An independent travellers guide to the Canary Islands – The Canary Islands have a lot more to offer than the typical year-round package holiday which you may immediately think of when Tenerife and Lanzarote are mentioned. If you stay away from the main crowded tourist resorts and explore a little further afield you’ll discover lunar-esque volcanic landscapes, flamboyant modernist architecture, pristine bays and hiking trails with their own unique micro-climate. Here is my guide to finding the best and the most unspoilt parts of the Canary Islands..
Tenerife is one of the largest of the seven islands and is home to the second largest carnival in the world, second only to Rio. When travelling to Tenerife independently, there are a number of places that you should have on your list and most of them are located in the green north of the island. Sheltered in the north is the golden beach of Las Teresitas, with a stunning backdrop of the surrounding mountains and sand imported from the Sahara Desert. There is even a man-made reef that has become home to shoals of tropical fish, perfect for snorkelling and scuba diving.
Also don’t miss the wild rocky landscapes of Mount Teide which is the third highest volcano in the world. It’s surrounded by acres of protected national park which are perfect for exploring and hiking.
Close to Las Teresitas is the cosmopolitan capital of the island, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, head here for culture, Spanish sophistication and balmy evenings, with live music and Salsa dancing. This city has everything you might expect from a European capital, bustling squares with cafes and restaurants, museums, galleries and trams.
La Laguna is Tenerife’s second most important city, you’ll find it not too far from Santa Cruz in the beautiful surroundings of the Aguere Valley. Experience traditional Spanish culture in the winding streets and secret courtyards of La Laguna. This culture-filled hot spot has a local feel, with traditional tapas restaurants and art galleries in the historical centre. It is from the ‘Iglesia de la Concepcion’, the Church of the Conception, that the stunning Holy Week processions start. These Easter celebrations are a breath-taking sight, with hundreds of masked brotherhoods walking through the narrow streets at dusk.
Another town to consider is La Orotava which is located on the North Coast of Tenerife. It has beautiful buildings, parks, gardens, restaurants and independent shops showing you a much more peaceful and traditional side to the island.
As with Tenerife, the unspoiled areas of Lanzarote are in the north and it is here that you will find an authentic Canarian culture. The old capital of Lanzarote, Teguise, offers beautiful architecture and the largest traditional market on the island. The friendly locals, stunning beaches and historical cities to explore lend themselves very well to the solo-traveller.
Lanzarote has a thriving water sports scene, leading the island to be known within the community as the Hawaii of Europe. Head to Famara for the best waves and surf schools, whatever your level of ability. If it is an adrenaline rush that you’re after then the nearby cliffs and Atlantic winds create perfect hand-gliding conditions.
Lanzarote also has some excellent natural scenery and any traveller looking to find the island’s real beauty should take their time to explore. Try basing yourself at the quiet white-washed coastal villages of Arietta, Punta Mujeres or Famara and hiring a car. The island’s landscapes are both striking and unique with 300-plus volcanoes, rocky terrain, traditional architecture and acres of vineyards.
The other islands
The smaller islands in the archipelago – La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera, are havens of dense forests, rocky outcrops and unspoilt towns. When planning a trip to the Canaries, it is worth factoring in the time to island hop and experience the breath-taking views and quaint towns.
In La Palma, the capital has a distinct Portuguese feel. You can easily spend a whole day here, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the traditional Canarian wine and watching the world, (by world we mean the occasional day tripper and locals going about their daily business!) go by.
You can travel between the islands, either on the express ferry services that leave daily from the larger islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, or hop on a short flight on the inter-island airline, Binter Canarias, for around €13 to €20.
Banish your preconceptions about the Canary Islands this year and discover their true character. Spread the word that it offers a truly unique culture, landscape and opportunity for adventure. The year round warm temperatures make the islands perfect for exploring and they’re not all about sun-burnt Brits and all-day breakfasts!
Written by Emma Louise Frost. Emma loves travel and regularly writes features to promote the lesser known side of Tenerife.