacations
Canary islands- Things to know before you go
The Canary Islands are a Spanish archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean, 71.5 miles off the coast of Morocco. There are eight major inhabited islands: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, El Hierro, La Palma, Lanzarote, and the tiny La Graciosa.
With such a wide choice of islands, it can be tough to narrow down which ones you’ll enjoy the most. Plus, there are several other details to consider…
Due to their location off the coast of Africa, The Canaries generally have a subtropical, dry climate year-round. Occasionally, trade winds carry dust over the islands from the Sahara. Known as la Calima, or “the haze,” it reduces visibility and air quality for two to three days, covering everything in a layer of dust.
Most rainfall happens in February, November, and December.
Tenerife is a little different from the others since the island’s volcano, Mount Teide, divides it into two climate zones. The south tends to be dry and desert-like, while the north is much greener due to more rainfall and cloud cover.
Almost anywhere in Europe can be reached in 5 hours or less from one of The Canaries’ three international airports: Tenerife North and Tenerife South, which are both located in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and Gran Canaria. Lanzarote and La Palma have domestic airports.
The best (and most fun!) way to move between islands is by ferry. The three ferry companies (Fred Olsen, Naviera Armas, and Transmediterranea) use Tenerife and Gran Canaria as their hubs.
The official language is Spanish, but English is widely understood. There is also a local dialect of Spanish.
La Gomera has its own language, although you probably won’t hear it. Silbo Gomera is the centuries-old whistle language used to communicate across the deep valleys of the island. To keep the tradition alive, it’s mandated to be taught in the local schools. Ask some locals to show you if you are interested.
The Canaries are volcanic islands, which means many black sand beaches. But there are spectacular white ones too- one of the best is Mas Palomas, a 1.2-mile-long white beach in the south of Gran Canaria. It is also a tourist resort and development. If you want to enjoy far less visited white beaches, head to Fuerteventura, the oldest of the Canary Islands, or to tiny La Graciosa, just a hop across the water from Lanzarote. And don’t forget about those black sand beaches- head for Playa de los Gigantes or Playa de las Americas in Tenerife.
If you like watersports such as surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing, and even paragliding, you will find plenty of opportunities. Snorkelers and divers should check out La Restinga Marine Reserve on the southernmost tip of El Hierro. Close to the nature preserve of Lobos island, this protected area is teeming with marine life, such as rays, barracuda, and dolphins.
The landscape of the Canary Islands is full of contrasts, from volcanos and lava fields to forests and fertile green valleys. There four national parks and six biosphere reserves to explore:
Teide National Park
The largest and probably best known is the huge Parque Nacional del Teide, or Teide National Park, in Tenerife, which has the 12,000-foot-high volcano of the same name at its center. In addition to being the home of Mt. Teide, the park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rock formations and lava flows can be seen as far as the eye can reach.
Timanfaya National Park
Otherworldly Timanfaya National Park takes up nearly a quarter of the island of Lanzarote. Here, you can ride a camel across the lunar-like terrain, made entirely of volcanic soil.
By contrast, there is the fertile Orotava Valley in the north of Tenerife, where banana plantations and vineyards dominate the landscape. The wines are famous.
Caldera De Taburiente
Dubbed La Isla Bonita, (the Pretty Island), La Palma is also known as the “green island” because of its pine forests. The island features another beautiful park: Caldera de Taburiente.
Garajonay National Park
The island of La Gomera is home to one of the world’s largest and best-preserved laurel forests, which can be found in the impressive Garajonay National Park. Something not to be missed is Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote. It’s a system of interconnected lava tubes created by volcanic eruptions. You can walk the tubes on a guided tour past an interior lake, and there is even dining and music.
The Canaries have become a popular destination for scientists and star-gazers, due to their exceptionally clear night skies, and there are many observation points with gigantic telescopes. Here are the best: La Gomera and Mirado de el Santo to observe the Milky Way, La Palma and Observatory Roque de Los Muchachos and San Borondon (a natural platform jutting out over the Atlantic Ocean), and of course, Tenerife with Las Cañadas del Teide and Mount Guajara and Mount Izaña.
Art, Culture, And Architecture
Lanzarote is practically shaped by one artist: Cesar Manrique. His works are everywhere, including his house (now a museum), the Jameaos del Agua, and many more.
While in Lanzarote, visit the port city of Arrecife, where you can see the lovely 17th-century Iglesia de San Ginés (Church of Saint Genesius) and its ornate Mudéjar-style ceiling in the picturesque Plaza de Las Palmas. You’ll also want to check out The International Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in San Jose Castle.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the capital of Gran Canaria, is a treasure trove of architecture, museums, theatres, congress centers, and elegant townhouses decorated with statues and flower-filled balconies. There are parks, the Atlantic Center of Modern Art, and a beautiful marina.
Each February, the carnival celebration in Las Palmas rivals the event in Rio.
Food And Drink
Canary food is hearty and delicious, relying on what the islands grow, and you should have a list of must-try dishes before you go. Grilled meat and fish (tuna and swordfish mostly) are accompanied by papas arrugadas (that’s the Canarian potato) boiled in their skin, sprinkled with salt, and topped with a spicy sauce then served as a snack or with the main dish. For colder months, rancho Canario, a thick noodle stew with chicken and potatoes, beats the cold. Baifo is marinated goat, and bienmesabe is a thick sweet puree made from almonds, egg yolk, sugar, and lemon zest and often served with ice cream.
The Canaries have a fine choice of wine, all with a distinct flavor. They mostly produce white wines, but there are a few reds and roses too. Tenerife has many vineyards, but the most unusual are in Lanzarote.
Pack beach and summer clothes, but don’t forget a sweater for colder nights. The best means of transportation is walking, and that calls for good walking shoes (reserve flip-flops for the beach).
The currency is the euro and credit cards are accepted just about anywhere. Have cash for things like bus fare.
Make sure you have adaptors to plug your electronics in- voltage is 220 to 240.
In restaurants, the service charge is already included but nothing stops you from leaving a tip if you had very good service.
Ready to plan your Canary Islands adventure? Click here to schedule a quick hello call with me to chat about it.