The Canary Islands are popular with visitors all year round, due to their privileged climate, fascinating scenery and temperatures that rarely drop below 20ºC. The choice of island will make all the difference to your holiday. The three eastern Islands of Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura have all been developed to some extent to cater for the tourist, however beaches are not the only option on offer in these intriguing islands. The centre of Gran Canaria is dominated by rugged mountains, Lanzarote is rough and volcanic, and the less exploited Fuerteventura offers sand dunes as far as the eye can see.
Gran Canaria and the eastern isles
If the beach is your main priority in Gran Canaria, you would do well to stay in the south of the Island, in or near Maspalomas, where the vast expanse of beach means that you can still find an isolated spot. There is also a bird sanctuary to visit just outside town. The capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, will offer you a more authentic view of the Canary Isles. The Plaza Santa Ana contains statues of dogs in bronze, the latin name of which is the origin of the name of the islands. (The birds were named after the islands, not the reverse). The Catedral Santa Ana, nearby contains the museum of Religious Art and another museum, the Casa Museo Colon is dedicated to Christopher Columbus. You will find most of the nightlife in the north of the city.
If you have a car, a drive inland, up the winding roads, is a fascinating experience. The rugged and dry, pine covered slopes provide beautiful views and there are occasional freshwater lakes in which to cool off. The peaks rise to more than 6,000 feet so take some extra clothing as it can be cool. Further west, the sea moisture gives rise to a more tropical vegetation, near villages such as Moya or Firgas.
The most north-easterly of the eastern islands, Lanzarote is a different prospect altogether. As dry as a bone and highly volcanic, it is a must for geology lovers or those who simply want to experience a completely different type of landscape. Lanzarote has been tastefully developed for the tourist. There are no tall buildings and the green and white of the buildings provides a contrast to the arid dark rock.
As on all the islands, beachlife and watersports are a priority but make sure to visit the water caves, Los Jameos de Agua, formed by volcanic lava hitting the waves. Nearby there are deeper caves, Las Cuevas Verdes, if you're prepared for more adventure. An interesting bird and animal sanctuary in the north, The Guinate Tropical park, also provide wonderful views across to the tiny island of La Graciosa, reached by boat from the nearby village of Orzola.
Fuerteventura is a mere 60 miles from Africa, and much of its yellow sand has actually arrived from the mainland Sahara, blown across the waves by the strong winds. Despite recent development, there are still a multitude of isolated spots to get away from the crowd. Again, watersports such as windsurfing and diving are on offer at the islands resorts.
Tenerife and the western isles
Tenerife is an island of contrasts. The largest of the Canary Islands, it offers something for everybody, from the extensive beaches in the south, to the more authentic north, and the amazing Parque Nacional de Teide in the centre of the island, with the dominating peak, the highest in Spain, rising to well over 12,000 feet. The other three western isles, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro, are less touched by tourism and all provide a wealth of experiences to the traveller looking for more than just sun, sea and sand.
The capital of Tenerife, Santa Cruz, in the north-east, is a bustling active city, with monuments, such as the Plaza de España and the Iglesia de La Concepciòn, and two worthwhile museums in the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Museo de La Naturaleza y el Hombre. The north of the island tends to be much wetter and therefore less exploited than the south and for this reason you are more likely to find a truer Canarian feel here. Take a trip uphill to the university town of La Laguna for a lively night out among the many students or drive out among the banana plantations to life as it really is on this island. If you are in search of a typical beach resort, then look no further than Puerto de La Cruz on the north coast, or the Playa de Las Amèricas in the south, but the one thing you must not miss on Tenerife is a journey up into the central Teide National Park. Past the bananas and other fruit orchards, you reach the barren volcanic rock formations, the Cañadas, at the base of the magnificent towering peak of El Teide itself. You may feel like you're on Mars until you take the cable car up to within a 40 minute walk of the peak of the volcano. The views are spectacular but remember to take some warm clothing as the temperatures are much lower than the lands below.
La Palma is a mountain jutting out of the surf, with spectacular scenery on the green slopes which run down to the sea. There are not many beaches here, in fact until recently the only hotel on the island was up in the hills and catered for astronomers, taking advantage of the extremely clear night skies to use the observatory at Roque de Los Muchachos. It really is a lovely island, inspiring Madonna to write her song 'La Isla Bonita' after a stay here. Not to be missed is the impressive Parque Nacional de La Caldera de Taburiente in the centre of the island, with it's staggering views into the volcanic crater.
La Gomera was Columbus's last stop before setting off for the New World, and is an excellent choice as it is a delightful if you want an away-from-it-all island. The mountains hide narrow valleys containing small villages and banana plantations reached by tortuous roads. The best beaches are in the south, avoiding the strong currents of the north coast.
Finally, El Hierro, as far off the beaten track as you can get in The Canaries. Great for diving but not for lying on the beach. Wonderful for camping and hiking in the verdant pine hills. The Mirador de la Peña, a few miles to the west of the capital, Valverde, will give you a wonderful view down to the bay below.