Seven islands and seven treasures! At the mention the Canary Islands, the response is often a proud, ‘Ooh, I’ve been there’ And of course many people have – the Canaries are right up there with the top tourist destinations in the world. But what many people don’t realise (even those who have ‘been there’) is just how different the islands are from each other. In fact, some of the islands are so diverse within themselves, they are practically a mini-continent.
From golden dunes to mountain tops, lava fields and Laurisilva forests, history, culture and fiestas – the Canaries have got the lot!
So let’s get a few small details out of the way before we delve into the treasure chest that each island holds.
The Canary Islands are a group of seven main islands – Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria to the east and Tenerife, La Palma, El Hierro and La Gomera to the west – along with the small island of La Graciosa and a few uninhabited islands, all of which lie off the north-west coast of mainland Africa.
Tenerife 2,034 sq.km 906,854 Population at at 2010
Fuerteventura 1,660 sq.km 103,492
Gran Canaria 1,560 sq.km 845,676
Lanzarote 846 sq.km 141,437 (inc. La Graciosa)
La Palma 706 sq.km 86,324
La Gomera 370 sq.km 22,776
El Hierro 278 sq.km 10,960
A (very) brief History of the Canaries
From early times, the Canary Islands have been a place of intrigue, romance and adventure. Way back when, it was thought that the Canaries must probably be part of Atlantis, the sunken continent that Plato spoke of around 400 BC. Then the ancient Greeks considered them to be a Garden of Eden. The Romans knew the Canaries as The Fortunate Islands. By 150AD, El Hierro was understood to be the edge of the known world.
Jumping ahead by a good margin, in the 1400’s, the Spanish Conquistadors seized the islands, pirates abounded and the islands were the last landfall before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World.
Zooming ahead again, in the 1950’s, many Canarians emigrated to Venezuela and thanks to those returning to their homeland, there is more than a hint of South America about the islands. In fact, Venezuela is affectionately known as the eighth Canarian Island.
The Fortunate Islands
Well, what makes the Canary Islands such a popular choice for tourists and Expats alike? For a start there’s the weather … closely followed by the cheaper cost of living and the quality of life. Also let’s not forget its proximity to the rest of Europe (no long haul flights), low crime rate and it’s a similar culture. All in all, it comes up trumps every time!
Getting to the Canaries
All seven islands have their own airport and apart from La Gomera and El Hierro, all have a multitude of international flights. Additionally, the islands are all linked by the airline Binter with frequent flights between the islands.
Every island also has a sea port (or two) and apart from cruise liners stopping by, the islands are linked by up to three different ferry companies.
The Canaries are proud to offer accommodation as diverse as the islands themselves, each island with its own slight variation. Apartments by the beach might be what many people are looking for but for culture lovers there are also apartments or historic houses in the towns plus pensiones in mansions offering rooms only. For nature lovers who want peace and tranquillity and those that plan to hit the walking trails, there are traditional Canarian cottages made of wood and stone lurking deep in the countryside. Villas with a swimming pool, 5 Star hotels, all-inclusive holidays along with nightly entertainment – the choice is yours!
The Canaries have a temperate climate – long summers but not too hot and short winters which are not too cold. Generally, the temperatures are between a very pleasant 15° and 25° although, just like anywhere, there can occasionally be exceptions. Temperatures on the more mountainous islands may of course vary with altitude particularly in winter, but even then, the sun is usually shining somewhere!
Spanish is one of the beautiful romantic languages and very user-friendly which means it’s easy to learn! Whilst Castilian Spanish is spoken in the Canaries, they have their own dialect which is closer to South American than mainland Spain. One of the differences is the pronunciation of “ci” and “ce” which is pronounced as a “th” in mainland Spain – for example “gracias” (thank you) becomes “gratheas” (as opposed to “gras-see-as” in the Canaries.) Although there is a strong tendancy to drop off the final ‘s’ in the Canaries but that’s rather like us say ‘yeh’ instead of ‘yes!’ You’ll also find that certain South American words are used rather than Castilian, notably ‘guagua’ for the word ‘bus.’ But the good thing is that you can say gracias with a ‘th’ sound and ‘autobus’ or ‘guagua’ and everyone will understand you!
Most people are familiar with paella, that tasty dish made with rice, seafood and or chicken. And that is certainly available here on the islands. But a rather more Canarian food include ‘papas arrrugados’ which are small, wrinkly potatoes cooked in their own skins and part boiled and part steamed. Then there is mojo sauce made from a blend of peppers (some hot, some not), garlic, olive oil and spices. Plenty of fish is eaten, also goat, rabbit, pork and chicken. In traditional country restaurants, meat is cooked over an open log fire. Chickpeas or ‘garbanzos’ are used a lot in soups and at a family meal, this would be the normal starter made with pork stock. ‘Arepas,’ a type of stuffed envelope of cornflour bread from Venezuela, are also popular as a snack (and very cheap).
Apart from restaurants, you can also find a great variety of local produce in the markets which include wine from the Canaries, pastries, exotic fruits, herbs, cheese and flowers.
A great meal to try would be goat’s cheese to start with, slightly griddled, along with green mojo sauce. Next, a large bowl of mixed salad followed by meat or fish with papas arrrugados. And of course a bottle of wine from the islands!
The Canary Islands have their own customs with are quite different from mainland Spain. No bullfighting or Flamenco here! Instead, the Canary Islands have ‘lucha Canaria’ which is a form of Canarian wrestling which looks to the untrained eye much like Sumo wrestling. And instead of Flamenco, it’s more like a dash of salsa.
For more information on the Canary Islands, we are currently building our own guides to each island. Meanwhile you might like to check out the official websites of the seven different Islands on our links page here. Happy reading!