Though everybody has their routines before traveling, most of us usually hit the road knowing what we want to see during our journey. However, there are exceptions that surprise us with what they have in store -the Canary Islands are one such exception.
The Canary Islands promise something different than an island vacation characterized by turquoise waters and white-sand beaches. They mesmerize with their volcanic areas which look like they were formed by the unexpected brushstrokes of nature rather than by mere volcanic activity, seaside cliffs, and colorful and intricate landscape.
You won’t regret including what the islands want to show you on your list of places to see. I experienced this firsthand in Fuerteventura, the oldest of the islands, born of a volcanic eruption 20 million years ago.
I rent a car and drive north from Fuerteventura Airport to Lajares, where I will be staying. After La Oliva, I see a grizzle mountain on an arid land painted in ash color in some places and red in others. This is Mount Arena, 420 meters in height, rising against lower cloud banks. It has been thousands of years since its last eruption, which opened two giant craters, giving birth to a natural monument named Malpais de la Arena. Bearing traces of both that eruption and other volcanic activity, the region, scattered with small rocks, volcanic chimneys, and tiny caves, is under protection.
Corralejo, once a traditional fishing village, is one of the most touristic places on the island with its large accommodation facilities and natural park, which is home to sand dunes. These white hills of fine sand stretch for meters on end and serve like fragile blankets on pointed volcanic rocks.
Officially a part of Spain, the Canary Islands are located west of the African continent. The archipelago comprises seven main islands -Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro- and other smaller islands. Fuerteventura is the closest one to Africa. The ocean drives the warm Sahara winds away from the island, keeping the average temperature between 17 and 28 degrees Celcius throughout the year. However, I should also remind you that the strong winds are among the island’s surprises. When I visit El Cotillo Beach in the northwestern part of the island, I leave the oceanside because of the harsh sandy wind on my face and head south for rural explorations. It’s also believed that the name of the island derives from fuerte viento, meaning “strong wind” in Spanish.
Before heading south, I take a break in the center of the island and visit Betancuria, the former capital of Fuerteventura. The settlement’s elegant, white houses scattered in the surrounding green nature offer a picturesque view. Right across Santa María de Betancuria, the first church on the island, is Casa Santa Maria, where, before hitting the road, I treat myself to a feast of el cabrito al horno (roasted goat), one of the island’s traditional delicacies.
After watching the surfers enjoying themselves on the southeastern beach of Costa Calma, I head for Cofete, the most famous beach in the southwest. It’s hard to believe that these amazing coasts, where Pico de la Zarza, the tallest mountain on the island, impressively poses for the cameras, belong to this planet. In fact, the scenes on the planet Savareen in the movie Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) were, in fact, filmed at Jandía Natural Park, which also encompasses Cofete.
About 40% of the archipelago is regarded as a national park. Therefore, the spectacular views of many colors and textures are found not only on Fuerteventura, but also on the other islands. Located in Tenerife, the biggest of the Canary Islands, Teide National Park surrounds the 3,718-meter-tall Teide Volcano. Included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the park is one of the archipelago's most popular nature areas for tourists.
Teide was named by the Guanches, the native people of the Canary Islands. Legend goes that Guayota, defined as the devil by the Guanches, kidnaps Magec, the god of light and sun, and imprisons him in the volcano, dragging the world into total darkness. The natives believe that Teide holds up the sky, and this is why it sometimes erupts. If you wish to bid farewell to the tranquil volcanic areas of Tenerife and mingle with the crowds on the island's streets, which feel relaxing with their colorful colonial architecture, you should definitely visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Having talked about colonial architecture and entertainment, I should also mention the island of Gran Canaria to the southeast of Tenerife. In the district of San Juan in the capital of Las Palmas, the colonial houses resemble bougainvillea from afar, with their bright and pastel colors ranging from dusty pink to lemon blossom. On some days of the week, local musicians wearing traditional costumes offer folk music performances in Pueblo Canario, the representative of traditional island villages. With the sun and laughter in the background, the streets turn into a festival ground. Gran Canaria also offers miracles to nature enthusiasts, and the natural monument of Roque Nublo, under the protection of UNESCO, is one of them. It's worth trekking the paths of Tejeda to discover this magnificent natural sculpture and to take in the view that surrounds it.
If you're interested in astronomy as much as geology, you should definitely visit La Palma, the fifth biggest of the Canary Islands. This is where you can find Roque de los Muchachos, an astrological observatory home to one of the world's most extensive telescope fleets. Situated in Caldera de Taburiente Nature Park, this observatory is ideal to watch both the Milky Way at night and the Sun during the day. Another favorite stop in La Palma is Museo de la Seda Las Hilanderas, i.e. the Silk Museum. Located in El Paso, the museum highlights the island's centuries-old tradition of silk weaving and displays a collection of silk fabrics featuring local patterns of many countries from China to India.
Let’s finish our tour of the archipelago at Lanzarote, home to Timanfaya National Park where the anthracite turns to sumac, and shades of gold to green; the town of Haría with its white houses with wooden windows at the foot of Mount Corona; and the beach of Papagayo where the velvety sand stretches towards the turquoise waters. There’s one unforgettable detail to add: the philosophy of art and design adopted by the 20th-century local architect and sculptor César Manrique visible all around the island. Among Manrique’s unique structures are his home, Fundación César Manrique, which currently serves as a museum and preserves its modernity while organically blending into the landscape; and the Garden of Cactus (Jardín de Cactus) in Guatiza, which was Manrique's last work.
It’s impossible not to enjoy leisurely days in exceptional places, or not to think “Should I revisit here?”