Located off the Northwest African coast, 100 km from where Morocco meets the Sahara, the Spanish Canary Islands is one of the world’s top tourist destinations. With its balmy subtropical climate, averaging 18-24°C, the Canaries are popular with Northern Europeans, especially in winter, while visitors from the Spanish mainland flock here in summer.
Closest to Africa are Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, the driest islands in the Canaries. La Gomera, El Hierro and La Palma, lying to the west, are the wettest, with subtropical vegetation from the influence of the moist Gulf Stream.
The archipelago’s many beautiful beaches have made it an attractive destination, such as the giant rippled dunes of Maspalomas on Gran Canaria. Watersports, however, are also a big draw. Warm seas and the powerful surf pounding its shores year round have made the Canaries one of the world’s top surf spots. Fuerteventura and Lanzarote have the best surf conditions, but there are also some great surf beaches on Tenerife and Gran Canaria, Europe’s windsurf capital.
Inland the Canaries have some dramatic landscapes and it’s worth packing a pair of hiking boots to explore them. The seven large islands plus several smaller ones making up the archipelago are all volcanic, creating some stunning scenery. Europe’s most-visited national park, the Parque Nacional del Teide in Tenerife, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, centres on the starkly volcanic slopes of Mount Teide, whilst subtropical rainforest cloaks the Garajonay National Park on La Gomera.
Being a stopping point for ships en route to the New World meant that the Canaries prospered in the 16th century, wealth that can still be seen today in its fine colonial architecture places like in Santa Cruz in Tenerife and Las Palmas in Gran Canaria. More recent architecture includes the impressive Santiago Calatrava-designed Auditorio in Tenerife and the Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno in Gran Canaria.
Whilst not world-famous for its regional cuisine, the Canaries offer an exotic take on classic Spanish dishes and a few culinary highlights. The emblematic dish of the Canaries is papas arrugadas (literally, wrinkled potatoes), new potatoes cooked in lots of salt and served with a spicy mojo sauce. The main staple of the original inhabitants, the Guanches, was gofio, or stoneground cereal grains, which is still served today and is especially good in desserts. And there’s nothing to beat a dish of grilled fresh fish served on the beach, washed down with some Canarian wine.