The volcanic archipelago off the west coast of Africa is known for its beaches, but scratch beneath the surface to find an incredible range of diverse experiences.
Known by Brits for its sun-trap beaches and tourist resorts, the Canary Islands are worthy of so much more attention. Good weather is all but assured as the southernmost part of Europe. Beyond the beaches, you’ll find a diverse cuisine, unspoiled villages and incredible hiking opportunities.
Being so far from mainland Spain, Canary Islanders have developed a unique culture with different food, unique festivals and a dialect of Spanish that’s more akin to Latin American than European. It’s hard to find much of this in the beachside resorts, but step a mile or so away from the coastline and the Canadian culture begins to shine through.
Island by island
Tenerife and Gran Canaria offer holidaymakers the most choice. Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are firm favourites with some, or you could discover the quieter side to life on the islands with a stay on La Palma, La Gomera or El Hierro. With transport between the islands easier than you might think, why not create your own island hopping itinerary?
Tenerife: The largest island is well-known among British holidaymakers for its southern sunshine resorts of Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos, but it’s the dormant volcano and lunar-like landscape of Mount Teide National Park that is the real star here. More than 1.5 million Brits visit the island annually, yet it’s still possible to get away from the crowds.
Gran Canaria: Roughly the same size as Greater London, Gran Canaria is known for the dunes of Maspalomas and the tourist beaches at Playa del Inglés. The capital Las Palmas and the northwestern port Agaete were Agatha Christie’s favourite winter escapes.
Fuerteventura: Just 50 miles east of Saharan Africa, Fuerteventura’s volcanic landscape is simply beautiful. Yet despite the barren nature of much of the island, it has some of the best beaches in the whole archipelago, and they’re so much quieter than the bigger islands too.
Lanzarote: The unforgiving dark volcanic landscape is a draw for tourists especially now the island has shed its grotty image of decades before. It still attracts package holidaymakers but as a registered UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, there’s plenty more to see and do here beyond soaking up the sun.
La Gomera: This small island is known for its hiking trails that criss-cross the volcanic mountains and dense forests. This unique experience is about as far from the beach resorts of southern Tenerife as you can get, despite being less than an hour away by speedy ferry.
La Palma: Off the radar for most travellers is this tiny island that locals claim is the world’s steepest. Explore the hairpin bends on the upper reaches of the Caldera de Taburiente and you won’t claim otherwise. Plentiful panoramas, rocky ridges and lush forests are waiting to be discovered.
El Hierro: The smallest of the seven main Canary Islands, El Hierro receives relatively few visitors given its southwesterly location. Its designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve means the island is the best preserved and most authentic of all the Canary Islands.
Travel between the islands
A couple of ferry companies shuffle passengers and their cars between the islands on a daily basis. Two airlines also compete to offer flights between the islands, which can save time over the ferry crossings depending on the route.
Ferries: The best known company is Fred Olsen, which offers the most frequent departures of all the operators. Their ferries connect all the islands with the exception of El Hierro, with further connecting services on Tenerife and Gran Canaria.
Flights: Each of the seven main Canary Islands has its own airport, with Tenerife benefiting from two. Binter Canarias serve all seven islands via hubs on Gran Canaria and Tenerife, while relative newcomer Canaryfly operates six routes between the bigger islands. They are less frequent, but fares tend to be lower.