The Canary Islands, locally also known as the Canaries, famous the world over as an all-year-round tourist destination, are a Spanish archipelago located just off the southern coast of Morocco, 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of its southern border. The Canaries constitute one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities and are among the outermost regions of the European Union proper. The main islands are (from largest to smallest) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The archipelago also includes a number of islets: La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.
The archipelago’s beaches, climate and important natural attractions, especially Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Teide National Park and Mount Teide (a World Heritage Site) in Tenerife (the third tallest volcano in the world measured from its base on the ocean floor), make it a major tourist destination with over 12 million visitors per year, especially Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, with the most predominant source of visitors coming from Germany, the UK, Norway, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and of course from mainland Spain.
The islands have a subtropical climate, with long warm summers and moderately warm winters. Due to their location above the temperature inversion layer, the high mountains of these islands are ideal for astronomical observation. For this reason, two professional observatories, Teide Observatory on the island of Tenerife and Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the island of La Palma, have been built on the islands.
The capital of the Autonomous Community is shared by the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which in turn are the capitals of the provinces of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Province of Las Palmas. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has been the largest city in the Canaries since 1768, except for a brief period in 1910. Between the 1833 territorial division of Spain and 1927, Santa Cruz de Tenerife was the sole capital of the Canary Islands. In 1927 a decree ordered that the capital of the Canary Islands be shared, as it remains at present. The third largest city of the Canary Islands is San Cristóbal de La Laguna (also a World Heritage Site) on Tenerife. This city is also home to the ‘Consejo Consultivo de Canarias’, which is the supreme consultative body of the Canary Islands.
Tenerife is the most populous island, and also the largest island of the archipelago. Gran Canaria, with 865,070 inhabitants, is both the Canary Islands’ second most populous island and the third most populous one in Spain after Majorca. The island of Fuerteventura is the second largest in the archipelago and located 100 km (60 mi) from the African coast.
Map of the Canary Islands
The climate is subtropical all year round, moderated by the sea and in summer by the trade winds. There are a number of microclimates and the classifications range from Mediterranean to desert.
The average daily mean temperature in December in Gran Canaria Airport is 19.2 C, whilst in August is 24.6 C.
The average daily mean temperature in December in Santa Cruz is 19.4 C, whilst in August is 25.5 C.
The average daily mean temperature in December in Tenerife is 19.7 C, whilst in August is 24.7 C.
In other words, a wonderful climate all year round!
Economy & Tourism
The economy is based primarily on tourism, which makes up 32% of the GDP. The Canaries receive about 12 million tourists per year. Construction makes up nearly 20% of the GDP and tropical agriculture, primarily bananas and tobacco, are grown for export to Europe and the Americas.
The Canary Islands have great natural attractions; climate and beaches make the islands a major tourist destination. Among the islands, Tenerife has the largest number of tourists received annually, followed by Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. The archipelago’s principal tourist attraction is the Teide National Park (in Tenerife) where the highest mountain in Spain and third largest volcano in the world (Mount Teide), receives over 2.8 million visitors annually.
The combination of high mountains, proximity to Europe, and clean air has made the Roque de los Muchachos peak (on La Palma island) a leading location for telescopes like the Grantecan.
The islands are outside the European Union customs territory and VAT area, though politically within the EU. Instead of VAT there is a local Sales Tax (IGIC) which has a general rate of 7%, an increased tax rate of 13.5%, a reduced tax rate of 3% and a zero tax rate for certain basic need products and services.
They also attract major film production companies seeking spectacular backdrops for blockbuster movies such as “Jason Bourne” or “Fast & Furious 6″. The island’s authorities offer special incentives for film productions offering a rebate based on a mimimum spend budget.
Canarian time is Western European Time (WET) (or GMT; in summer one hour ahead of GMT). So Canarian time is one hour behind that of mainland Spain and the same as that of the UK, Ireland and Portugal all year round.
By Sea & Air
The Canary Islands have eight airports altogether, and is a very popular destination with Europeans with swarms of charter and discount flights descending on the island year round, two of the main sea ports of Spain, and an extensive network of ‘autopistas’ (motorways) and other roads. There are also regular flights from Tenerife to Marrakech and Casablanca in the nearby Morocco.
There are large ferry boats that link islands as well as fast ferries linking most of the islands. Both types can transport large numbers of passengers and cargo (including vehicles). Fast ferries travel relatively quickly (in excess of 30 knots) and are a faster method of transportation than the conventional ferry (some 20 knots). A typical ferry ride between La Palma and Tenerife may take up to eight hours or more while a fast ferry takes about 2 and a half hours and between Tenerife and Gran Canaria can be about one hour.
The largest airport is the Gran Canaria airport, with about 10,000,000 passengers. It is also the 5th largest airport in Spain. Tenerife has two airports, Tenerife North Airport and Tenerife South Airport.
The biggest port is in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. It is an important port for commerce with Europe, Africa and the Americas. It is the 4th biggest commercial port in Spain. The islands are also frequented all year round by cruise ships from Europe and Africa.
The Tenerife Tram opened in 2007 and the only one in the Canary Islands, travelling between the cities of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and San Cristóbal de La Laguna. It is currently planned to have three lines in the Canary Islands (two in Tenerife and one in Gran Canaria). The planned Gran Canaria tram route will be from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Maspalomas (south).
Buses are the most common method of public transportation around the islands. Mile per mile they are expensive while compared to mainland Spain but being on an island you are not going to travel really that far.
Taxis are available in all major towns and villages.
National Parks of the Canary Islands
The Canary Islands officially has four national parks, of which two have been declared World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the other two declared a World Biosphere Reserve, these national parks are:
- Caldera de Taburiente National Park (La Palma): Created in 1954 and declared a World Biosphere Reserve in 2002. It currently covers an area of 46.9 km2 (18.1 sq. mi.).
- Garajonay National Park (La Gomera): Created in 1981 and declared in 1986 as a World Heritage Site. Its area is 3986 hectares at the core and some areas north of the island.
- Timanfaya National Park (Lanzarote): Created in 1974 and declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1993, together with the whole island. Occupies an area of 51.07 km (31.73 sq. mi.), is located in the southwest of the island.
- Teide National Park (Tenerife): Created in 1954, was declared a World Heritage Site in 2007. It covers an area of 18,990 hectares, is the oldest and largest national park in the Canary Islands and one of the oldest in Spain. The Teide in 2010 became the most visited national park in Europe and second worldwide. Located in the geographic center of the island is the most visited National Park in Spain. The highlight is the Teide at 3,718 meters altitude, is the highest elevation of the country and the third largest volcano on Earth from its base. Teide National Park was declared in 2007 as one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
The Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Carnival of Las Palmas are one of the most famous Carnivals in Spain. It is celebrated on the streets between the months of February and March. Much like the carnivals in Rio, the participants spend weeks and months preparing for this huge annual event.
Canarian cuisine is a mix between Spanish, Latin and African cultures. Most of Canarian cuisine is a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, generally light meals, more easy to digest in a warm climate. Meat is usually consumed as a part of stews or as steaks.
The local fish is excellent. You will find a wide variety of international recipes of fish and seafood, too. Two popular fish dishes from Tenerife are Caldereta, a meal with tomatoes, goat meat and potatoes and the Sancocho Canario, a salted fish, usually white, in a ‘mojo’ sauce.
The Tapas concept is one of the most delicious Spanish contributions to international gastronomy. A Tap is a light and small piece of food that Spaniards have either before lunch or dinner, usually with a glass of wine or beer. The Tapa can be presented in several ways. It can be made as a pincho (with a stick), as a mini-dish of a traditional recipe, as a canapé, etc…
The Canary Islands are Europe’s only exporter of plantation bananas. They are famously delicious here. These bananas are usually fried and are also commonly found in the West Indies.
Other local delicacies are Papas Arrugadas or papa sancochada – Potatoes boiled in very salty water until they are “wrinkly” – hence the name, and served with mojo picón, a spicy cold red sauce made with chili and garlic. These are often served as a tapa, plus:
- Gofio – Grain flour used especially at breakfast or to accompany potaje, a local stew.
- Escaldón de gofio – Gofio mixed with broth.
- Conejo en salmorejo
- Miel de Palma – Palm honey.
- Arepas – tortas made from fine corn flour filled with minced meat, cheese, or sweet mango.
- Mousse de gofio or gofío amasado – a desert made from gofio, palm honey and plantains.
The Chinijo Archipelago includes the islands La Graciosa, Alegranza, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este and Roque del Oeste. It has a surface of 40.8 km2 (15.8 sq. mi.), and a population of 658 inhabitants all of them in the la Graciosa island. With 29 km2 (11.2 sq mi), La Graciosa, is the smallest inhabited island of the Canaries, and the major island of the Chinijo Archipelago.
Property in the Canary Islands
With such diversity between its islands, buying or renting a property in the Canaries is no mean task given the amazing choice of locations available: from an apartment in a busy city centre such as Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, a luxury villa perched on a cliff top in Tenerife or a rural country farmhouse on one of the remote islands of La Palma, El Hierro or La Gomera.
Tourist Information Offices
There are many Tourist Offices to be found throughout the Canary Islands. Below, the main offices for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. For other offices, please consult the individual page guides for each island from our Main Menu above.
Tourist Offices – Las Palmas de Gran CanariaTOURIST BOARD C/. León y Castillo, 17 – 35003, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Tel: (+34) 928 21 96 00. Fax: (+34) 928 21 96 01. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Official Web. Tourist Office: Avda. España – esquina con Avda. EE.UU. (Centro Comercial Yumbo), 35100, Playa del Inglés. Islas Canarias. Tel: (+34) 928 77 15 50. Fax: (+34) 928 76 78 48. Email: email@example.com. Official Web. Tourist Office: C/. Triana 93, 35002, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Tel: (+34) 928 21 96 00. Fax: (+34) 928 21 96 01. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Official Web.
Tourist Offices – Santa Cruz de TenerifePlaza De España, S/N, 38003, Santa Cruz De Tenerife. Tel: (+34) 922 23 95 92 / (+34) 922 23 98 11. Fax: (+34) 922 23 98 12. Email: email@example.com. Official Web. Arona Office – Los Cristianos: Avda. Juan Carlos I, S/N. Estación De Guaguas De Los Cristianos, 38650. Arona. Tel: (+34) 922 75 71 30. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Arona Office – Playa de las Américas: Plaza del “City Center”, Avda. Rafael Puig, 19, Arona. 38660. Tel: (+34) 922 79 76 68. Email: email@example.com
Video of the Canary Islands
Video of the Carnival – Santa Cruz de Tenerife (2014)