The Canaries each have something special to offer the weary traveller.
Best for hiking: La Gomera
There are no direct flights from the UK to La Gomera, so many visit on a day trip from neighbouring Tenerife. While there, you should head into the interior and explore Europe’s Amazonia on foot. The Garajonay National Park is an enchanting Atlantic rainforest that takes up one-third of the island and accommodates 18 numbered trails. Named after the Canary Islands’ version of Romeo and Juliet, Gara and, yes, Jonay, this is also home to La Gomera’s highest peak. Ascending 1487m above sea level offers a great vantage point to appreciate the island group as a whole.
The longest route through this UNESCO World Heritage site is number 18. It’s also known as Gran Ruta Circular Garajonay. Allow around four hours to complete this 16-km trek. When you reach La Gomera’s central summit, Los Altos de Garajonay, you will be following in the footsteps of the Berber-descending natives who occupied the island before the 15th-century Castilian conquest. This place had spiritual significance to them and they would assemble here to pray to their gods. Later, when the Spanish invaded, they would use it as refuge to hide from those seeking to enslave them.
Best for stargazing: La Palma
The Milky Way is a feast for the eyes on La Palma, an island with Europe’s lowest levels of air pollution. The Observatorio Astrofisico Roque de Los Muchachos’ altitude of 2,396m closes the gaps to the stars. Boasting the world’s largest optical-infrared telescope, Gran Telescopio Canarias entered The Guinness Book of Records in 2007 thanks to its 10.4m diameter. Tours of the observatory are currently suspended following the recent volcanic eruption. However, the Centro de Visitantes del Roque de los Muchachos, which explains the work of the observatory, is open for non-nocturnal visits every day of the week.
La Palma became Earth’s inaugural Starlight Reserve and in 2012 was recognised as a Starlight Tourist Destination. The Starlight Foundation designates Starlight Reserves where night skies are unpolluted by light.
There are miradores (viewing points) dotted around the island for amateur astronomers. A recommended day trip is to head to Puerto Naos in the south-west of La Palma to soak up the rays on the island’s biggest beach. Then go to nearby Mirador de Las Hoyas for sunset views over Caldera de Taburiente prior to a live screening of the sky at night.
Best for flying and flopping: Fuerteventura
Fuerteventura’s 265km of coastline consists of more than 150 beaches. If you prefer to adopt a horizontal pose on holiday, you’re never too far from a playa on this sub-tropical paradise. The closest beach to the airport is Caleta de Fuste. If you can summon up enough energy after all that sunbathing, a gentle stroll will take you to Museo de las Salinas del Carmen, a museum that doubles as a saltworks.
For an unusual walk, take the FV-1 northwards from the capital Puerto del Rosario. Turning on to the FV-1a, you’ll enter Parque Natural de Corralejo and see sand to the right and left. These stunning dunes were used in 1984 to represent the fictional desert country of Bialya in Wonder Woman. Head to the heart of Corralejo to join the young locals jumping off the harbour wall into the Atlantic.
Due south is a 32km stretch of unbroken shoreline which comprises the Jandia peninsula. The beaches here are as white as any in the Caribbean.
For a free beauty treatment, the west coast’s Piscinas Naturales Aguas Verdes are natural rock pools which fill with the fizz of the ocean.
Best for foodies: Tenerife
Spain’s most established gastronomic regions are the Basque Country and Catalonia. The Canary Islands are an emerging culinary force however, as can be seen by the growing number of Michelin stars being handed out to eateries across the archipelago.
The majority of chefs being recognised are based on Tenerife. The south-west’s The Ritz-Carlton Abama claims three of the island’s five stars. Michelin 2-star M.B sees chef Erlantz Gorostiza revisit Basque roots to continue the traditions established by chef Martin Berasategui whose signature is all over this classy dinner provider starting with the initials that form its name. Michelin 1-star Abama Kabuki fuses the classicism of Japanese sashimi and sushi with Blighty staples such as fish and chips.
Further down the coast, the iconic hotel Bahia del Duque in Costa Adeje houses Michelin 1-starred eaterie Nub. Thanks to husband-and-wife chefs Andrea, from Italy, and Fernanda, from Chile, this restaurant marries the flavours of the Mediterranean with dishes and tastes of South America.
It’s another family affair at the Royal Hideaway Corales Resort’s Michelin 1-star El Rincon de Juan Carlos in Playa La Enramada. Here the brothers Padron let their imaginations run riot with the likes of blackberry sorbet, smoked yoghurt, beetroot, and green Sichuan pepper cream.
Best for wellness: Gran Canaria
If you want to recharge your batteries, Gran Canaria makes for the ideal restorative break. In the mid-19th century, a group of British travellers stumbled across the island on the way to South Africa. They reported on the mythical powers of taking the waters and compatriots soon gleefully followed in their footsteps.
The first charter flight arrived at Christmas in 1957. Swedish airline Transair AB sold all 54 seats to Scandinavian tourists looking to absorb Vitamin D in non-tablet form. The health benefits of the island continue to appeal, especially if you pamper yourself at Gran Canaria’s acclaimed spas.
Thalassotherapy is big on the island and at Gloria Palace San Agustin Thalasso and Hotel you can take advantage of the largest water circuit in Europe, all 7,000 sqm of foaming goodness. Alternatively, go supine at Salobre Hotel Resort and Serenity’s treatment centre Be Aloe Wellness. Its emblematic treatment is the €99/70-minute Aloe Ritual with your body scrubbed and buffed with aloe vera, Gran Canaria’s wonder plant, feted for its detoxifying properties. Meanwhile, the spa at Seaside Grand Hotel Residencia is celebrated for its hot stone massage with volcanic quality improving circulation and soothing muscular pain.
Best for watersports: El Hierro
The most westerly of the Canary Islands, El Hierro, offers wet and wonderful pursuits galore. The Atlantic is at its fiercest here and locals have created seawater pools for safer swimming at locations including north-easterly La Caleta (The Cove). Confusingly, there’s a beach on Fuerteventura called El Hierro which attracts kitesurfing and windsurfing enthusiasts. El Hierro’s very own Playa de Timijiraque, a 15-minute southerly drive from La Caleta, is more of a bodyboarding and surfing hotspot.
Or how about kayaking at the end of the world? Prior to Columbus sailing the ocean blue in 1492 and proving that the Earth wasn’t flat, Punta de Orchilla was considered the world’s most westerly point. It was also where the Meridian was situated before it was relocated to Greenwich. Its crystal-clear waters are a joy, populated by schools of blue marlin, dolphinfish, and tuna, which could well become your catches of the day.
If you prefer to get closer to the marine life, go and dive. The water temperature ranges from 18°C to 25°C all year around and you may well see barracudas, manta rays, and whales.
Best for wine lovers: Lanzarote
Lanzarote’s principal industry was agriculture until an early 18th century lava overflow changed its trading history. Few crops would grow after a third of the island was covered in picón (volcanic ash). The exception was the humble grape which continues to flourish on the lunar landscape.
Wine production is centred in the central La Geria area. Here, vineyard owners have drilled holes into the rocky soil. These are then filled with picón and the planted vines are protected from the winds by zocos, semi-circular volcanic walls.
The oldest winery is El Grifo. It was founded in the 1700s to produce the wine needed for masses in the churches which sprung up on the island following the Spanish conquest. At the nearby La Geria vineyards, they used to employ camels to transport the grapes from the vine as they were better suited for negotiating this terrain than horses. The white Malvasia grape is this area’s cash crop and its vintages were a favourite tipple of Shakespeare who referenced it in his plays. Another key stop on your Lanzarote wine route should be Bodegas Rubicon, which also accommodates one of the finest restaurants on the island.
Best for naturists: La Graciosa
In the summer of 2018, La Graciosa officially became the eighth Canary Island. Previously it had belonged to Lanzarote but islanders successfully fought for its independence. It’s not that visitors to La Graciosa have a propensity for exhibitionism. Rather it’s the fact its less-populated shores make securing an all-over tan a more private affair as your body is less likely to be subject to prying eyes. Rumoured to have inspired the children’s novel Treasure Island, you can easily imagine Robert Louis Stevenson’s motley crew of characters adding further colour to this warm destination.
Reach La Graciosa by ferry from Lanzarote’s north shore port Orzola. You’ll disembark at the petite capital Caleta del Sebo (where the majority of the 750 inhabitants reside). The beaches here are probably not the best place to parade your privates. Make your way to Playa la Cocina at the foot of Montana Amarilla. An hour away on foot from Caleta del Sebo, this is the furthest south you can go on the island. Travelling to the north-west of La Graciosa will take you to Playa de las Conchas. This beautiful beach is another ideal secluded spot for you to sport your birthday suit.
Words: Matthew Hirtes