Islas Canarias

I first visited the Canaries 28 years ago when I came to Tenerife to work as a holiday rep. I loved the friendly, relaxed and optimistic vibe of the place and the people and was lucky to have the chance to see some of the off-the-beaten track places behind the tourist scene.

If you’ve ever been to the Canary Islands, chances are you’ve been on an organised package holiday and have been transported directly from the airport to your resort, missing all the good bits!! It is surprisingly easy and cheap to organise your own trip from the UK and getting from island to island is well organised and reasonably priced.  Car hire is also reasonable, well-organised and gives you access to parts of the islands you would not otherwise see.

In case you didn’t know, the Canary Islands, or Islas Canarias as they are known in Spanish, are an archipelago or group of islands located in the Atlantic Ocean, 100 kilometres off the West coast of Southern Morocco.  There are 7 main islands:- Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro (in order of size) and several smaller islets and large rocks which make up the archipelago. They form one of Spain’s autonomous regions and have a collective year-round population of just over 2 million inhabitants.  Over 12 million tourists travel to the Canaries each year due to the fantastic climate which is a combination of desert and sub-tropical with average temperatures ranging between 17 and 24 degrees Celsius – perfect beach weather all year round! There is often a lovely breeze too.

The islands are volcanic in origin and have very varied and fertile terrain – volcanic peaks, coastal dunes, ancient laurel forests, vineyards, date palm groves and banana plantations and lots of stunning beaches with both white and black sand as well as rugged and rocky bays.  The peak of Mount Teide on Tenerife – at 3,718 ms above sea level – is the highest point in Spain. There are 3 Unesco World Heritage sites here including the Teide National Park on Tenerife and the Garajonay National Park on La Gomera (the other is the city of San Cristobal de La Laguna in Tenerife).

Because of the altitude of some of the islands and some particular meteorological conditions, the Canaries are the ideal place to watch the stars and are home to several large observatories. Each island has a very individual personality with its own combination of flowers, plants, trees and dramatic landscape. All of the islands deserve a lot more time than I was able to give them on this trip and sadly I am only able to offer a tiny snapshot of each one that I visited in this blog.

The grainy quality to some of the photos is due to a weather condition, specific to the Canaries, called ‘calima’ – an oppressive, dust and sand-laden wind that blows across from the African Continent. My friend Alberto tells me that in the Canaries they say the African people are dancing and stirring up the dust and sand! During my visit the calima was very much in evidence and temperatures rose to an unusual 36 degrees – in March!

I visited 4 islands in 6 days which was (with the joyful blessing of hindsight) over-ambitious!  I started and finished in Gran Canaria – flying out from Gatwick and back into Heathrow for £47! I then flew to Tenerife (North) and from there to La Palma (eventually); onwards by ship to La Gomera and then flew via Tenerife back to Gran Canaria. Seven flights and a nightime ship voyage! Phew!

I hired cars in Tenerife, La Palma and La Gomera. (In Gran Canaria I just walked and relied on my friends to ferry me around) Both cars and roads are generally good and petrol is very cheap here but the terrain of steep gradients, drastic inclines, deep drops (often down the side of a volcano or into the sea), narrow and very windy roads and the obvious differences of driving on the right and sitting on the left hand side of the car mean that driving here is not for the faint-hearted! I loved the freedom of having a car but would recommend hiring something with a bit of ‘oomph’ to it because of all the hills and bends.  My Renault Clio 1.2 was not happy doing a hill start halfway up the side of Mount Teide in Tenerife (and quite frankly neither was I!). Cars cost approx. €30-40 a day plus the highly recommended extra insurance cover (about €15) which means you don’t have to worry about little bumps and scratches (or proving that you didn’t make them!)

The language is Spanish although spoken more in the style of South American Spanish without the ‘lisp’. They have the odd word peculiar to the Canaries such as ‘guagua’ (pronounced waa waa) meaning bus! The people are friendly and cheerful and – considering how many tourists they have to put up with – extremely kind and helpful.  The islands are fantastic for beach lovers, bird watchers, walkers, adrenaline sports enthusiasts, stargazers, flora and fauna fans, yachties and, of course, lovers of volcanoes. The booze is cheap too! 🙂

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