Famous for its year-round sunshine, cheap charter flights and boozy nightlife, it’s hard to imagine a place where you’d be less likely to escape the tourist hoards than the Canary Islands. If you’ve been avoiding them for exactly this reason, then perhaps it’s time to think again. As so many visitors stick to the same resorts, it’s amazingly easy to discover something different on a holiday in the Canaries.
Each of these Atlantic islands is uniquely different, from dusty, dry Fuerteventura to lush, green La Palma. If you book a package holiday and stay in one of the busier resorts, rent a car for a few days and you’ll easily discover the quieter, undisturbed side of this gorgeous archipelago.
La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro
Of the seven islands that make up the Canaries, these are the least visited. La Palma is famous for its natural beauty and is particularly popular with hikers as it has around 1,000 kms of marked trails. Another popular activity is stargazing as the night sky above La Palma is one of the clearest in the world.
La Gomera, south-west of Tenerife, is populated by mountains, ridges and ravines. This means that there’s no space for a large commercial airport, and has left the island virtually untouched by tourism. Places worth visiting include the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Playa Santiago which is a small harbour town with a decent beach.
Tiny, El Hierro, recently made international headlines after a series of earthquakes lead seismologists to believe a volcanic eruption was imminent. Fortunately the risk has subsided, and life has returned to normal. The island has a fascinating array of plants and trees and the clear waters that surround it have some popular scuba diving spots.
Most tourists head for the resorts of Los Cristianos and Playa de las Americas on the south-west coast, so if you want to see a different side of Tenerife then it’s worth trying to avoid this area. Inland on the western side of the island is the scenic town of La Orotava. If you fancy staying near the sea then Puerto de la Cruz is a good choice. Whilst it’s still a tourist destination, it has a pretty harbour, a fascinating old town and retains much of its Canarian charm.
There’s plenty to do on Tenerife, including visiting Mount Teide, but less well-known attractions include the pilgrimage site of Candeleria and the walk to a small pool and waterfall along the Barranco del Infierno, near Adaje. One of Tenerife’s strangest sites is the six Pyramids of Guimar, on the eastern side of the island.
Leafy in parts, desert-like in others, Gran Canaria is a little bit of everything on one island. Inland the countryside is gorgeous, but hardly attracts any tourists. The city of Arucas and the charming town of Teror are both great places to explore traditional Canarian towns and see what life is like for the people of the islands.
Head up into the mountains on the north-west side of the island and discover the cave village of Artenara. The highest town on Gran Canaria, many of the houses are built into caves which date back to prehistoric times.
The scenery on the island of Lanzarote is stunning. The most impressive being Timanfaya National Park. Whilst it attracts plenty of tourists, it really is a not-to-be-missed destination. You can’t explore the area alone, but can take in the scenery on a bus trip or as part of an organised walking tour. Places on the walking tour can be pre-booked before you visit.
Cycling is popular on Lanzarote, and many international teams choose the island as a base for their winter training. If your cycling isn’t up to Bradley Wiggins’ standards, it doesn’t matter. You can still rent a bike and explore the island at your own pace.
The driest of all the Canaries, Fuerteventura still has some great spots to discover. About 10 minutes’ drive inland from the tourist strips of Corralejo is a space-like, volcanic landscape. Whilst it’s no way as impressive as Timanfaya, you can cycle, drive or quad bike a circular route through the area and stop to explore as you wish. There’s a small volcano to climb and a tiny cave made from a burst lava bubble.
The west coast attracts surfers and windsurfers and is the quieter side of the island, especially the small village of Majanicho. If you fancy some off-road driving then head to the central western coast to see the wreck of the American Star. Nearby the gorgeous town of Betancuria is a lovely place to stop. Visitors can stay or eat at the 600 year old Princess Arminda Hotel.