How to know which of the 7 Canary Islands is right for your trip
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Although you’ve probably taken the obligatory package holiday to Tenerife or Gran Canaria, there’s more to Spain’s Canary Islands than the usual fun-in-the-sun, all-inclusive resorts most often associated with them.
You may be surprised at what each island has to offer — from shopping to star-gazing, lava tubes to kite-surfing, volcanic wine-tastings to rolling sand dunes. And don’t forget about the beautiful long stretches of sandy shores and picturesque rocky outlooks over the sea.
If you’re excited to have a new kind of island holiday but aren’t sure where to go, read on to figure out which of these seven volcanic islands is best for your trip. And read more about how to make your Canary Islands trip more authentic here.
For outdoor adventures: Tenerife
Tenerife is home to one of the largest and most impressive volcanoes in Europe: El Teide. And 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 also popular around Tenerife. And you can 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, that features a number of moss species and laurel trees.
Lastly, a walk up (or drive, if you’re feeling lazy) the Los Gigantes cliffs, aptly named due to their massive size, offers a breathtaking overlook of the cliffs with views of the ocean and Tenerife’s famous black sand beaches.
Getting There: The island of Tenerife has two airports, Tenerife Norte (TFN) and Tenerife Sur (TFS). Unless you fancy a stop in Madrid, your best bet for flying nonstop is to TFS.
For wine and culture: Lanzarote
Few places in the world can boost volcanic vineyards but you can enjoy sipping, tasting and exploring in Lanzarote’s volcanic wine country while enjoying 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 protect the vines from wind and other damaging weather conditions.
Beyond Lanzarote’s famous vinos and volcanoes and beaches (Papagayo is one of the most revered on the island), visitors can enjoy art, architecture and design. Original creations by artist César Manrique can found in various spots around the island. One of the most interesting examples is his former home, where he incorporates the natural landscape of cave and volcanic rock and tunnels into his eclectic design aesthetic.
For beaches, sand dunes and spa visits: Gran Canaria
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 will enjoy the peace and quiet of the cliffside path stroll from Playa de Puerto Rico to Playa de Amadores. Once in Amadores, the Amadores Beach Club is especially chic if you’d like to sample some Spanish cava while sunbathing. For a relaxing, four-hour spa circuit, the Corallium Spa at the Lopesan Costa Meloneras has some original additions features: 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’ll find a number of historical buildings and a lively urban beach, Las Canteras.
For star gazing and tranquillity: La Palma
La Palma was the first destination to be 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 astronómicos — that have been designated as the best places for astrotourism.
There’s plenty to do in daylight hours, too. UNESCO has 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 color village of Los Llanos de Aridane, where you can shop at the outdoor Sunday market and admire the street murals.
For water adventures and white wind-swept sands: Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura means ‘strong winds’ in Spanish so unsurprisingly, the island is famous for having some of the best kite and windsurfing in the world.
If you’d prefer to stay on dry land, you can admire the many talented surfers year-round beachside, but 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.
Day trips to the tiny volcanic island of Lobos are perfect for those looking to really escape. Snorkelers can enjoy an abundance of marine life as the whole island is a nature reserve. And bird enthusiasts will enjoy the many species of sea birds on the island.
For eco-travelers and divers: El Hierro
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. And 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 can be enjoyed both 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, and you may spot marine life like parrotfish, barracudas, dolphins, manta rays or even whales and sharks.
Photography enthusiasts or those simply wanting a unique view should check out spots like Roques de la Bonanza or Salmor, where you’ll find rocks jutting out from the sea formed by underwater landslides and volcanic eruptions.
Getting there: Combine a trip to El Hierro with a visit to a larger island like Gran Canaria or Tenerife. From there, fly to Valverde (VDE) on Binter Canarias airline.
For hikers and nature buffs: La Gomera
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 Garajoney National Park, a subtropical forest famous for its laurel woods, that sits more than 3,200 feet above sea level.
Another impressive outdoor wonder is the Organos Monument, a cliff resembling a massive pipe organ that 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. While these three are declared national monuments and you can no longer climb them, there are plenty of nearby trails (both climbing and hiking spots) that offer magnificent views of the rocks.
Getting There: Fly on Binter Canarias to San Sebastián de La Gomera (GMZ) from Tenerife Norte (TFN) and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (LPA).
Featured photo of Playa Papagayo, Canary Islands by Zu Sanchez Photography / Getty Images.
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