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Canary Islands Travel Guide

Teide volcano on Tenerife Island, Canary Islands (© canaryluc - Fotolia.com)
Teide volcano on Tenerife Island, Canary Islands.

Introduction

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.

Cuisine

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.



Attractions

Tenerife Island

Teide National Park ※
Teide National Park (© pjmorley - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Teide National Park
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Tenerife beach, Canary Islands (© Maridav - iStockphoto.com)
must-see Santa Cruz de Tenerife
Taganana
Taganana (© Jose Juan Castellano - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Taganana
Icod de los Vinos
The ancient dragon tree of Icod de los Vinos (© mskorpion - Fotolia.com)
very good Icod de los Vinos

Other attractions

very good La Orotava
very good San Cristóbal de La Laguna
good Puerto de la Cruz

La Palma Island

very good Los Canarios
good Santa Cruz de La Palma

La Gomera Island

Garajonay National Park ※
Roque Agando, Garajonay National Park (photo by Diego Delso - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
must-see Garajonay National Park

Other attractions

very good San Sebastián de la Gomera

Gran Canaria Island

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (© philipus - Fotolia.com)
outstanding Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

Natural attractions & Beaches

very good Maspalomas
very good Artenara

Other attractions

very good Arucas
very good Firgas

Lanzarote Island

Papagayo Beach
Papagayo Beach (photo by Luc Viatour / www.Lucnix.be - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Playa Papagayo
Cueva de los Verdes
Cueva de los Verdes (photo by Luc Viatour / www.Lucnix.be - Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license)
outstanding Cueva de los Verdes
Guatiza Cactus Garden
Guatiza Cactus Garden (© mskorpion - Fotolia.com)
very good Guatiza Cactus Garden

Natural attractions & Beaches

very good El Golfo Crater, Laguna & Beach
very good Playa Blanca, Yaiza
very good Timanfaya National Park

Other attractions

very good Arrecife
very good Betancuria
very good Femés
very good Teguise

Fuerteventura Island

good Gran Tarajal
good La Oliva
good Puerto del Rosario

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Eupedia's Rating System

Cities, towns, villages & historic buildings

  • : Moderately interesting - nice for a quick stop
  • : Recommended - to visit if you have time
  • : Outstanding place - really deserves to be seen
  • : Best of the country - shouldn't be missed
  • : Best of Europe

Natural attractions

  • : Moderately interesting
  • : Recommended
  • : Highly recommended
  • : World-class natural attraction
  • ※ : UNESCO World Heritage site


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