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The typical package vacation escape to Tenerife’s Playa de las Americas may come to mind when you consider a jaunt to the Canaries, but these seven Spanish volcanic islands have much more to offer than just all-inclusive resorts serving buffet bangers & mash.
If you’d like to get off the beaten path, explore hidden gems and give that high school Spanish a whirl, here’s how to have a more authentic trip to Las Islas Canarias — many of which have some truly incredible natural wonders that can be enjoyed year-round.
Hang out in the Capital Cities
While most visitors land at the airport and immediately head to the nearest resort town, spending a day in Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) or Santa Cruz (Tenerife) is an exciting alternative.
Beach bums can relax on Las Canteras, a long stretch of golden sand located right in the heart of Las Palmas. Here, you can sunbathe and swim alongside both locals and tourists and later admire the sunset. Once evening hits, enjoy a meal outdoors at one of the many taverns and restaurants along the promenade.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife has a bustling historic city center that dates back to 1494. Start in the Plaza Muñoz de Bustillo, wandering past iconic buildings and palm-tree lined squares. Stop along Calle La Noria for traditional snacks and drinks, checking out a variety of churches and buildings along the way.
Slightly inland from the capital of Tenerife is the former capital of the island and UNESCO World Heritage site San Cristóbal de la Laguna featuring a towering cathedral and a number of other historic buildings lining its cobblestone streets. The backdrop of the Anaga mountains gives the village a picturesque touch.
Visit Lesser-Known Islands
Most have been there, done that when it comes to the main Canary Islands like Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote and even Fuerteventura. But you may not even be able to name the other three islands — or find them on a map. La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma are less touristy, less crowded and definitely worth a visit.
Nature buffs and stargazers will love La Palma — the entire island is a World Biosphere Reserve. La Gomera is a hiker’s dream with over 650 trails to enjoy. Eco-friendly travelers should visit El Hierro, which is 100% sustainable — the main power plant only uses renewable energy.
While airlines like EasyJet, Norwegian, Ryanair, British Airways and Jet2 fly nonstop between various UK hubs and the larger islands like Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, you can ferry or boat from these spots to the smaller islands, or fly between islands on Binter Canarias — and don’t forget to sign up for the Binter loyalty program, BinterMas.
Get Off the Beaten Path (and Go Beyond the Beach)
Even if you do head to a more popular island, you can still escape the crowds — and go beyond the gates of your beach resort.
In Tenerife, you can hike the to the top of volcano Teide, or explore the Cueva del Viento, the largest lava tube system in Europe. Tour volcanic wineries in Lanzarote, or drive through volcanic craters in quads on Fuerteventura. Trek through the Caldera de Bandama, a giant volcanic crater in Gran Canaria, exploring caves and viewing local flora and fauna. Or, rent a car and drive around the perimeter and mountainous interior of your chosen island — you may be surprised at how large and diverse it is.
Get in the Water
Some of the best windsurfing and kitesurfing in the world can be done in Fuerteventura (the island is literally named ‘strong winds’ in Spanish). Diving and snorkeling are popular activities on all the islands — El Hierro alone has 46 dive sites. Visitors can also surf, stand-up paddleboard and canoe or kayak in the Canaries’ waters.
Although a traditional English breakfast may be what you need to start your day, eating locally will give you a real taste of Spanish living. Make sure to sample patatas arrugadas con mojo picón, potatoes with a savory sauce, that comes in red and green and is made from olive oil, paprika, garlic, peppers and other spices. Fresh seafood is especially delicious, especially vieja, a light, white fish, which is local to the region’s waters. Cheese is also a popular snack on the islands. One of the most famous is Majorero cheese (mild and creamy with a touch of spice), which comes from Fuerteventura thanks to a special native breed of goat that roams the island.
Delectable Canarian flavors aren’t limited to only solid foods, though. Wine from Lanzarote is made using grapes grown in volcanic soil — the result is wines with a light smoky or mineral tone. Ron miel is also famous in the region; the honey rum is almost too easy going down. Coffee drinkers should sip a cafe leche y leche, coffee with fresh milk and condensed milk, usually topped with a pinch of cinnamon.
Skip the Resorts
While an all-inclusive may sound enticing, for a truly authentic trip, head to a boutique hotel or home rental. These types of accommodation may be close to all the amenities of a big resort town, but you may find the calm of not being around a million people at the buffet strangely rejuvenating.
Staying in a home rental will give you a chance to interact with local residents (hosts and neighbors) as well as have the option to hit up the local supermarket to stock your fridge with some of the aforementioned Canarian cheese and wine. Many home rentals are part of large apartment communities, which have amenities like pools and a gym, too.
Taxes are much lower on the Canary Islands (6.5% on things like electronics, clothing, toys, beauty products, etc). This is why you may notice small shops selling electronics or other wares. Take advantage of the cheaper prices on goods and shop away — there are many small boutiques as well as larger shopping centers located on the islands.
Adjust Your Timing
If you want to live the Spanish lifestyle, adjust your eating and sleeping times, pushing everything a few hours later. Don’t forget — this includes waking up later too.
A local restaurant may seem touristy at 7 p.m. when all the other visitors eat dinner, but if you wait until a few hours later, the locals will come out, creating a whole new vibe and perhaps providing a more local and different experience.
Visit During Carnival
If you can’t make it to the Caribbean or Latin America to celebrate Carnival, the Canary Islands pulls out some pretty impressive celebrations. The festival is celebrated in February/March and includes things like parades, parties, contests, music and dance events, fireworks, children’s parties and more. Expect to see elaborate costumes and lots of wild debauchery, Canarian-style.
Featured photo by Andreas Wonisch / Getty Images.
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