The Canary Islands are about 70 miles off the northwest coast of Morocco and is considered part of the African continent, even though the islands belong to Spain. Seven islands and six tiny islets make up this group of Spanish islands. The seven main inhabited islands are Tennerife, Gomera, La Palma, Hierro, Grand Canary, Lanzarote, and Fuerteventura. The Canary Islands have long been a mystery to the world because it is so far from civilization. They were visited by the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and Phoenicians in ancient times, but were not settled.
Mostly, the islands enjoy a mid-Atlantic warm climate year-round that makes it an attractive destination for Europeans during the winter. However, some parts of the islands – the areas facing the arid African winds – are too hot and desert-like. The interiors of the islands, meanwhile, are more mountainous, experiencing elevations as high as 12,200 feet on Tenerife atop Pico de Teide.
The landscape of the Canary Islands is strikingly diverse and beautiful. You’ll find pristine beaches, sub-tropical rainforests, dry desert plains and sand dunes, and mountain peaks that are decorated with flowers and greenery.
The people of the Canary Islands are known as Canarians and are mostly farmers growing fruits, vegetables, and sugar canes. The volcanic soil of the islands is extremely fertile. In the mountains, livestock are raised. while in the coast villagers fish. Tourism has grown significantly over the years. Many tourists, especially Europeans, visit during the winter and spring months, drawn by the diverse scenery, warm weather, cool mountains, medieval architecture, and famous flower festivals held on Tenerife and Grand Canary.
There are many tourist resorts on the islands, most of them located along the beaches. These resorts offer visitors excellent opportunities for water sports and other activities such as fishing, sailing, windsurfing, scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming, golf, tennis, and horseback riding. The best among numerous sunbathing beaches are Maspalomas and Playa del Inglés.
Hiking is another enjoyable endeavor on the islands. The diverse landscapes including volcanic features make it an awe-inspiring experience. La Palma, for example, boasts one of the largest craters in the world in Caldera de Taburiente. The best views of this crater are enjoyed at the lookout point, La Cumbrecita. Another enormous crater is the one on Tenerife. The National Park of Timanfaya also features a spectacular lava flow that covers almost one-third of the Lanzarote Island.
Also popular are camel rides through the volcanic regions of Lanzarote, an island which features a volcanic cave called Los Verdes in Malpais de la Corona and the Jameo del Agua lagoon nearby.
More scenery can be enjoyed by taking a cable car up Spain’s highest mountain on Fogo’s Mount Teide, which reaches nearly 12,200 feet high. The cable car takes you up 11,650 feet and visitors can walk the rest of the way up to the summit.
The other appeal of the Canary Islands is its medieval architecture, which includes the Church of San Francisco and other 16th century buildings in Santa Cruz, the Old Town and gothic cathedral of Santa Ana in Las Palmas, the old fortress and national monument of Torre del Conde in San Sebastian, and the aristocratic palaces and historic convents in Teguise, which also features a castle built on a volcanic cone.
The Canary Islands were first visited by the Egyptians, who were followed by Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek, and Roman sailors. It is believed that the islands were uninhabited during antiquity, but may have been settled by ancient Neolithic peoples based on Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator’s testimony that he found ruins of great buildings. After the fall of the Roman Empire, European contact with the islands ceased. Arab merchants landed on the islands in the late 10th century, and they were followed by the Portuguese and French in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the early 1400s, French Normans arrived on the islands and found it settled by the Guanches, who were originally from North Africa. They were eventually displaced by Europeans who set up missionaries and settlements. By late 15th century, the Spanish had successfully conquered the islands. In ensuing years, other European powers including the British in 1797 attempted to wrest the islands away from the Spanish but failed. Today, the Canary Islands are an autonomous region of Spain that is represented in the country’s legislature.