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10 common misconceptions about the Canary Islands

July 03, 2022
13 min read
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with new information.

Whether or not you’ve made it to the popular Spanish destination of the Canary Islands, you might not be aware of some of the biggest common misconceptions around the place.

This archipelago extends beyond just Tenerife, its most well-known hub, and there's more to the Canaries than tacky nightclubs and package holiday offerings.

Las Teresitas Beach on Tenerife in Spain's Canary Islands. (Photo by Artur Debat/Getty)

Despite what you may have heard, the Canary Islands make for an incredible destination, boasting cultural activities, stunning landscapes and a delectable gastronomy and wine scene. That's before even mentioning the year-round sunshine and pleasant temperatures.

Read on to understand why this destination is often misunderstood and why you shouldn't discount this incredible group of volcanic islands. You may just find yourself planning your next trip there.

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The Canary Islands. (Photo of Tenerife by Dennis Fischer Photography/Getty)
The Canary Islands. (Photo by Dennis Fischer Photography/Getty Images)

The Canary Islands is just Tenerife

There are seven main islands and the allure goes well beyond the largest, most famous island of Tenerife. Don’t reduce several gorgeous islands down to just the best known.

Charco Manso on El Hierro. (Photo by Flavio Vallenari/Getty Images)
Charco Manso on El Hierro. (Photo by Flavio Vallenari/Getty Images)

The following list ranks the main islands from largest to smallest, with why you should visit:

  • Tenerife: For nightlife, luxury hotels and hiking.
  • Fuerteventura: For white sands and water sports.
  • Gran Canaria: For Saharan-style sand dunes and being LGBTQ-friendly.
  • Lanzarote: For highbrow wine, art, culture and triathlons (and beaches, too).
  • La Palma: For stargazing and serene relaxation.
  • La Gomera: For forests and natural wonders.
  • El Hierro: For eco-friendly and off-the-beaten-path travelers.

If you’re at a loss for which island to visit, read TPG’s article on how to decide which Canary Island is right for you, highlighting the best of each island and what type of travelers should visit.

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A beach on La Graciosa. (Photo by Andreas Weibel - www.imediafoto.com/Getty)
A beach on La Graciosa. (Photo by Andreas Weibel/Getty Images)

It’s also worth noting that the Canary Islands include the tiny island of La Graciosa, which you can visit on a day or overnight trip from Lanzarote. There are also a few islets scattered throughout the archipelago, such as Isla de Lobos, Roque del Oeste, Alegranza, Roque del Este and Montana Clara.

They’re tacky

Just like any destination, there may be parts of the Canary Islands that are, indeed, tacky. Certain resort towns on various islands are strewn with high-rise, cookie-cutter resorts, budget party hostels and all-inclusive resorts that attract foreign visitors who only want to party day in and day out.

However, those are just a few specific areas. If you do your research, you can easily visit more authentic parts of each island. There are also luxury resorts that don’t have a cheesy feel. The Ritz-Carlton, Abama on Tenerife is a good example.

The Ritz-Carlton Abama. Photo by Lori Zaino/TPG
The Ritz-Carlton, Abama. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy)

Six out of the seven main Canary Islands produce wine, and vino tourism is a sophisticated, enjoyable way to experience the islands' culture and cuisine.

Speaking of cuisine, the Canaries feature a number of distinct gastronomic offerings you simply can't get anywhere else. This includes the savory mojo picon sauce which you can find generously topping potatoes, as well as popular cheeses cultivated on the islands.

In fact, for those looking to include culture and gastronomy alongside beach days and hiking, Lanzarote is slowly becoming a more upmarket island for those looking for an air of sophistication.

Lanzarote is the closest of the Canary Islands to Africa, just over 80 miles away. With dreamy beaches and a distinct volcanic landscape, the island also has a budding wine tourism scene, as well as notable art and architecture from famous artist César Manrique.

They're just for ravers and retirees

Party animals will adore Tenerife’s Playa de las Americas and Gran Canaria’s Playa del Ingles. However, even within each island, there are many different regions to explore. Each one provides a different sort of vacation to a different sort of visitor, including communities appropriate for more mature travelers. There's something for everyone.

Sunset at Roque Nublo in Gran Canaria. (Photo by Maya Karkalicheva/Getty)
Sunset at Roque Nublo on Gran Canaria. (Photo by Maya Karkalicheva/Getty Images)

LGBTQIA+ travelers will find a welcoming scene in regions of Gran Canaria and Tenerife while surfers and windsurfers will find their vibes on Fuerteventura. There are neighborhoods and regions on each of the islands best for solo travelers, families and couples. Hikers should head to La Gomera, and wine enthusiasts to Lanzarote.

The beaches are black sand and ugly

It’s true: Some of the beaches on the Canary Islands are made from volcanic black sand.

Sotavento Beach on Fuerteventura's Costa Calma is anything but black. (Photo by Artur Debat/Getty)
Sotavento Beach on Fuerteventura’s Costa Calma is anything but black. (Photo by Artur Debat/Getty Images)

However, many beaches on the Canaries have golden or fine white sand. Beach lovers should consider Fuerteventura, where beaches like El Cotillo, Sotavento and Flag feature that Caribbean-esque white sand. Don't forget about one of Europe's wildest beaches, El Cofete. Backed by crater-pocked volcanic peaks, it's a real gem.

The golden sands of Papagayo Beach on Lanzarote and Las Teresitas on Tenerife are a welcome change from the black sand. For a one-of-a-kind golden sands experience, head to the dunes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria, where you may mistake the rolling, sandy hills for the Saharan desert until you spot the azure waters beyond.

Related: These are the best beaches in the Canary Islands

They’re touristy

Of course, the Canary Islands are packed with visitors year-round — especially from other European countries that don’t see quite as much sunshine.

In the heady pre-pandemic days of 2019, Tenerife welcomed more than 6 million visitors. Fuerteventura, though, only welcomed 2 million. Smaller islands like El Hierro, La Palma or La Gomera may only see a few hundred thousand visitors each year. This doesn't take into consideration the dip in visitors in 2020 until now, thanks to the effects of COVID-19 restrictions (now all but effectively dropped).

If you get off the traditional tourist track and visit islands that aren’t Gran Canaria or Tenerife, or head for different areas around the island that aren’t the main resort areas, you’ll encounter spots even more secluded than normal. You may even stumble on a deserted beach or two.

Visit local villages on the Canaries. (Photo by Westend61/Getty)
Visit local villages on the Canaries. (Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

Many Spanish people live on the Canary Islands and it’s easy to enjoy Canarian food, culture and more by simply staying or visiting more local neighborhoods on each island. You’ll want to sample papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes in a delicious, tangy Canarian sauce, mojo picon) and ropa vieja, a meat dish that’s also popular in Cuba. Of course, you can’t go wrong with fresh seafood, either.

The capitals of each island certainly aren’t off the beaten path. They're excellent places to learn more about what the islands are really like, escape the tourists and get to know more about the local culture and history.

They’re really close to Spain’s mainland

Although the Canary Islands belong to Spain, they’re actually located closer to Africa. It takes almost three hours to fly from Spain’s capital city Madrid to the islands.

The Canary Islands are off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara. (Vector image by PeterHermesFurian/Getty)
The Canary Islands are off the coast of Morocco and Western Sahara. (Photo by PeterHermesFurian/Getty Images)

Despite the length of the flight, though, it’s pretty affordable to get there, especially if you have a stash of Avios, which you can use to purchase reward flights to the islands on airlines like Iberia or British Airways.

They’re always hot

One of the biggest calls of the Canary Islands is the weather. You can expect year-round sunshine and warm temperatures. There are few places in Europe you can suntan on the beach in January, which is part of the Canary Islands’ intrigue.

Pack layers, especially if you plan to head up to Teide. (Photo by Santiago Urquijo/Getty)
Pack layers, especially if you plan to head up to Teide. (Photo by Santiago Urquijo/Getty Images)

However, be aware that winter evenings can get chilly. The islands are often windy, too, especially Fuerteventura. Pack layers and a jacket or jumper for chilly winter evenings. If you plan to hike, especially the Teide volcano, layers are a must, as it gets colder the higher you go. You may even see snow toward the top of Teide.

That said, take note: Vacationers heading to Spanish islands this summer have been warned about record temperatures.

There’s nothing cultural to do

The capitals of islands like Tenerife (Santa Cruz) and Gran Canaria (Las Palmas) provide a variety of historical monuments and museums to explore. Lanzarote is known for its wineries and art from the aforementioned artist, architect and sculptor César Manrique.

While festivals and local celebrations may have been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions, many villages, towns and cities on each island are hosting events again. Some of the most exciting are the Carnival celebrations that occur each February.

The Cesar Manrique House and Museum in Lanzarote. (Photo by DGIT/Getty)
The César Manrique House Museum in Lanzarote. (Photo by DGIT/Getty Images)

Many visitors prefer to enjoy the daily sunshine the Canaries offer. However, if you prefer spending a day at a museum, shopping or checking out architectural or artistic wonders, you can.

There are also numerous hiking, cycling and rock climbing opportunities on each island. Additionally, water sports like diving and surfing are ideal for those who want to be outdoors but get bored sunbathing.

It’s all volcanic rock

The Canary Islands were formed by volcanoes. As a result, expect to see craters, black-sand beaches and even volcanoes themselves.

Garajonay National Park on La Gomera. (Photo by Dominic Dähncke/Getty)
Garajonay National Park on La Gomera. (Photo by Dominic Dähncke/Getty Images)

You can also explore many other unique landscapes on the islands. Other special, natural spots to visit are:

  • Garajonay National Park’s laurel tree forests on La Gomera.
  • The green hills of Barranco de los Hombres on La Palma.
  • Masca Valley’s terraced mountaintop villages on Tenerife.
  • Gran Canaria’s rolling sand dunes.
  • 16 different miradores astronomicos (stargazing spots) on La Palma.
  • Anaga Natural Park, a tropical microclimate forest on Tenerife.
  • The verdant, hilly Parque Rural de Doramas on Gran Canaria.

They're only for package holidays

Many of the smaller islands have boutique hotels or bed-and-breakfast accommodations that offer a more serene and relaxed vacation stay. In addition, renting a villa or apartment is an easy way to have a more off-the-beaten-path, luxurious or simply more authentic Canary Islands vacation experience.

Opt for a villa with a private pool or a boutique hotel in the Canary Islands. (Photo by Andrea Comi/Getty Images)

Family-friendly options complete with kids pools and activities, adults-only wellness hotels, quiet mountain or beach cove guesthouses – you'll find every sort of accommodation possible on the islands.

Bottom line

Sand dunes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria. (Photo by Tim E White/Getty Images)

Yes, parts of the Canaries can seem tacky and touristy and home to black-sand beaches and volcanoes. However, the islands can also be incredibly charming, enticing travelers with white-sand beaches, lush forests, jagged mountains, unique local customs, celebrations and cuisine.

Don’t let these common misconceptions steer you away from these sunny Spanish islands. Instead, find a way to have your ideal holiday there.

Featured image by Getty Images/Radius Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
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  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more