The Canary Islands is an archipel consisting of eight inhabited and numerous uninhabitated islands in the Atlantic Ocean. They form one of the autonomus regions of Spain and are thus a part of the European Union, but from a geological perspective belong to the African continent. The Canaries are more than 1,000 kilometers south of the Spanish mainland but only 100 kilometers west of Morocco, roughly located at the same latitude as Florida.
That spot ensures a subtropical climate moderated by the trade winds, producing median temperatures between 20″C and 29°C year-round, making the Canary Islands one of the premier vacation spots for beachgoers in Europe. But the archipel does not only offer excellent bathing conditions. There are a number of interesting towns and villages that are worth visiting, along with the large cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the joint Canary capitals. In the interior, the islands are boasting great hiking and biking opportunities. They are home to five Spanish National Parks, two of which are also World Heritage sites. These park encompass various fascinating landscapes, ranging from tropical vegetation in the Western half of the archipel to a more arid scenery the closer one gets to the African coast in the East.
Next to a multitude of small rock islands in the archipelago, some of which are nature preserves, there are eight Canary Islands that are accessible for tourists:
The second-smallest island of the Canaries, El Hierro is located in the southwesternmost corner of the archipelago. The island is a World Biosphere Reserve and as such, construction is limited in scope. There are no high-rise hotels on the island, making El Hierro a place that has retained its authenticity. El Hierro has only small stretches of beach that are well usable for bathing tourism, but it has great biodiversity both on land and in the waters, making the island attractive for snorkeling, diving and hiking excursions.
Since 2009, the geologically oldest and second-largest Canary Island, Fuerteventura, has also been designated a World Biosphere Reserve. Having a mild and dry, but frequently windy climate as well as the longest sandy beaches of the Canaries, the island experiences a heavy influx of vacationers regardless, Along parts of the coastline, stronger trade winds account for good surfing conditions. Fuerteventura is less than 100 miles away from the African continent.
Formed like a circle with a diameter of about 50 Kilometers, Gran Canaria is home to some 850,000 residents. The island is sometimes referred to as a “miniature continent” because it has several distinct microclimate zones and accordingly, a flora and fauna with many facets. The airport and the island’s capital, Las Palmas, are in the northern half of Gran Canaria, while the tourist resort towns, most notably Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés, are in the South, where visitors are treated to impressive sand dune sceneries and to sandy beaches. Las Palmas is a major port town and with some 380,000 inhabitants the largest city of the Canary Islands.
The almost circular shape of La Gomera is home to a dramatic landscape with many hills and mountains, rising sharply to a maximum altitude of almost 1,500 meters. Near the summits, those mountains are home to rain forests thriving on a very specific microclimate. Garajonay National Park is located there. With housands of miles of hiking paths, it is a major destination for excursions. Next to the tropical scenery, La Gomera also features some sandy beaches which are often not as crowded as those elsewhere in the Canary Islands.
The small island next to Lanzarote has only been designated one of the now eight Canary Islands in 2018. Close to 800 people live on the island which has only dirt roads, a small number of cars and a handful of vacation homes. There is some small-scale tourism which is rewarded by access to long stretches of mostly empty sandy beaches.
The island of Lanzarote also is a World Biosphere Reserve, which might come as a surprise to many who know the island as a major tourist destination. Building on Lanzarote has once been limited to a maximum height of three stories, but this rule has been abandoned in the tourist towns. Still, the island has suffered less from mass tourism than other islands. The beaches in small bays in the southwestern quarter of the island are very popular and so is the green lagoon of nearby El Golfo.
Also called “Green Island” (Isla Verde) due to almost half of the total area being covered by woods, La Palma is both popular with beachgoers and with nature enthusiasts. Although easily accessible via its own airport, La Palma has never experienced the same mass influx of tourists as other Canary Islands, but it nevertheless has its share of European package tourism, which is mostly concentrated in the island’s western half. But La Palma has always been very popular with hikers and mountainbikers who will find plenty of trails here.
Home to almost one million residents, Tenerife is the most populous and the largest island not only within the Canaries, but also in all of Spain. It welcomes several million tourists each year, mostly from Britain and Germany. The largest tourist resorts can be found in the South. In recent years, the island’s authorities have shifted the industry’s course and only allows five-star resorts to be built in new projects. This is a step towards making the tourism business more sustainable. Almost half of the total area of Tenerife today has protected status with many nature parks and a great biodiversity. Tenerife is home to Mount Teide, with an altitude of 3715 meters Spain’s highest mountain and a National Park of the same name.
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