7 reasons why you need to visit Spain’s Canary Islands this summer
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Madrid, Barcelona, Ibiza and Seville are all Spanish destinations you may have visited, or at least heard of. But many U.S.-based travelers aren’t quite as familiar with Spain’s Canary Islands, thanks to their far-flung location that’s actually closer to Africa than Spain.
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This exotic seven-island archipelago — Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma — features volcanic black sand beaches, Spain’s highest peak, Teide, at 12,188 feet, and its own unique Canarian traditions, culture and gastronomy.
And with a brand-new, nonstop flight option from the U.S. to these Spanish islands, it’s time to add the Canaries to your travel bucket list. Here’s why.
They’re easier than ever to reach
United is launching the only nonstop flight between the U.S. and the Canary Islands from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Tenerife South Airport (TFS). Flights begin operating June 9, 2022, on United’s Boeing 757-200 aircraft three times a week, making it easier than ever for U.S. travelers to visit the islands this summer and beyond.
Once in Tenerife, you can fly to the other islands or access them via ferry. It’s also possible to fly from the U.S. nonstop to a number of other European hubs, then hop over to the Canary Islands.
The Canaries, especially Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, are popular among European travelers, meaning there are frequent flights from destinations like London, Munich, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Dublin and many other spots. Fly with full-fare carriers or take advantage of cheaper prices and fly with low-cost carriers like Ryanair, WizzAir, EasyJet and Jet2.
The Canary Islands are extremely affordable
Despite the rise in summer travel prices, the Canary Islands remain a surprisingly affordable travel destination for American visitors, even more so now that the euro and the dollar are almost equal. The islands offer all types of accommodation, dining, drinking and tourist experiences from budget to luxe, but even the most luxurious options tend to be on the less expensive side.
For example, one of the most coveted hotels on Tenerife, the Ritz-Carlton Abama, has rates starting at 338 euros (about $356) per night in August. For comparison, the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki Beach in Hawaii starts at $755 per night on the same dates.
Families can opt for affordable vacation rentals with amenities such as sea views and shared pool access for around 100 euros a night — and less for couples traveling without children. Wine prices hover around 3-4 euros per glass, and meals can cost as low as 10 euros per person at traditional Canarian restaurants. Even all-inclusive resorts are reasonably priced, with the average rates starting around 200 euros per night in August for a family of three.
Car rentals are also shockingly affordable, sometimes as low as 15-20 euros per day if you use local car rental companies like Plus Car or Orlando. Compare that to the United States, where car rental costs are higher than ever, currently more than $80 a day.
And, the further off the tourist track you go, the more affordable the prices become, especially when it comes to dining and drinking.
Travel to the Canaries year-round
The Canary Islands are lands of eternal spring. With sunshine and pleasant temperatures all year long, this archipelago is one of the few spots travelers can count on for beach weather in Europe during all seasons. While winter evenings may be a bit chilly and Atlantic water temperatures might be rather cold, visitors can usually count on daytime highs close to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and 85 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, with spring and fall somewhere in between. It rarely rains on the Canaries.
The reason it’s so warm is that the islands are closer to Africa than Europe. However, it can get very windy, thanks to warm winds blowing across the Sahara, so expect a light to heavy breeze, depending on the island and time of year you’re visiting.
Also note that on islands like Tenerife and Gran Canaria, the north is usually cloudier and slightly cooler, whereas the south is sunnier and warmer. Factor this into your travel and accommodation plans if sunny beach days are important to you.
Discover every kind of beach imaginable
The Canary Islands have beaches for every traveler, with plenty of sand and sun to go around.
There are many white sand coves with shallow waters perfect for families, such as Amadores on Gran Canaria or Las Vistas in Tenerife. Surfers will love the high winds and white sands at Flag Beach on Fuerteventura or Médano in Tenerife. Windsurfers should head to Sotavento, a lagoon-style beach on Fuerteventura where even small children can learn to windsurf.
Volcanic black sand beaches can be found on all the islands — top spots are El Benijo in north Tenerife, and the savage waves of Nogales in La Palma. For wilder white sands, consider Papagayos in Lanzarote, part of Los Ajaches National Park, or Playa de Cofete in Jandia Natural Park, Fuerteventura — to reach this immense stretch of empty golden sand backed by reddish volcanos, you’ll have to drive off-road.
And the windy, 1,000-acres nature reserve of blustery sand hills in Gran Canaria which overlook the sea — the Maspalomas sand dunes — actually feel Saharan. One of the most unique beaches is Popcorn Beach on Fuerteventura, where the white algae fossils that line the shore actually look like popcorn.
Travelers wanting to experience truly far-flung beaches should consider visiting the smaller islands like La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro. Ringed with primarily black sand, these islands have fewer tourists and therefore quieter, more pristine beaches.
Active travelers can hike, surf, dive and more
The Canary Islands offer lots to do beyond just beautiful beaches. Hikers will find hundreds of trails throughout all seven islands in a variety of landscapes. Top hiking spots include the Anaga Forest in Tenerife, a damp, wooded microclimate that feels almost like Costa Rica, or the UNESCO-designated Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, which preserves an ancient, subtropical laurisilva (laurel) forest.
Visitors also can enjoy various volcanic experiences on the Canaries. There are tours through Lanzarote’s Timanfaya National Park (it covers almost a fourth of the island), cable car rides to Spain’s highest peak (Tenerife’s Teide volcano) and ATV rides through Fuerteventura’s arid, crater-pocked hills.
The waters of Gran Canaria and Lanzarote draw experienced divers to famous sites such as the labyrinth-like La Burrera in Lanzarote or La Catedral and the Aringa Marine Reserve in Gran Canaria. Divers can wiggle through lava caves, float among parrotfish, damselfish, barracuda and turtles, and explore wrecks and steep cliff walls. Both snorkelers and divers will love El Hierro’s Restinga Marine Reserve, home to a large population of manta rays and grouper not too far from the shore or Fuerteventura’s tiny Lobos island, where the shoreline is teeming with marine life.
Daredevils can also parasail, rock climb or rappel at many sites throughout the islands.
The Canary Islands cater to families, couples and beyond
Travelers that want to relax with their significant other or spend time together as a family will find plenty to do. Families can enjoy nature activities, like the aforementioned hiking or volcano tours. There’s also the Siam Water Park in Tenerife, which is one of the largest in Europe. Each island has a capital city and small villages, many of which offer chances to visit museums, squares, harbors, botanical gardens and more.
Couples also have plenty of adults-only hotels to choose from for a honeymoon or romantic vacation. The largest and most populated islands like Tenerife and Gran Canaria have the biggest selection of options when it comes to dining and nightlife, especially within their respective capital cities of Santa Cruz and Las Palmas. Maspalomas in Gran Canaria is known for being especially LGBTQ-friendly.
Each of the islands produces wine and there are 10 different official Designations of Origin (DOP). Visitors can tour many of the unique volcanic wineries that dot each island and taste the different varieties.
Each island has its unique attributes
Unsure exactly which island to visit? Here’s a brief summary of what each island is known for:
- Tenerife: The biggest and most populated of the Canaries, this island also is the most accessible thanks to United’s new nonstop flight. This island has the most to do, from adventure activities to experiencing natural wonders (including both black and white sand beaches), as well as ample dining and nightlife options.
- Gran Canaria: Famous for its Maspalomas sand dunes, this island has sheltered natural pools in the north and golden sand beaches in the south. One of its most striking landmarks also happens to be the largest natural crag in Europe, El Roque Nublo, at 220 feet high.
- Lanzarote: Visitors to this island can tour the famous Timanfaya Volcanic Park, view art and architecture from the late Canarian artist César Manrique Cabrera and frolic on white sand beaches like Playa Blanca.
- Fuerteventura: Beach bums and surfers should head to Fuerteventura, which is the best island for anyone that wants to relax on golden sands or hit the waves.
- La Gomera: Hikers looking to add on a bit of extra nature to a Tenerife visit should head here, as it’s just an hour or so ferry away. Visitors can hit the trails at the Garajonay National Park, and the island features many viewpoints that visitors can hike or drive to for breathtaking sea and mountain vistas.
- El Hierro: Running mainly on renewable energy, El Hierro is perfect for sustainable travelers who want to get a bit off the beaten path, as it’s the island furthest west and most remote of the archipelago; it features over 40 dive sites.
- La Palma: This island is dubbed “La Isla Bonita” for a reason. Thanks to its remote, far west location, its black sand beaches and towering mountains remain pure and pristine. La Palma is also known for stargazing and has many designated sites where visitors can admire the night sky.
While you shouldn’t miss experiencing Spanish destinations like Madrid, Seville or Barcelona, the Canary Islands are also worth a visit — especially if you’re looking for an affordable summer vacation or a winter dose of sunshine. Each Canary Island is full of its own natural wonders and hidden gems, so consider adding one (or several) of the Canaries to your next European trip.
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