THE CANARIES ARE A SPANISH ARCHIPELAGO off the northwestern coast of Africa. Under 100 miles from the Western Sahara and close to the equator, the climate here is more arid than tropical and stays in a spring-like time warp all year long. Between the 7 islands, there are over 500 beaches, any of which I’d rather be thawing out on rather than sitting huddled next to my heater here in the Sierra.
Despite it being one of Europe’s top tourist destinations (as evidenced by the swarms of timeshare pushers), there are at least 25 good reasons a trip to the Canary Islands is worth planning.
It was once believed that Los Gigantes, the cliffs on the west coast of Tenerife, marked the edge of the world. Don’t slip.
The waters around the Canary Islands are home to a huge variety of sea life, including representatives from about one third of the world’s whale and dolphin species. Divers off Tenerife brag online incessantly about their encounters with sea turtles, manta rays, and the occasional octopus.
The sea of clouds
Gran Canaria’s warm winds create cloud formations known as the mar de nubes, which is more pronounced during the spring and summer months.
Going naked on the dunes
A popular spot for nude sunbathing, the sand dunes on Gran Canaria stretch between Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles. To find the nudist areas, you walk from either end and stop when you realize nobody around you has any clothes on.
The winds of Gran Canaria make it a great location for kitesurfing and windsurfing. Pozo Izquierdo is frequently used as a venue for the World Windsurfing Championship.
Climbing the highest peak in Spain
Some of the best hiking in the country is at Pico del Teide on Tenerife. As measured from the ocean floor, it’s the third-highest volcano in the world — it tops out at 3,718m above sea level. Despite the warm temperatures in most of the Canary Islands, Teide’s elevation means snow in the winter.
In most parts of the Canary Islands, the weather stays warm all year long. Gran Canaria rarely drops below 20°C, even in the winter, which means more days spent like this.
Carp fishing on Lake Chira
Actually, it’s a reservoir. Gran Canaria has over 60 of them, many of which are filled with carp. Fishing excursions are popular on the island.
Falling asleep on the beach
Lanzarote’s biggest attractions its beaches, but not all of them are covered with resorts. Head east of Playa Blanca to Playas de Papagayo, which is protected from development.
The birthplace of an island
A popular hiking and rock climbing spot, Roque Nublo marks the origin of Gran Canaria in the Caldera de Tejeda. This volcanic rock, along with Roque Bentayga, are what’s left of the central cone of the massive shield volcano that created the island.
This area of Lanzarote, where massive volcanic eruptions once destroyed several villages, is now a protected national park. Visitors can observe the bleak landscape — virtually unchanged since the last eruption — via bus or camel.
An astronaut’s training ground
Rumor has it that the astronauts of Apollo 17 were shown photographs of Timanfaya National Park to demonstrate what the surface of the moon would be like.
One of Europe’s best surf destinations
Lanzarote is a well-known surfing destination thanks to its consistent year-round waves. Beginners don’t need to be intimidated by what’s been called the “North Shore of Europe” — Famara is an ideal place to paddle around and learn the sport.
Mirador del Rio
Built into the Risco de Famara cliffs on Lanzarote, the Mirador del Rio was once a fortress and gun battery where Spanish settlers kept watch for pirates and invading naval ships. Now, the view across the strait of El Rio toward the island of La Graciosa is serviced by a gift shop and a bar.
The local cheese
Canarians have been making cheese for hundreds of years, and they take this stuff seriously. The Fiesta del Queso, which is held every spring in the town of Santa Maria de Guia on Gran Canaria, highlights new innovations in cheesemaking and celebrates their main product: queso de flor de Guia, a sheep’s milk cheese curdled with thistle flowers.
The tiny town of Masca is located in the Teno Mountains on Tenerife. It was virtually unknown until very recently, when a road was finally built to allow drivers through. From Masca, you can hike down to the ocean, through a steep ravine filled with odd rock formations — a walk that generally takes 3 hours to accomplish, one way. Coming back’s the hard part and can take up to 5 hours. I’m guessing before the road was constructed, residents of Masca just never left.
Exploring a volcanic tunnel
The Cueva de Los Verdes is part of a lava tube formed thousands of years ago on Lanzarote. One of the longest in the world, the tunnel extends out under the ocean and was once used as a shelter during pirate attacks.
A little bit of Italy
Nicknamed Little Venice, Puerto de Mogán is a fishing village on the southwest coast of Gran Canaria. Despite the cheesy surroundings, the port’s a good spot for diving excursions to the nearby shipwrecks and underwater caves. Also, I hear there’s good pizza here.
Epic biking on Tenerife
The variety of landscapes on Tenerife means you can spend your morning pedaling along paved paths by the ocean, then get hardcore and navigate rapid elevation changes while off-roading between mountain villages and volcanic crags.
A whole lot of wine
Each of the islands in the archipelago, thanks to different climates and elevations, has been producing a wide selection of wines for hundreds of years. In Lanzarote, vines are planted in holes in the ground surrounded by stone walls to protect the grapes from the wind. Tenerife produces the most wine in the Canary Islands, where vineyards are terraced into hillsides.
The castle on the edge of a crater
The Santa Barbara Castle on Lanzarote was built in the 16th century at the top of Guanapay volcano, where it kept watch for pirates who would regularly invade the island.
Hanging with the ovejas in Anaga
Parque Rural de Anaga on Tenerife is a popular place for hiking. Trails are clearly marked and take you through forests, deep valleys, and down to numerous beaches. Watch for sheep.
Salt was one of Lanzarote’s most lucrative industries, as fishermen needed it to preserve their catch. With the introduction of freezers, many of the salt pans on the island have disappeared. Salinas del Janubio is one of Lanzarote’s few remaining salt factories.
Mejunje de Ventura
The volcanic eruptions that formed Gran Canaria also left the Caldera de Tirajana behind. The towns of Santa Lucia and San Bartolome de Tirajna are both within the caldera, where you can sample some of the local Mejunje de Ventura — a potent mix of rum, sugar, honey, coffee, and other mystery ingredients.
Adequate local beer
Drinking local beer is always cheaper, and Tenerife’s Dorada brand is, by all accounts, refreshingly adequate on a warm day.
This post was produced in partnership with Jenni from Jet2holidays, who organizes trips to the Canary Islands.