The Canary Islands have long been a favourite destination with British holidaymakers, especially those in search of a bit of winter sun. These exotic islands off the west coast of Africa are both affordable and accessible, and feel a million miles away from the often chilly shores of the UK. Although known for their package holidays, the islands do in fact have something for everyone. Away from the crowded beach resorts, you’ll discover remote mountain villages, colourful towns with sleepy squares, and dramatic landscapes dotted with palm trees and volcanoes.
If you’re wondering which island to explore in the Canaries, have a look at some of our favourite spots to help you make up your mind:
Teide National Park – Tenerife
This place is like nowhere else on earth we’ve ever encountered. It feels more like being on the moon with its volcanic lunar landscapes, seemingly devoid of any life. Yet you come here for the panoramas, the incredible drives and of course Mount Teide itself. If you want to look for Canary Island cruises this year, then these are some of the views you’ll enjoy on a shore excursion.
Intrepid hikers can walk up trails through the lava fields (you will need a permit for the summit), or if you fancy something a little more leisurely there’s the famous cable car (make sure you get a spot on the lower side of the cabin so you can enjoy the views). Once at the upper cable car station, there are a couple of hiking trails to viewpoints, both of which take about 20 minutes, and seeing the enormous caldera all around is something really special. This is the highest point of the island, and you can see right out to sea from here.
Maspalomas Dunes – Gran Canaria
You can’t of course come all the way to the Canary Islands without taking in a beach or two. Especially one that comes with colossal sand dunes! Maspalomas can be found in the south of the island, and has been a protected nature reserve for over a century. The ancient dunes have been here since the end of the last ice age, with the wind shaping them into the ridges and troughs you can explore today. Apparently the dunes are continually on the move, sometimes shifting up to 5 metres a year, again thanks to the winds. As well as strolling barefoot through the golden sands, there’s a lighthouse to discover, as well as several good restaurants so you can tuck into a traditional local supper whilst watching the sun set over the sea. Birdwatchers should head to the lagoon to see the many protected species that thrive here, including kingfishers and curlews. Just make sure you take your flipflops, as that sand does get rather hot to walk on during the afternoons!
Betancuria – Fuerteventura
Hidden away in the island interior, the charming colonial town of Betancuria is the old Capital of Fuerteventura. Taking its name from the nearby mountain range, Betancuria was founded way back in the 15th century by European settlers who chose this spot because of its natural defences, fertile ground and strategic position on the island. Although once a thriving agricultural centre, the land was eventually over-exploited and in 1834 Betancuria lost its claim as the Capital of the island. Today it’s a picturesque town to wander slowly through, stopping at gift shops, sampling local dishes in the many cafes, and having a breather beneath the shade of a palm tree to chat with the locals. It’s a quiet place, without much in the way of night life, but that perhaps is its charm. Don’t forget to have a look at the impressive Iglesia de Santa María de Betancuria, the first church to be constructed on Fuertevetura, and the ruins of San Buenaventura Monastery to the north of town.
Papagayo Beach – Lanzarote
Often heralded as one of the best beaches in Lanzarote, Playa Papagayo is a picture-perfect white sand cove with shimmering turquoise waters which are perfect for swimming on a hot afternoon. It’s one of the safest places to enjoy the sea in the Canary Islands so is ideal for families with young children, as well as snorkellers. The rocky outcrops on either side protect the bay from the wind, and the surrounding landscape feels wild and unspoilt by tourism. On a clear day you can see across to Fuertaventura Island!
Masca – Tenerife
This tiny village that clings precariously to the mountainside is one of the most popular trips in Tenerife, and with good reason. It’s an adventure just to get there, with winding hillside roads, steep ravines and not many passing places. But the road is in great condition, and if you’re after those essential Instagram shots, then this is the place to come. We suggest visiting earlier in the day, or late afternoon to avoid the crowds and ensure there is parking available. The village itself is a short walk down from the road, and a great place to stop for a drink or a spot of lunch whilst soaking in the incredible scenery, which looks like something out of Jurassic Park. The hillsides are covered with palm trees, and you can just picture the pirates of old using this as a smuggling base with its almost inaccessible route to the sea.
Have you visited the Canary Islands? What were your favourite places?