Guide to the Canary Islands
The Romans dubbed the Canary Islands the Fortunate Islands when they stumbled upon these hidden treasures off the West coast of Africa more than 2000 years ago.
And the Canary Islands are fortunate indeed – blessed with a near perfect climate and magnificent landscapes which make them a magnet for millions of 21st-century foreign ‘invaders’ each year.
Despite their proximity to Africa, the islands together form one of the 17 autonomous communities of Spain. But unlike the Costas of mainland Spain, the Canaries enjoy pleasantly warm temperatures throughout the year making them a favourite holiday destination for winter and summer sun seekers alike.
The sub-tropical climate of the Canary Islands (which are more or less on the same latitude as Orlando in Florida) is tempered by the cooling Trade Winds and the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. The result is a ‘land of eternal spring’ where average temperatures range between 18C and 24C and the sea is a joy to swim in at any time of the year.
Together with their glorious weather, these islands offer a huge range of natural and man-made attractions which entice around 14 million visitors a year to their shores. There are vast volcanic craters, spectacular black beaches, ancient forests and crystal clear waters inhabited by whales and dolphins. The quieter islands are a paradise for nature lovers whilst the most popular islands provide action-packed resort areas with every conceivable form of facility and entertainment for foreign visitors.
The archipelago consists of five main holiday islands:
- Gran Canaria,
- and La Palma – along with the two small islands of Gomera and Hierro and several tiny uninhabited islands.
- Tenerife is the biggest and busiest of all the islands and it’s the one with the broadest appeal. The island offers everything from bustling beachfront resorts and family fun centres to ancient pyramids and Spain’s highest mountain.
Gran Canaria, to the South East of Tenerife, is at the heart of the archipelago and is another island which appeals both to party people and those who prefer to enjoy Canarian culture and quiet country villages. The island boasts one of the most riotous resorts in the Canaries – Playa del Ingles which is a mecca for gays, travellers and round-the-clock revellers. The capital, Las Palmas, has a different feel altogether with its distinctly Canarian character, historic buildings and museums. Elsewhere on the island, you’ll find snow-capped mountains, traditional villages virtually untouched by tourism, a desert landscape and tropical fruit plantations.
Fuerteventura and Lanzarote lie at the eastern edge of the island group, closest to Africa. Fuerteventura has some of the longest and best beaches in the Canaries and attracts watersports enthusiasts and those wanting a relaxing ‘sun and sea’ holiday rather than foam party aficionados. Lanzarote is home to some of the most mind-blowing landscapes in the world with its weird petrified lava formations, volcanic craters and underground cave systems.
The most westerly islands – La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro – are more lush, green and unspoilt than the ‘big four’ holiday islands. They’re the haunts of artists, walkers and nature lovers who prefer to steer clear of resorts geared to the package holiday market.
It’s a common misconception that the Canaries are named after the songbirds which inhabit the islands. In fact, the reverse is true and the birds take their name from the islands which were home to packs of wild dogs in ancient times. The Spanish word Canarias comes from the Latin word meaning ‘of the dogs’.
General Info for the Canary Islands
The following numbers should only be called if there is an emergency:
- 091 – Policia Nacional
- 092 – Policia Local
- 061 – Urgencias Salud (Medical Emergencies)
- 062 – Guardia Civil (only in Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura)
- 080 – Bomberos (Firefighters) only in Gran Canaria
Popular markets in the Canary Islands
- Los Cristianos – Sundays, next to Hotel Gran Arona 9am – 2 pm
- Alcala, los Gigantes – Mondays, Plaza del Llano 9am – 2pm
- Los Abrigos – Tuesdays, Night market 6pm – 10pm
- Playa San Juan – Wednesdays, Fruit & Veg market 10am – 1pm
- Playa de las Americas – Torviscas Thursdays 9 am – 2 pm
- Corralejos – Mondays & Fridays 9am – 1pm
- Morro Jable – Thursday 9am – 2pm