Located 1,500 km southwest of mainland Spain, 100 km off the coast of Morocco, the Canary Islands (Islas Canarias in Spanish) are the top tourist destination in Spain, with over 10 million visitors per year - a fifth of all tourist arrivals in Spain. Blessed with sunshine all the year round, the Canaries have become a winter refuge for Northern Europeans in need of warm weather, particularly Germans and Britons.
The Canaries are a volcanic archipelago composed of seven relatively large islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro) and six smaller ones (La Graciosa, Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Este, and Roque del Oeste). All together they make up a land area of 7,493 km² (2,893 sq mi), a bit smaller than Corsica. The main population centres are Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. 83% of the Canaries's 2.1 million inhabitants live on the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
The local economy relies heavily on tourism, but tobacco, sugarcane, bananas, papayas, mangos, oranges, figs, melons, grapes, peaches, apricots and other fruits are also grown and exported.
Beaches are far from being the only attraction of these tropical islands. People come here to see nature in its most glorious state. The Teide National Park in Tenerife and the Garajonay National Park in La Gomera were both designated World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO, while te whole island of Lanzarote is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Canarian cuisine is a simple affair, making the most of the fresh local ingredients, including a wealth of ripe fruits and vegetables. The traditional cuisine blends harmoniously Spanish, Portuguese, and North African influences. Canarian cuisine has in turn had a considerable impact on Latin American cuisine through emigration, especially to Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.
Canarian dishes, be it meat, fish or potatoes, are typically served with mojo, a moderately spicy sauce made with olive oil, garlic, paprika, and cumin, and flavoured with the likes of vinegar, lemon, orange or lime juice. The most common variety is the red mojo (made with dried red peppers and chillies), followed by the green one (coriander and parsley), while the orange mojo (bitter oranges) is the least often encountered. Another key Canarian ingredient is gofio, flour made from roasted wheat or sweet corn, that is added to most sauces, soups, stews, desserts, and even ice cream. Gofio is thought to be have been the main staple of the diet of the Guanches, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands.
Canarian culinary specialties include the papas arrugadas (small unpeeled potatoes boiled in salt water and usually served with chicken and topped with mojo), puchero canario (a stew made of pumpkin, cabbage, sweet potatoes, pork and beef), ropa vieja (lit. "old clothes"; a dish of chicken and beef mixed with potatoes and chickpeas), and sancocho (a soupy fish stew with potatoes and mojo). For dessert, try bienmesabe (lit. "it tastes good to me"; almond cream dessert made of grounded almonds, lemon rinds, honey, cinnamon and egg yolks) or truchas de Navidad (semi-circular pies filled with sweet potato and almond - traditionally eaten in winter).
The Canaries have produced wine ever since the first vines were introduced by the Spanish in the 15th century. There are now ten Canarian Denominación de Origen, half of which on Tenerife. Banana liqueur and honeyed rum are two other popular drinks.
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