This post on the best Canary Islands is the first one of a series on more detailed posts about the best hikes on the various islands of the archipelago. Here, I provide a short introduction on the various islands and explain their main characteristics.
The archipelago of the Canary Islands is an autonomous region of Spain, located at around 100 km off the coast of Morocco. It is composed of seven main islands – namely Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, El Hierro, Fuerte Ventura, La Palma and La Gomera; and multitude of much smaller ones. Of these, Lanzarote is often considered the best canary island for surfing.
In general, the Canary Islands are thought to be a fantastic holiday destination throughout the year (and one of The Best Places For Winter Sun In Europe), to the point that each year they attract more than 12 million tourists looking to make the most of their beautiful beaches, the mild weather, the quaint villages and bigger cities, the good food and relaxed atmosphere. Each tourist has its own view on which ones are the best Canary Islands, but – needless to say – these views are completely subjective and based on their personal taste.
If we are to think about nature, determining which is the best Canary island becomes an even more daunting task. The archipelago is originally volcanic, and the nature is at its best. Suffice to know that a whopping four of thirteen national parks of Spain are located here, and that of these two have become UNESCO World Heritage sites and other two have been added to the list of World Biosphere Reserve.
I guess what makes the Canary Islands attractive to me is the volcanoes, of which a few are still active. In my travels, I have hiked several volcanoes, including Mount Bromo, in Indonesia; Etna, Vulcano and Stromboli, in Sicily; Pacaya in Guatemala and Cerro Negro in Nicaragua. Teide, located in Tenerife, is the tallest volcano in Europe (as well as the highest mountain in Spain) – this would be enough to say that Tenerife is the best Canary island.
With their amazing nature and volcanoes, the Canary Islands are an incredible hiking destination. Here, I will provide some essential information on the best Canary islands, on the things to do and see there, and a brief selection of the best hiking trails. Stay tuned for more detailed posts on the various islands.
Which Are The Best Canary Islands?
Often considered the best Canary island, Tenerife is the biggest and most populated of the archipelago. The most important cities on the island are Santa Cruz de Tenerife (the capital) and San Cristobal de la Laguna, home of the University of La Laguna which was founded in 1792 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A top tourism destination in Spain, Tenerife is thought to be one of the best Canary islands for surfers thanks to the good, persistent waves.
What makes Tenerife one of the best Canary islands is also the beautiful beaches, quaint villages and lots of natural sites. One of the best beaches is La Caleta, a real hidden gem thanks to its beautiful setting and quiet environment. Completing the idyllic setting there’s a delicious fish restaurant.
Another fantastic beach is Playa del Bollullo. This is characterized by dark, volcanic sand (typical of Tenerife) and surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. It’s a fairly remote place, though there’s a trail that reaches it. It’s a popular beach among surfers thanks to the winds that bring in good waves.
One more reason to consider Tenerife one of the best Canary islands is the lovely villages. The unmissable ones are Masca, perched on a rock and with its narrow, cobbled alleys and overflowing gardens; Garachico, a small port that survived the forces of nature; Tegueste, located in the countryside, which has a nice square and buzzing farmers’ market. The highest village is Vilaflor, famous for being completely surrounded by the forest. Last but not least there’s Granadilla, where there is a beautiful 18th century baroque church.
Tenerife owes its reputation of best Canary island to the lovely climate and the beaches. However, adventures seekers go there to challenge Mount Teide and Teide National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Indeed, what makes Tenerife one of the best Canary islands is the multitude of hiking trails. There are many volcano hikes: Montaña Blanca trail goes to Teide summit. It is a challenging hike, but the views are breathtaking. Other fantastic trails are the Roques de García and the Dogollada de Guajara. The latter starts in Teide National Park and ends in Vilaflor.
There also are forest trails, perfect for those who want to get closer to nature. A bunch of trails are located in Anaga Rural Park. And there are also coastal trails, such as Malpaís de Güímar.
Gran Canaria is the second most populous and the third largest of the Canary Islands. Thought to be one of the best Canary islands, its a lovely place to visit thanks to all that it has to offer. The capital, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, was founded in 1478. Its original name was Real de Las Palmas. Nowadays it is the most populous city of the archipelago, famous for its carnival. Located in the city there’s Las Canteras beach, a protected area and incredible diving spot.
Like the rest of the archipelago, Gran Canaria is of volcanic origins. The highest peak on the island are Pico de las Nieves, which reaches 1949 meters, and Roque Nublo, with its 1813 meters. Such mountains make Gran Canaria one of the best Canary islands for hiking.
Gran Canaria is known as “Miniature Continent” because of its different climates and varied landscapes. The 4 million tourists that visit it each year consider it the best Canary island thanks to its long, white sandy beaches, the green ravines and the beautiful villages.
Famous attractions in Gran Canaria include the Maspalomas Dunes, located in the south of the island where the climate is warmer and sunnier. That’s the part of the island where most resorts are located, thus receiving most of the visitors.
Other attractions that make Gran Canaria one of the best Canary islands are Agüimes, a beautifully restored small city located on the eastern part of the island. Not far from it, there’s the protected area of Guayadeque ravine. Here, a church has been built on the side of the mountain and tourists love the many cave restaurants. Also on the eastern side of the island there is the most famous diving spot, the marine reserve of Playa de El Cabron.
Half of Gran Canaria is part of the Canary Islands Network for Protected Natural Areas, and a third of the island is protected by UNESCO and a recognized Biosphere Reserve.
Another thing that makes Gran Canaria one of the best Canary islands is the presence of some incredible hiking trails. The walk to reach Playas de GüiGüi, two gorgeous, off the beaten path beaches on the west coast of the island, is one of the best trails. The challenging walk to La Aldea de San Nicolás is perfect for experienced hikers. The one through Tasartico is a lighter walk. Another trail is that of Ruta de Las Presas: it goes from La Aldrea de San Nicolás to Artenara, Gran Canaria’s highest municipality.
Lanzarote is thought to be the best Canary island for surfing, thanks to the beautiful beaches and the great waves. This is the easternmost of the archipelago, and the third most populated. The capital is Arrecife, and the main attraction is the Timanfaya National Park, in the centre west of the island.
Another reason Lanzarote is thought to be the best Canary island is the weather: it is called “the island of eternal spring,” thanks to its mild climate throughout the year. It receives just 16 days of rain, but it is regularly swept by strong winds.
Since it is of volcanic origins, the landscape in Lanzarote is quite desert-like. There are two mountain ranges crossing the island: Famara in the north and Ajaches in the south. El Jable desert separates Famara and Montañas del Fuego. The highest peak is Peñas del Chache, which reaches 670 meters above sea level.
Located in Lanzarote there is also the Tunnel of Atlantis, the largest underwater volcanic tunnel in the world.
Tourists are attracted to Lanzarote for its gorgeous beaches, such as Papagayo – a series of small coves of white sand nestled between lava rocks; its world class surfing and diving; the quaint city of Teguise; the local wine; Timanfaya Natural Park; and the many volcanoes (Volcan El Cuervo is just one of them). There are some fantastic hiking trails, too: Femés to Papagayo gives the best of both (hikes and beaches); Caldera Blanca goes to the crater of a volcano. With so much on offer, it’s easy to see why Lanzarote is thought to be one of the best Canary islands.
The westernmost island of the archipelago is El Hierro. This is also the smallest of the largest ones, and the least populated. The entire island is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 2000 – easy to guess why many think of it as the best Canary island. The capital is Valverde. With no more than 21 days of rain per year, the island has a wonderful climate that makes it great to visit at any time of year.
El Hierro is home to an active volcano. The last intense activity was recorded in 2011. There also are several endemic animal species, some of which endangered such as El Hierro Giant Lizard.
El Hierro lack the major tourist infrastructure that other Canary islands have, so it is not nearly as busy as the rest, and that nature is still unspoiled there – this is why many consider it to be one of the best Canary islands.
El Hierro has some of the best beaches of the Canary islands. The most popular one is Playa de Tacoron, on the south coast. It is not a sandy beach, but the water is incredibly transparent and the surroundings beautiful. There’s a viewpoint for magnificent sunset views.
Another attraction on El Hierro is the shrine of Our Lady of the Kings, an hermitage erected in 1577 to home a statue of the patron was taken to the island in 1546.
More reasons to appreciate El Hierro as one of the best Canary islands is the beautiful small villages; the good museums (such as the vulcanology center, and the Parque Cultural de El Julan) and some incredible diving spots.
Hiking junkies will say El Hierro is the best Canary island thanks to the pleasant weather year round which makes it a fantastic hiking destination. There are trails that go all around the island. Las Dehesas is one of the top ones thanks breathtaking views and a peak into the island’s nature and wildlife.
Fuerteventura is the second biggest island of the archipelago, but is not nearly as populated as Gran Canaria or Tenerife. The capital is Puerto Rosario, and the highest point is Pico de la Zarza, which reaches 807 meters. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since May 2009.
Fuerteventura is the oldest of the Canary Islands, and thought to be the best Canary island by many. Throughout history it has been eroded by wind and precipitations, and the landscape is often barren. Many tourists who visit the island fall in love with its beautiful beaches, the strong surf and the pleasant climate.
Contrary to the other Canary islands, Fuerteventura is not overdeveloped – though there still are fantastic hotels and restaurants. To many, this is what it makes one of the best Canary islands.
Fuerteventura has some beautiful historic villages such as Betancuria: here the pace of life is slow, the surroundings gorgeous. It used to be the capital of the island until 1834. Villa Winter is another attraction: this series of cellar, caves and watchtowers surrounded by the barren landscapes was built by a German engineer and by German prisoners of war from the Tefia concentration camp. It’s such an interesting place that to many it’s what makes Fuerteventura one of the best Canary islands.
The interior of Fuerteventura is all lavascapes and volcanic mountains. It is a protected area, but it can be visited. There are various hiking trails (making Fuerte Ventura one of the best Canary islands for adventure lovers), which include the one to Montana de Tindaya, the oldest mountain in the Canary Islands, located on the North-East of Fuerteventura. It is a sacred mountain to the Majorero people, who are indigenous to Fuerteventura.
The hike to the lava craters of Corralejo is a 4 hours walk, which can be rather strenuous due to the lack of shade.
La Palma currently is the most volcanically active of the Canary Islands. The entire island is Biosphere Reserve – with such nature, it’s easy to see why it is considered one of the best Canary islands. The capital of La Palma is Santa Cruz de la Palma, a quiet, peaceful and pleasant place to visit.
Teneguia is the main volcano on La Palma; it last erupted in 1971. This is the second highest peak of the Canaries, with Roque de los Muchachos reaching 2423 meters. The views from there are breathtaking. There is located one of the best astronomical observatories in the world. Star gazing is thought to be a must when visiting La Palma.
Whale watching is another must when visiting La Palma (which thus becomes the best Canary island for wildlife lovers). The beaches never get too crowded.
The beautiful, untouched nature and the volcanoes make La Palma is a fantastic hiking destination – and one of the best Canary islands for hiking. La Cumbrecita is one of the best hikes. Here, it is possible to walk along the volcano’s caldera. The Ruta de la Cresteria goes around the crater of Taburiente and provides fantastic views of a collapsed volcano. The Route of the Volcanoes is an incredible trail that winds among the line of craters of La Palma southern-central spine.
La Gomera is, geologically, the oldest of the Canary islands. It also is the second least populous. Since it is one of the most untouched and least commercial islands, it is thought to be one of the best Canary islands. The capital is San Sebastian de la Gomera.
What makes the island a favorite of tourists is the presence of beautiful, black sand beaches – though keep in mind that the currents can be quite strong. Playa Santiago offers the best sunset views; whereas Valle Gran Rey is a completely unspoiled beach. Hermigua Beach is splendid: the currents are quite strong but there’s a lovely natural pool on the beach.
Much like La Palma, La Gomera is a great place to admire marine life such as dolphins and whales. This makes it a favorite of wildlife watchers, who consider the best Canary island.
La Gomera is a lot less touristy compared to the rest of the archipelago. Those who go enjoy its wine, produced with grapes cultivated on the rich, volcanic soil. The most famous wines are white – either Foraster, or Forastera Gomera.
Another unique thing about La Gomera is the way of communicating that was created by the local shepherds. They would whistle down the valley to be heard up to 5 km away. It’s so special that in 2009 it has been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
La Gomera is very mountainous. The highest peak, Alto de Garajonay, goes all the way to 1487 meters above sea level. Garajonay National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Here, there are numerous species of plants, some of which under risk of extinction. Such nature makes La Gomera one of the best Canary islands.
La Gomera is a fantastic destination for hiking. There are many good trails. The path Circolare Costas de la Gomera is a multi-day hike of over 120 km that starts in San Sebastian and which can be divided in 5 different trails, of varying difficulty. It’s so great that it’s easy to see why hikers think of La Gomera as the best Canary island.
The best view of the island is that of Hasta la Vista – on clear days the views opens up to show Tenerife!
Have you ever been to the Canary Islands? Which do you think are the best Canary islands?