You’ve heard about the Canary Islands but didn’t know which ones to put on your travel list? Our expert writer, Linda Wainwright, has lived in the Canary Islands for over 25 years and nails a general description of the 7 islands. Her expertise clarifies the character of each. It is difficult to just choose one, so perhaps all 7 will be on your list.
In 1987 I left behind the wettest UK July on record to raise my kids on islands off the coast of Africa, which were, nevertheless, the southern-most part of Spain.
We have amazing memories from the years that followed, exploring the Canarian archipelago. There are 7 islands, which erupted at different times from the ocean bed. Each is amazingly distinct and different. Here’s an idea of what I’ve loved most about each one I visited.
The Surfer’s Island: Being accustomed for some years to Tenerife Islands black sand beaches, my jaw dropped on the approach to Fuerteventura’s airport. We glided over a turquoise sea, which washed onto white sands, more like Florida’s Gulf Coast than Canarian volcanic sands. The island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which means that it has important ecosystems, which are protected. If I am honest, only scientists would truly appreciate the inland area, which is hilly, but lacks the dramatic peaks or the rich forests of other islands. The coast, however, is another matter. None of the other islands have the endless golden beaches where hoards of surfers flock year round. Mainly it’s windsurfing and the island has been on the Windsurf World Tour since 1985, when tourism was barely developed. Now hundreds of kite surfers are discovering the windswept beaches too.
The Spiritual Island: My arrival to La Gomera Island couldn’t have contrasted more than that to Fuerteventura. We approached by ferry, early in the morning, spellbound by the mists swirling around the island peaks. La Gomera is the small island hovering like a purple stain on the horizon, which tourists on Tenerife’s west coast see when they lift their heads from their sunbeds. It’s my favorite island, mainly because it exudes an atmosphere of peace and serenity I’ve never experienced anywhere else. Its magical forests, tree branches dripping with lichen resemble a scene from Lord of the Rings. Its people seem more in tune with the earth than elsewhere, which is perhaps why it attracts certain types of folk, who simply want to “drop out” and live a simpler life. I once took a friend for a short visit. She’d been quite ill, and pronounced herself rejuvenated following her visit. It’s that sort of place – the best island to simply chill out and be.
The Volcanic Island: It’s unfair to single out Lanzarote Island in one way, because all of the islands are volcanic. It is the only one where the earth remains so hot, in Las Montañas del Fuego (The Fire Mountains), that the walking guides’ party piece is frying eggs on the rocks. Steam still spurts from crannies, making it the most spectacular. My favorite reason to visit Lanzarote, however, is what must be the world’s most unusual auditorium, Jameos del Agua. Situated in a subterranean cave system, and created by Lanzarote’s famous architect and guardian angel César Manrique, just being there is an other-worldy experience. High on my bucket list is seeing a concert there. The system is also home to a unique species of the blind, albino crab, which skittered across our path, and an underground lake which is another candidate for a movie backdrop.
The Island for Scuba: El Hierro Island, nicknamed The Meridian Island, is the smallest of the archipelago. Friends go there on walking holidays, and to scuba dive. They report that diving off the island’s coast is the best in Europe (though geographically it isn’t Europe, yes I know). Given that it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve the fish have been much less disturbed by commercial fishing, that’s not a surprise. However, since mid-2011 the thing that has probably drawn most folk to the island is the volcanic eruptions taking place offshore in the area called, ironically, Mar de Calmas.
The Stargazer’s Island: La Palma Island, whose nickname is La Isla Bonita (the beautiful island) is reputed to be the most beautiful of the islands, and it is rumored (though I can’t find confirmation) that Madonna’s song “Isla Bonita” was written during a stay there. Its biggest claim to fame is the bank of international telescopes, which occupy the heights of Roque de las Muchachos, on the edge of the Taburiente National Park. Canarian skies are amongst the clearest on earth and sun, stars and galaxies far away are studied from La Palma’s stunning peaks. Visitors are allowed by arrangement, at certain times, but not at night when the serious work, of course, is undertaken, but just being there and seeing the mighty apparatus is a humbling experience, and keen photographers can shoot the stars nearby, where vistas of the Milky Way are unrivalled.
The Sailors’ Island: Gran Canaria Island is the second largest island, and along with Tenerife Island shares title of capital of this Spanish region. It also shares with Tenerife the reputation of being a destination for tourists searching out the cheapest holidays to be had in Europe in the sun. However, as usual, scratch beneath the surface and there is more than sun, sea and sangria. I love to explore the hidden valleys and lakes inland with rich agricultural traditions, and caves made into stylish dwellings. In November hundreds of sailors, both professional and amateur, flock to the port of Las Palmas to begin the ARC, The Atlantic Race for Cruisers, which takes the flotilla of small boats across the Atlantic to Santa Lucia as the hurricane season ends. There are few more impressive sights than watching their departure, the city, with its cathedral tower rising above, spread out before you, and the white sails against the blue. Las Palmas’ port, from which extend important shipping lanes, is busy and bustling, and the city is in tune with its nautical background.
The Island that has it all, Tenerife: Am I being biased when I describe Tenerife that way? It’s been my base for some years now, and I am more than a little in love with this island. Yes, it’s a mecca for the sunburn and booze brigade, but that is confined to a certain stretch of coast, and even then has moved upmarket in recent years. But move away from that coast and you will find forests, both pine and temperate rainforest, the third highest volcano in the world, the 4th longest lava tube in the world, museums featuring the mummified remains of the islands original, aboriginal inhabitants, and a wealth of sporting facilities and history. Honestly, I couldn’t choose simply one reason to visit Tenerife; there are a multitude.
Linda Wainwright likes to say that she is “re-inventing herself for her third age” these days. She transplanted to the Canary Islands more than 20 years ago. Now with kids grown up, leaving behind the 9 to 5, she studies writing and photography and is beginning to scratch a living from them, thus fulfilling a lifelong dream. She blogs at http://islandmomma.wordpress.com/