Sun-seekers and nature enthusiasts alike have become devotees of the subtropical Canary Islands. Each of the eight major Canaries—Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, Lanzarote, La Gomera, Fuerteventura, El Hierro, and La Graciosa—is its own little world. But they all share one thing in common: nature is the main event.
150 miles of sun-soaked coastline – including 40 miles of beaches – encircles Gran Canaria. The island is home to UNESCO-designated Gran Canaria Biosphere Reserve, which covers nearly half the island and showcases some 600 species of flora, abundant birdlife, and numerous reptile species like the Gran Canaria giant lizard, which can grow to nearly three feet in length.
Tenerife is the largest and most populated of the Canary Islands. Its main draw is the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Teide National Park, located in the island's center. The park is named for the 12,198-foot-high Mount Teide, Spain's highest point and one of the largest volcanoes in the world. Visitors can hike to its summit for spectacular views or hike dozens of trails that lead past otherworldly rock formations and colorful lava deposits. The clear, unpolluted skies over Teide National Park also make it one of the top spots in the world for stargazing.
The moon-like Timanfaya (“Fire Mountains”) National Park has an extraterrestrial vibe. It can only be visited on a guided tour due to the unpredictable geothermal terrain, where temps just below ground can reach 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit. It is also the surreal setting for the restaurant El Diablo, where chefs barbecue over a dormant volcano.
Christopher Columbus set out from La Gomera on his first trip to the Americas. Yet the real claim to fame of this tiny island is Garajonay National Park, one of the finest examples of rare laurel forest left in southern Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. This lush vegetation, almost permanently shrouded in clouds and mist, includes 450 species of flora.
The smallest and youngest Canary, El Hierro was once considered the western edge of the world. Today it is recognized as both an UNESCO World Biosphere and UNESCO Geo Park, the first island in the world to claim both titles. El Hierro's rich biodiversity includes marine and coastal habitats, pine forest, evergreen woodlands, sheep-herded highlands and windswept juniper trees sporting bizarrely twisted branches.
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