Over the years the Canary Islands have become synonymous with winter sun – a haven for sun-starved Northern Europeans. And who can blame them? That said, the islands have a lot more going for them than the weather: lunar volcanic landscapes, their own biodiversity (on a par with Hawaii and the Galápagos!) and ragged mountains.
Travel independently, look out for the unexpected, and you will soon discover that the Canary Islands have much more to offer than just an all-year-round suntan. Here are our top 10 things to see in the Canary Islands - we promise you won’t be disappointed.
Mighty El Teide is Tenerife’s – and Spain's – highest mountain at 3,718 metres. The lava fallout from successive eruptions, combined with atmospheric conditions within the park create a surreal, kaleidoscopic canvas surrounded by a sea of clouds. No wonder it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tenerife’s most sophisticated town, where fine examples of traditional balconied houses line narrow streets, whose cobbles are decorated with intricate flower carpets during Corpus Christi celebrations (June).
The smallest of the Canary Islands, this peaceful and unspoilt island has the highest density of volcanoes in the archipelago, and the dramatic scenery that comes with it.
Living up to its nicknames La Isla Bonita (The Beautiful Island) and La Isla Verde (The Green Island), La Palma is a verdant island with some great walking trails, and is also the most active of the volcanic Canary Islands.
Built round a complex of sea-water canals with delicately arched bridges, Puerto de Mogán is almost impossibly pretty. The windows and flat roofs of its two-storey houses are outlined in shades of blue, green and ochre, the walls smothered with multicoloured bougainvillaea and trailing geraniums. One of the unmissable spots is the Puerto Rico beach, ideal for watersports.
These pristine dunes on Gran Canaria are like a desert by the sea, designated a nature reserve in order to preserve the ecosystem. The adjoining upmarket resort of Maspalomas is all smart hotels, bungalows or low-rise apartment complexes set in large, lush gardens – quite a contrast to the dunes.
Set in a volcanic crater, this award-winning Manrique-designed garden spirals in a circle of terraces up to a small windmill. There are cacti of all kinds: round and dumpy, tall and phallic, and some like little furry creatures snuggled in the volcanic soil.
Inside the Parque Nacional de Timanfaya, this is your chance to go up a sleepy volcano and witness volcanic activity first-hand, then eat a steak cooked by the heat rising directly from the ground at the El Diablo restaurant.
The shapes of the cave walls and ceilings, formed by the solidified lava and enhanced by discreet lighting, are extraordinary.
Great sweeps of white sand draw visitors to the south of Fuerteventura. Playa de Sotavento, a whopping 28km long, is world-famous as a windsurfing beach. The dunes behind it and a little further to the south form an idyllic beach backdrop.