Wondering where to travel in the Canary Islands? Linda Wainwright, our guest writer who has lived in the Canaries for over 20 years, gives The Spain Scoop an overview of all the islands. So many islands, so much to see. Island hopping may be the answer.
“Life is like a box of chocolates,” Forrest Gump’s Mom said. I often think about that when I think about the Canary Islands. They remind me of a box of chocolates too, each one quite different in character and scenery.
Although the archipelago lies off the coast of Morocco, they are a part of Spain, making them Europe’s most southerly point, and most popular winter sun destination. They have been my home for over 20 years now, and the spell has yet to wear off.
When I want long, white beaches lapped by a turquoise ocean, I head for Fuerteventura. The most barren of what are, basically, the tips of huge, underwater, volcanic mountains, but also the island with those extraordinary sands. Fuerteventura’s biggest claim to fame, however, is not on land, but offshore, where the constant breezes make it Europe’s windsurf capital.
In contrast, in the west lies, La Gomera, where I can hike in woodland which is one of the last surviving examples of humid, subtropical forest in Europe, magical places whose trees dripping with lichen remind me of fairytales.
The three, small, western islands La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro bear least imprint of modern man. All of them are gems. La Palma is the steepest island in the world, and is widely held to be the most beautiful of the archipelago, known here as La Isla Bonita (the beautiful island). But, it is tiny El Hierro, most southerly and most exposed to the Atlantic, which is greenest in the ecological sense. El Hierro aims, very soon, to be self-sufficient in renewable energy, and further, it has plans to make the entire island a wi-fi zone. Perhaps the lack of mass tourism means it can pursue such projects, without the worries of filling thousands of beds, or whether August air traffic will cause chaos at the airport.
The island which has found balance in its tourism is Lanzarote, the island closest to Africa, famous for sand dunes, camels, caves and wine. Thanks to the influence of native son, architect and sculptor Cesaer Manrique, development there was controlled and the result, although still a tourist haven, is an island without the high-rise hotels and mishmash of styles typical of so many holiday islands.
Sadly, the same can’t be said of my home, Tenerife, where Spain’s highest mountain stands guard over an island which contains the most variety of all the islands. Despite intense coastal development in the south, it remains home to two World Heritage Sites, “lunar” landscapes, temperate rainforest, vineyards, mountain villages, dramatic cliffs and coastal landscapes missed by the bulk of tourists who happily roast on the beaches of the south, which is not to disparage those resorts, which are, actually, improving all the time.
The rivalry between Tenerife and Gran Canaria, whose capitals share status as the capital of the Canary Islands, is legendary. Las Palmas is a more industrial port than Santa Cruz, and is known as the most cosmopolitan place in the archipelago. As in Tenerife, coastal development has been, well, profit-driven, but if you escape into the interior you will find an island rich in tradition, with fresh water lakes to rival those in the English Lake District.
They say this island chain is the site of the legendary Garden of the Hesperides. There is something both unique and compelling about every island. It’s easy to imagine them being gardens set out by the gods.
Where have you traveled in the Canary Islands?
Linda Wainwright likes to say that she is “re-inventing herself for her third age.” She transplanted to the Canary Islands more than 20 years ago from England and her passion for the islands continues. 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/