The Canary Islands which consist primarily of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura all belong to Spain. The smaller islands of La Gomera and La Graciosa are only accessible by sea but El Hierro boasts its own airport and still manages to attract tourists from all over the globe.
Geographically speaking, the Islands are part of the African continent. Located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Southern Morocco in North West Africa, they are nowhere near the rest of Europe although they are officially part of it.
The Canaries have a distinct advantage over every other European holiday destination in that there is a year-round season. Instead of the usual May to October dates, the islands offer an average temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year; this means that they are the obvious choice for many Europeans wishing to take winter breaks. Even in January and February – the months of coolest weather and highest rainfall, the climate is still suitable for swimming, sunbathing and other outdoor pursuits.
The Canary Islands take their name from the tiny finches which are indigenous to the islands. This cute little yellow bird with the cheerful song (hence the pun on the word ‘Cheep’ in the title of this article) is also a symbol of the islands along with the Canary Island date palm. And yes it is possible to purchase a cheap flight at any time of year to take advantage of the continual sunshine and duty free prices. All UK airports have frequent flights to the Canaries and package deals are well within the budget of most families.
Prices of everyday commodities are perhaps a little higher than mainland Spain because many goods have to be imported but that is countered by the fact that the visitor to the Islands have ample opportunity to discover somewhere unique together with the promise of continual sunshine throughout their stay.
Restaurants specialising in both Spanish and cosmopolitan cuisine and the usual selection of Eating out is cheap for those who opt for a self catering package. Typical Canarian cuisine such as salty potatoes, tapas and goats cheese is available in bars and restaurants everywhere but if this does not appeal then a wide variety of other foods are always on the menu too.
The five main islands are as follows:
The largest Canary Island is perhaps the most popular with its reputation for providing an exotic location for young and lively holidaymakers. British and Irish pubs are in almost every resort. More than two million visitors come each year to stay at the main resorts in the south and therefore this island is the only one with two airports.
The interior is dominated by the snow-capped peak of Mount Teide, the highest mountain in the Canaries and also the world’s third largest volcano. It can clearly be seen from Cape Jubby on the north-west coast of Africa so the existence of the Canary archipelago was always known the Moroccans.
As well as Teide national park there is a wealth of other natural beauty spots which make the island popular with photographers. There are at least eight beaches which provide every facility for the discerning tourist. There is also the ‘Loro Park’ which is not to be missed. Here you can see the world’s finest collection of parrots and a huge selection of both land and marine animals.
The second largest of the Canary Islands, Fuerteventura has the widest expanse of unspoilt beaches. The main areas of development are the central resort of Calete de Fuste with its horseshoe-shaped man-made beach and Correlejo to the north, another up-and-coming tourist centre.
For those with an adventurous spirit who want to see more of the island’s natural features you can visit most of the more desolate spots by hiring an off-road vehicle. Here dramatic sand dunes or ‘Jables’ as they are known travel across the coastal roads and blow inland to give a desert-like appearance. You can have your photo taken standing next to the dunes (taking care not to include the hotel in the distance) and tell your friends back home you were lost in the desert.
Fuerteventura is proud host to the annual world wind-surfing championships. Naturalists, kite-fliers and sun-worshipers come here in their droves but are hardly noticeable on the never-ending stretches of sand. If you are looking for a more energetic way to spend your time here there is scuba-diving, snorkelling and paragliding on offer.
If you have children then a camel safari is a must. The dromedaries were brought to the island from nearby Africa as their robust constitution enables them to thrive in the arid desert conditions. A ‘Safari’ can be combined with a visit to the nearby zoo and lush botanical gardens which is home to over two thousand species of cacti and indigenous plants.
Fuerteventura has a great deal to offer the visitor, perhaps not as much as some of the better known Canary Islands, but with its dramatic lunar landscape and wide open spaces it offers a unique holiday experience at an affordable price and is well worth a visit.
Lanzarote is known as the island of volcanoes with its vast primeval landscape at Timanfaya National Park. Here you can visit the ‘El Diablo’ restaurant and feel the heat underfoot from a live volcano which is sometimes put to good use to cook steaks.
Other places of interest are the hot springs and an emerald-green lagoon at El Golfo. Set against a backdrop of multi-coloured rock strata beside a beach of black sand, the light changes practically by the minute and the photographic possibilities are endless.
For those who prefer beaches of the more familiar golden colour then the resorts of Costa Teguise and Mujeres beach are perfect for water sports. And for the less adventurous, Lanzarote, offers a wealth of activities for all the family with the usual beach based facilities and amusements.
Camel treks along the rim of (hopefully) extinct volcanoes can be a highlight of your holiday. Or visit the extreme north where breathtaking views over to the island of La Graciosa (supposedly the inspiration for Treasure Island) can be combined with a lazy afternoon in a nearby cove.
Away from the barren lava fields, the interior of the island is surprisingly lush and green. Visit Haria and the “Valley of a Thousand Palms” where these graceful trees provide welcome shade from the fierce heat of the sun. There are still more palms here than anywhere else in the Canaries even though the area was decimated by the invading pirates of centuries past.
It is possible to take a day trip between the islands of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote due to their proximity to each other. Cars and coaches can easily be ferried between Corralejo on Fuerteventura and Playa Blanca on Lanzarote, thus allowing the visitor to explore both in the space of their holiday. A glass-bottomed catamaran also sails regularly between the islands calling at Puerto Del Carmen, one of Lanzarote’s premier resorts. It is well worth the two hour journey for the boat trip alone. If you are lucky you might see dolphins and pilot whales as they swim gracefully through the narrow Straits of Bocaina. An abundance of silver-scaled fishes can be seen from the viewing area below decks. You’ll also have a chance to see the island of Lobos which is rocky and uninhabited and preserved as a nature sanctuary.
Gran Canaria is the third largest island in the group. Nightlife is lively in all the major resorts so there is no need to remain within the grounds of your own hotel. There is safe bathing in all resorts for children and excellent facilities for a fun-filled family holiday that will not cost the earth. If it’s nightlife you’re looking for, there is plenty of choice and this is what makes Gran Canaria such a popular choice. The man made beach at Puerto Rico provides a wonderful base for a great holiday. Sights not to be missed are the sand dunes at Maspalomas and the wonderful interior of the island . The main resorts such as playa del Ingles and San Augustin are in the south but it is still worth taking a full island tour to discover some of the more remote places. Gran Canaria is a destination tourists return to year after year and it’s easy to understand how this island, with its wealth of attractions for all ages is a popular choice.
La Palma is perhaps best known for its observatory and outstanding natural scenery but it is too quiet for those seeking a lively holiday that includes nightlife. Here you will find perhaps the best preserved examples of brightly coloured colonial architecture and unspoilt landscape. This island better suited for romantic couples rather than busy families.