How to pick which Canary Islands you should visit in the summer

Jun 13, 2022

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You may have heard of Tenerife or Gran Canaria, but there’s more to Spain’s Canary Islands than these two popular spots. The Canary Islands are popular with European travelers, but may not be on the radar of U.S.-based travelers thanks to their far-flung location closer to Africa than Spain. With United’s new nonstop service from Newark (EWR) to Tenerife South (TFS), though, these islands are much easier to reach and much more accessible for American travelers.

A beach in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
A beach in Fuerteventura, Canary Islands. (Photo by Roberto Moiola /Sysaworld/Getty Images)

You may be surprised at what each of the seven different islands has to offer — from shopping, star-gazing and volcanic wine tastings to lava tubes, kite-surfing and rolling sand dunes. Don’t forget about the beautiful long stretches of sandy shores and picturesque rocky outcrop over the sea.

If you’re excited to have a Canary Islands vacation, but aren’t sure where to go or which island is right for you, this guide can help you figure out which of these seven volcanic islands (Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Palma, Fuerteventura, El Hierro or La Gomera) is best for your trip.

Getting to the Canary Islands

United’s new nonstop flight means that U.S. travelers can finally fly without having to stop in another Spanish or European hub. The flight launched on June 9, 2022, flying three times per week.

Hoping to reach another island that’s not Tenerife? You’ll have to change planes in Tenerife, or in a hub like Madrid. There you can get nonstop flights on various airlines, such as Iberia, Air Europa and low-cost carriers, to five of the seven islands: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Palma. You can also reach many of the islands from European hubs, flying on full-fare carriers or low-cost carriers like Wizzair, Ryanair, Vueling, Jet2 or EasyJet.

The smallest islands, El Hierro and La Gomera, both have airports, but you can only fly to these islands from Tenerife and Gran Canaria. It’s also possible to travel by ferry. La Gomera is reachable in under an hour by ferry from Tenerife.

For outdoor adventures: Tenerife

Los Gigantes, Spain. (Photo by Jacek Malipan / EyeEm / Getty Images)
Los Gigantes, Spain. (Photo by Jacek Malipan /EyeEm/Getty Images)

Tenerife is home to one of the largest and most impressive volcanoes in Europe: El Teide. Even though it may be a breezy, summery day down below at sea level, you might spot snow near the peak of the volcano. It’s possible to get nearly all the way to the top of the volcano via an intense hike or a cable car, but a trip to the summit requires a permit.

Paragliding is a popular sport around Tenerife. You can also go canyoning on Tejina Mountain, an ancient lava dome system of craters and caves. If you still haven’t had enough of volcanic remnants, explore one of the biggest lava tubes in the world, Cueva del Viento, with over 10 miles of passages.

Hikers should trek through Anaga Rural Park, home to the Mercedes Forest, which features a number of moss species and laurel trees.

A walk up (or drive, if you’re feeling lazy) the Los Gigantes cliffs, aptly named due to their massive size, offers a stunning overlook of the cliffs with views of the ocean and Tenerife’s famous black sand beaches. Or, enjoy them down below at Los Guios Beach, which sits in the shadow of these hulking rock formations.

For wine and culture: Lanzarote

The Wine Valley of La Geria in Lanzarote. (Photo by Rott70 / Getty Images)
The Wine Valley of La Geria in Lanzarote. (Photo by Rott70/Getty Images)

Few places in the world can boast volcanic vineyards. However, you can enjoy sipping, tasting and exploring in Lanzarote’s volcanic wine country while soaking up views of the neighboring national parks: Timanfaya and Los Volcanoes. Besides sampling the wine, you’ll learn all about how grapes are grown in the ashy, volcanic soil with small stone circles protecting the vines from wind and other damaging weather conditions.

Beyond Lanzarote’s famous vinos and volcanoes and beaches (Papagayo is one of the wildest on the island and Playa Blanca has fine white sand), visitors can take in art, architecture and design.

You’ll find original creations by artist César Manrique in various spots around the island. One of the most interesting examples is his former home, where he incorporates the natural landscape of caves, cactus and volcanic rock and tunnels into his eclectic design aesthetic.

For beaches, sand dunes and spa visits: Gran Canaria

Sand dunes of Maspalomas in Gran Canaria. (Photo by © Allard Schager / Getty Images)
Sand dunes of Maspalomas in Gran Canaria. (Photo by Allard Schager/Getty Images)

Gran Canaria has 37 miles of beaches. Whether you want shallow, family-friendly waters or a quiet, romantic escape, Gran Canaria has enough sand and sea for everyone.

Couples can savor the peace and quiet of a stroll along the cliffside path from Playa de Puerto Rico to Playa de Amadores. Once in Amadores, sample some Spanish cava while sunbathing at the chic Amadores Beach Club. For a relaxing, four-hour spa circuit, the Corallium Spa at the Lopesan Costa Meloneras menu features unique offerings like a saltwater cave, a zodiac room with water beds and a Himalayan salt room, among other installations ($45 per person).

Families should head to Maspalomas, a lengthy run of golden sands with numerous restaurants and amenities nearby. Kids will love playing in the giant sand dunes — it’s almost like you’re in the Sahara, but with the sparkling sea beyond.

To hang with the locals, wander along the cobblestone streets through the island’s capital, Las Palmas. There, you can meander past a number of historic buildings and tan on a lively urban beach, Las Canteras.

For star gazing and tranquility: La Palma

Caldera de Taburiente National Park. (Photo by Dominic Dähncke / Getty Images)
Caldera de Taburiente National Park. (Photo by Dominic Dähncke/Getty Images)

La Palma was the world’s first destination certified as a Starlight Reserve. The entire island is committed to protecting the quality of its night sky, making it one of the best places in the world to stargaze. You can admire the twinkling lights from anywhere on the island, but there are 16 special spots miradores astronomicos — that have been designated as the best places for astrotourism.

There’s plenty to do in daylight hours, too. UNESCO declared the entire island a World Biosphere Reserve. Make sure to visit the Caldera de Taburiente, a national park formed by volcanic landslides. There, you’ll have a chance to soak in the quiet, peaceful atmosphere near waterfalls, streams and hilly pine tree forests. Or, consider exploring the island’s hidden black sand beaches like the Playa de Nogales, reachable only after walking down a long staircase built into a cliff.

The less adventurous can take a stroll through the colorful village of Los Llanos de Aridane, where you can shop at the outdoor Sunday market and admire the street murals.

For water adventures and wind-swept sands: Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura Beach. (Photo by Frank Günther / Getty Images)
Fuerteventura. (Photo by Frank Günther/Getty Images)

Fuerteventura is Spanish for ‘strong winds.’ Unsurprisingly, the island is famous for having some of the world’s best kite-surfing and windsurfing.

If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, you can admire the many talented surfers year-round beachside. Avid water sports participants and spectators should plan to go during the Windsurfing & Kiteboarding World Cup. The popular event occurs every summer on Playa Barca, near the island’s southern tip.

True beach bums may prefer to relax on mile-long sands like those belonging to Flag Beach near the resort town of Corralejo. For a wild, wind-swept paradise, El Cotillo is a beach on the north end of the island with a cove of crystalline sands surrounded by clear waters, and the exotic golden sands of Cofete, part of the Jandia Natural Park, are near-empty year-round.

Day trips to the tiny volcanic island of Lobos are perfect for those looking to really escape. Snorkelers will spy an abundance of marine life as the whole island is a nature reserve. Also, bird enthusiasts can view many species of sea birds on the island.

For eco-travelers and divers: El Hierro

Roques de Salmor in El Hierro. (Photo by F. Lukasseck / Getty Images)
Roques de Salmor in El Hierro. (Photo by F. Lukasseck/Getty Images)

Sustainable travelers should look no further than the smallest of the seven Canary Islands, El Hierro. You won’t find any high-rise beach resorts blocking your sea views. Unlike many of the other Canary Islands, there are regulations that limit construction to just two floors. Besides being a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, El Hierro uses mainly renewable energy (both wind and hydro) for power.

The island’s status as a biosphere reserve is designated above and below the water. The sea surrounding El Hierro features almost 50 dive sites. Visibility can be as far as 160 feet on a typical day of Canarian sunshine. You may spot marine life like parrotfish, barracudas, dolphins, manta rays or even whales and sharks.

Photographers – or those simply wanting a unique view – should check out spots like Roques de la Bonanza or Salmor. There you’ll find rocks jutting out from the sea formed by underwater landslides and volcanic eruptions.

For hikers and nature buffs: La Gomera

Los Organos. (Photo by Jens Teichmann / Shutterstock)
Los Organos. (Photo by Jens Teichmann/Shutterstock)

La Gomera is perfect for active travelers who love to be near the ocean and out in nature but get bored just lying on the beach all day.

Whether you prefer intense treks or light walks, the island’s 400 miles of trails offer something for every style of hiker. Many of these trails run through the Garajonay National Park, a subtropical forest famous for its laurel trees, that sits at more than 3,200 feet above sea level.

Another impressive outdoor wonder is the Organos Monument. This cliff that resembles a massive pipe organ was formed by columns of basalt dropping down toward the ocean.

Rock climbers should head to the Los Roques area, where giant rock formations jut into the sky. The three most famous are Roque de Agando, Roque de la Zarcita and Roque de Ojila. Although these three are declared national monuments and you can no longer climb them, there are plenty of nearby trails (both climbing and hiking spots) offering magnificent views of the rocks.

Featured photo of Playa Papagayo on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands by Zu Sanchez Photography/Getty Images.

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