7 extraordinary moments not to miss in Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are known as “las afortunadas”, meaning “the lucky ones” in Spanish, and it’s easy to see why.
Blessed by a uniquely benign climate and privileged location, the island’s volcanic origins are still evident twenty million years later. These stunning landscapes look as if visitors have been transported into another sphere – naturally beautiful and surprising. From striking coastlines, stunning cliffs, pristine lakes, to observatories, the landscapes are unique to the archipelago.
While these stunning Mars-like landscapes make a perfect backdrop, the island is also famed for its kindness. Thanks to the efforts of the local people – lively and hospitable lifestyle – it has become one of the world’s leading destinations. And because of their laid-back culture, and open-minded spirit it is also Europe’s leading LGBT+ destination.
The calm atmosphere felt throughout the archipelago has led to the establishment of facilities specially designed for mindfulness, including yoga and meditation, as well as surfing, diving, and trekking and of course, there are few places better in the world to watch the sun go down.
The archipelago is itself a natural beauty that touches hearts. The internationally renowned artist, César Manrique, who hails from Lanzarote, turned this island into a work of art (true “land art”) with its viewpoints and its amazing architectural designs respecting its volcanic surroundings. The Jameos del Agua, a natural area in Haría (Lanzarote), is a perfect example of what nature has to offer those in the Canary Islands. Its magnificence is both striking and soothing
It is not unusual then that majority of visitors repeat the experience more than once!
How to enjoy the Canary Islands like a local:
- Volcanic scuba diving and more
- Marine conservation
- Plunge natural pools and forest baths
- Try an indigenous sport
- Festival & LGBT+ capital
- Taste of Canary Islands
VOLCANIC SCUBA DIVING AND MORE
El Hierro is the smallest of the Canary Islands and declared a World Biosphere Reserve in 2000. The water around the island is part of Punta de La Restinga – Mar de las Calmas which is one of the three marine reserves in the Canary Islands.
La Restinga, a famous volcanic cone located in the southern part of El Hierro, is a popular destination for water sports and scuba diving. The marine reserve is full of steep drop-offs, shelves, sandy platforms and caves.
The volcanic eruptions that took place between 2011 and 2012 led to a regeneration of the seabed that gave rise to a very interesting biodiversity. In addition to the landscape you can spot dolphins, turtles, stingrays, barracudas, sharks, tuna, great amberjacks, rays, wrecker, moray eels and more. The company Freediving El Hierro specialises in various unplanned free diving trips.
El Hierro aims to become the first island in the world that will be 100% sustainable within the next four to eight years. For now, El Hierro, the westernmost island of the Canaries has already set a world record. In Summer 2019, the island reached the milestone of covering the entire population’s energy needs for 24 days using only renewable energy.
The island’s 268 km sq. of beautiful landscapes captivates visitors with the contrast between the dark volcanic ground and lush green forests. Be sure to include an excursion to El Sabinar on your adventure to El Hierro. This famous open forest is full of indigenous juniper trees with twisted trunks due to a never-ending battle with the trade winds.
There is also the cove of Tacorón in the south of the island which is a real gem. And, it welcomes visitors year-round to enjoy the most peaceful Atlantic waters in the entire region. This unspoilt destination with soft, multi-coloured sands is perfect for a relaxing swim.
Sailing in the open sea also allows a unique view of the coastline created by the fire of the volcanoes’ life. And, thanks to suitable winds, sailing can be enjoyed all year round, and caters to all levels of ability. The winds range from calm to fast-paced, and the constant trade winds make it possible to navigate the Canarian archipelago without relying on engines, except for maneuvering in the harbor.
The Canary coasts have every beach imaginable: from the secluded and small virgin coves of La Palma, La Gomera or El Hierro to the urban or extensive and familiar beaches, with all the comforts, of Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Not to mention the paradisiacal white sand beaches of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote such as El Cofete, in Jandia, 14 kilometers long.
Several parts of the Canary Islands are specifically protected under the remit of a Special Conservation Zone (ZEC) as specified by the Natura 2000 network. The Society for the Study of Cetaceans in the Canary Islands (SECAC) outlines the importance of the Canary Islands in the protection of cetaceans: several species present in Canary Islands are little known in the rest of the world. The islands are an ideal place for research and conservation work to be carried out on these marine mammals.
Dangers of boat saturation
Elsa Jiménez is director of the Cram Foundation, says, “The increased number of boats in places where cetaceans live can affect their lives”. “For example, noise from boat engines can impair communication and can distort messages between the animals.” A large number of boats can cause stress to dolphins and whales, while collisions with boats are also a risk factor for the animals.
Blue Boat Badge
Responsible tourism is vital to protect marine life. In the Canary Islands the blue boat badge scheme for cetacean trips has been extended. The yellow flag with a blue boat logo inside certifies that the particular boat complies with laws that guarantee cetacean’s safety. For example, tourists are forbidden from feeding or bathing with the animals, or boats maintaining a safe distance of sixty meters and approaching animals slowly. Boats are also asked to avoid sudden and repeated changes of direction. Engine revs and gear changes should be minimalized.
It is about respecting the environment in which the marine life lives. This can be done by following guidelines such as those established by the blue boat seal. But, it’s also important that visitors think about their own behaviour. It is vital that rubbish is not thrown into the beautiful waters of the Canary Islands. With the help of good regulation and responsible tourism, cetacean watching in the waters around the Canary Islands can be enjoyed for many years to come.
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NATURAL POOLS & FOREST BATH
Charco Azul is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular bathing spots in El Hierro. Located in El Golfo, a magnificent valley along the rugged coastline, this pool is one of the finest examples of unique volcanic activity. Created naturally by flowing lava, this zone doesn’t just invite you to bathe in its turquoise pools, but also to relax, refresh and recharge yourself.
Other natural pools:
- Puertito de Lobos – An islet with incredible views of Fuerteventura.
- El Caletón de Garachico – A family spot in one of Tenerife’s charming towns.
- Charco del Viento – Swim with views of Teide in Tenerife.
- La Palma Charco Azul – The natural pool in La Palma was awarded an ‘Ecoplaya flag (beaches that have the best characteristics of the region).
- La Fajana – Three delightful natural pools in the northeast of La Palma.
Forest of a thousand-year-old trees
Las Nieves Natural Park in La Palma is famed for its waterfall and forest of thousand-year-old trees, one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Forest bathing – or shirin-yoku as it was originally called, meaning “taking in the forest atmosphere” – started in Japan in 1982 as an eco-antidote to tech-boom burnout, inspiring residents to reconnect with and protect their forests. Forest bathing is however not just for the wilderness-lover. The practice can be as simple as walking in any natural environment and consciously connecting with what’s around you.
From the very early days of human existence, the night sky has been a source of tremendous exhilaration. La Palma is famed for its clear skies, which is why an astronomical observatory was built on top of Roque de Los Muchachos, a rock formation some 2,420 metres above sea level. Visitors to La Palma can join scientists in staring at the celestial phenomenon above our heads. To let go and gaze up at the stars is to imagine the origins of the earth and the universe.
La Palma is the second westernmost island of the Canary archipelago, thus granting the island a privileged position within the Atlantic Ocean. This, together with its altitude at 2.396 m above sea level, makes for one of the best places in the world for star gazing. A gift that the inhabitants of this little island know how to cherish: a legislation drafted in 1988 protects the beautiful skies from light pollution and invasive air traffic.
Astronomy is an integral part of the island’s tourism. Following the Cumbre Veja eruptions, the island continues to invest in their Astrotoursim. La Palma’s already impressive network of walking tracks will have more signage guiding visitors to the best nocturnal viewing points, and hotels are starting to provide guests with telescopes.
And, In 2012, astrophysicist Ana García Suárez founded the astrotourism operator La Palma Astronomy Tours (www.lapalmastars.com). Her business has become greatly successful in the international tourism sector, thanks to the quality of the island’s night sky and the experiential model she promotes.
On a La Palma Astronomy Tour, visitors can:
- expect to experience some of the best viewing points on the island,
- take advantage of the giant telescopes of the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory,
- participate in astronomy workshops,
- and take night photography courses.
They even offer a Tapas and Stars tour, an activity that combines tapas with astronomy in the incomparable setting of the San Antonio Volcano and its visitor centre. The highlight of the season is of course the annual Perseids meteor shower, which peaks between 9 – 13 August.
TRY AN INDIGENOUS SPORT
Imagine pole-vaulting down steep slopes, avoiding dangerous terrain. The Canarian folk sport, “Salto del pastor”—translated from Spanish as “the shepherd’s leap” – involves just that!
The Shepherd’s Leap, or Satlo del pastor, is a practice that the aboriginal settlers devised to overcome the unevenness of the volcanic terrain to use the land for agricultural activities. This innovative method involved shepherd’s using a wooden stick or lance to cross the countryside and pole jump over valleys and cliffs, hence its name, the Shephard’s Leap.
The jumping or leaping of the Canarian shepherd involves them to stick the end of the lance (regatón) into the ground and adopt different hand or body positions, depending on whether they want to descend, climb or even brake. These positions are called mañas and relate to how the hands and arms are placed on the lance, and the position adopted by the rest of the body. It is possible to jump with the lance at the side of the body or in front of the body. To come back down, participants often opt for a smooth slide with the tip of the lance resting on the ground.
In May 2018, Satlo del pastor was declared an Activity of Cultural Interest by the Government of the Canary Islands.
FESTIVAL & LGBT+ CAPITAL
The Canary Islands are known for their lively festivals, which are celebrated throughout the year. The biggest festival is Carnival, which takes place in February or March and is celebrated with colourful parades, music, and dancing. Other festivals include:
- Fiestas de Mayo in Tenerife, taking place between the 21st of April and 30th of May, which celebrates the island’s patron saint,
- Fiesta de la Rama on the 4th of August in Gran Canaria, which is to honour the Virgin of Las Nieves.
The archipelago hosts several LGBTQ+ events during Pride Month and throughout the year:
- Isla Bonita Love Festival of Tazacorte (La Palma Pride),
- Freedom Festival, Maspalomas, Gran Canaria,
- May 2023: Maspalomas Gay Pride, Gran Canaria,
- June 2023: ARN Culture & Business Pride, Santa Cruz, Tenerife.
TASTE OF THE CANARIES
Gastronomy is the essence of Canarian culture and the best way to say ‘I love you’ in the Canary Islands is through food! It’s custom for households in the archipelago to contain grandmother’s recipe book. And this tradition has been combined with the revolution of new Canarian cuisine, with chefs who have brought these dishes into the 21st century!
Canarian cuisine is a blend of Spanish, African, and Latin American influences, and is characterized by its simplicity and use of local ingredients.
Canary Islands cuisine is traditionally enjoyed with wine and cheese in the archipelago. There are three protected locations of origin for Canarian cheeses: Queso Majorero, Queso Palmero and Queso Flor de Guía, in Gran Canaria. Yet cheeses with unique textures and nuances can be found in all the islands.
Sample some volcanic wine in Lanzarote
The Canary Islands have become an exceptional wine-producing region due to the volcanic nature of their soils and almost desert-like climate. White wines are predominant in the Canaries and are often opulent and full, sometimes with a citric precision. Reds often have a Burgundian heft of pepper and complex darkness—leather, mocha, black fruit, caramel and even diesel. There are several wineries offering wine tastes and visits.
In the Agaete Valley, 50 families have been producing the world’s northernmost coffee for more than 200 years.
Located 150 metres above sea level, next to the Tamadaba Natural Park, Gran Canaria’s Biosphere Reserve, the Agaete Valley produces 5,000 kilos of coffee each year in an area of fertile volcanic soil. Collected manually since 1800, Agaete coffee has a long history of quality, and today it is a benchmark coffee worldwide. The distinguishing feature of the product is the drying process, in particular the manner in which the aroma of the cherry is maintained in the coffee seed.
The arrival of coffee to Gran Canaria and Agaete is connected to the era of the “discovery” of America. The Canary Islands were the final stopping point for explorers who were setting forth across the Atlantic Ocean for the new continent in the 15th century.
In conclusion, the cuisine of the Canary Islands is a reflection of the islands’ unique history and geography. From papas arrugadas to bienmesabe, the dishes of the Canarian table are sure to satisfy any food lover’s palate.