Spanish seclusion in the Atlantic
The Canaries are a group of seven volcanic islands off the Atlantic coast of North Africa. They cover a total area of 7,450 sq km (2,900 sq mi) containing some of the world’s most dramatic scenery. Each island has its own unique landscape and endemic flora and fauna, ranging from the desert of Fuerteventura to the lush mountainous forest of La Gomera. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the cosmopolitan capital of the archipelago, reputed to have the best climate in the world.
The Spanish first invaded the Canaries in 1402 but it took the better part of a century to gain complete control of this strategic point on the Atlantic trade route. For the next 300 years, the islands grew increasingly wealthy from trading profits until, in the 19th century, a recession led to mass emigration to America. The development of the tourist industry eventually turned the tide and today, around 10 million tourists visit every year.
Tenerife, the largest island, has the most varied scenery – a landscape of fertile valleys, steep cliffs and wide sandy beaches dominated by the towering outline of El Teide, the third largest volcano on earth at 3,718 m (12,195 ft) high. La Palma, the ‘green island’, has the world’s largest volcanic crater, La Caldera del Taburiente with a diameter of 9 km (6 mi) and a depth of 770 m (2,525 ft).
The smallest island, Hierro is also the rockiest with a dramatic coastline plunging straight into the sea. Lanzarote is the most extraordinary of all – a surreal volcanic landscape of petrified lava from 18th and 19th century eruptions. The stark beauty of its eerily empty scenery dotted with ancient vineyards, brilliant colored flowers and sparkling white houses is unlike anywhere else on the planet — a truly memorable experience.
Population: 1,995,833 (2006)
When to go: All year, The Canaries have a subtropical climate with very little variation in temperature and warm seas whatever the season.