The Canary archipelago consists of 8 inhabited islands, and a few smaller uninhabited ones.
- 1 Tenerife – The largest and most populous island with an area of 2,034 km² and also the most popular tourist destination of the archipelago, with about 6 million tourists per year. It has many museums and monuments that serve as portrayals of its rich history, but suffers under low cost mass tourism from the European mainland. Its oldest mountain ranges are young compared to its neighbouring islands, and volcanic activity did not begin to occur here until 8-12 million years ago, while other islands had it well over 20 million years ago. The highest mountain of Spain and 3rd largest volcano in the world (3,715 m), El Teide, dominates the landscape of the island. Santa Cruz de Tenerife is home to the Canary Island Parliament, while San Cristóbal de La Laguna is home to the oldest university on the Canary Islands. The main resorts are Puerto de la Cruz and Playa de las Américas.
- 2 Fuerteventura – Second largest island, with an area of 1,660 km², but compared to Tenerife relatively thinly populated with only 117,000 (2019) inhabitants. There are fewer attractions, but in turn the island has not yet fallen prey to mass tourism. Its capital, Puerto del Rosario, is fairly laid back and has a few architectural gems to offer. Fuerteventura is a paradise for windsurfing and the only Canary Island with natural golden sandy beaches rather than naturally black volcanic sand. The main resorts of Fuerteventura are Corralejo, Caleta de Fuste and Morro Jable.
- 3 Gran Canaria – The third largest island and second most popular (after Tenerife) receiving over 4 million tourists every year–green and steep in the north, dry and flat in the south. It has the highest population density of the Canary Islands, with 540 inhabitants per km², and with tourists added to that number it gets a bit crowded at times. The main resorts on the Island are Las Palmas, Maspalomas, Puerto Rico and Playa del Ingles. Its capital city Las Palmas de Gran Canaria has the shared title of capital of the Canaries.
- 4 Lanzarote – About half the size of Gran Canaria, but low lying and arid, with a spectacular volcanic landscape in the west of the island preserved as Timanfaya National Park. The greatest recorded eruptions occurred between 1730–1736. The capital is Arrecife and has its own airport, and draws most of the 2.9 million tourists visiting Lanzarote annually. There is a bustling nightlife in four main resorts—Arrecife, Costa Teguise, Puerto del Carmen and Playa Blanca.
- 5 La Graciosa – The smallest inhabited island of the Canaries, being only 29 km² in size and having a population of approx. 735 (2018). Its capital is Caleta de Sebo, and it's a few kilometres to the north of Lanzarote.
- 6 La Palma – The population is about 83,000 (2019), of which about half live in the capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma and in Los Llanos de Aridane. La Palma's geographic layout is a result of the volcanic formation of the island. The southern part of La Palma is dominated by the Cumbre Vieja, a volcanic ridge formed by numerous volcanic cones built of lava and scoria. The Cumbre Vieja is active but mostly dormant, with the last eruption occurring in 2021.
- 7 La Gomera – The Magic Isle, with San Sebastián as capital, is a paradise for hikers. It is shaped like an orange that has been cut in half and split into segments. The terrain is rough, which has left deep ravines or barrancos between them. These barrancos, in turn, are covered by the laurisilva (laurel rain forest). The local wine has a distinct taste, and is often accompanied with a tapa (snack) of local cheese, roasted pork or goat meat. Other cultural dishes include almogrote, a cheese spread, and a syrup extracted from palm trees called miel de palma. The local people have a unique way of communicating across deep ravines by using a whistled speech called Silbo Gomero. This whistled language is indigenous to the island, and its existence has been documented since Roman times.
- 8 El Hierro – "The edge of the world". It is also known as the Meridian Island, and Valverde is its capital.
Pico del Teide (on Tenerife) at 3,715 metres above sea level is the highest point in both the Canary Islands and Spanish territory.
The islands have a population of 2.2 million (2019). Since the Canary Islands are a major European tourist destination, all the major islands have well-developed communication systems, airports, and ports.
Ethnically the population is mostly a mix of Spanish, European (German and British), South American, especially Cuban and Venezuelan as well as Northern and Sub-Sahara African. There are also historical minorities such as Indians, Koreans and lately Russians.
Each island speaks with a slightly different accent and there is a strong rivalry between the main islands of Tenerife and Gran Canaria. Most of the accents in the Canary Islands are closer to Latin American Spanish than to Castilian Spanish spoken in continental Spain.
The Canary Islands are very modern, very European, and extremely liberal.
Ancient legend claims the Canary Islands are the ‘lost islands’ of Atlantis. They have also been referred to as the lands without sorrow, holding on to the edge of the world. The first settlers were known as Guanches, thought to have arrived in the 10th century BC. The main economic system was built around agriculture and animal farming. During the 14th century, the islands were continuously invaded by different European countries. Sugar cane became the dominant crop, and since the early 20th century, bananas have been widely farmed.
During the Age of Sail, the islands were an important waypoint on the Cape Route.
In contrast to Spanish North Africa and other Spanish overseas territories, the Canary Islands have been an integrated part of Spain for centuries.
|Climate chart (explanation)
Often referred to as the islands of eternal spring, the Canary Islands are known for their mild climate. On average, they feature mild winters, although there is a lot of wind virtually every day, which makes temperatures feel cooler. Summers are dry and temperatures are generally comfortable but can feel chilly with the wind. The average temperature is 13°C in January and 19°C in July. Sunshine is somewhat abundant in summer and relatively scarce in winter.
Beyond averages, though, the islands show remarkable variability in climate and weather. While the western part of the archipelago has a warm subtropical climate, the much flatter eastern islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura feature a dryer desert climate. On the more mountainous islands, the terrain heavily influences the local climate. Tenerife, for example, has a dry and sunny south that is perfect for a day at the beach. But as the high mountains catch the trade winds, the northern slopes receive more moisture. There, clouds tend to build up during the day, building the hikers' paradise that is the laurisilva cloud forest.
Calima is a common weather condition where a hazy and hot weather is caused by dust getting blown over from the Sahara desert. It will reduce visibility, cover everything with a layer of fine dust, heat up the islands, and may even cause some rain. It is more common in the winter, happens about once a month, and usually lasts for less than a week.
There are regular flights from mainland Spain and elsewhere in Europe to the larger islands of Gran Canaria (LPA IATA), La Palma (SPC IATA), Fuerteventura (FUE IATA), Lanzarote (ACE IATA), and Tenerife which has two airports: the north (TFN IATA) near Santa Cruz and the south (TFS IATA) near Golf del Sur.
El Hierro and Gomera are reached by inter-island flights. La Graciosa has no airport.
The Spanish company Naviera Armas has weekly connections between Huelva and Cadiz in Spain and Arrecife (Lanzarote), Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) and Tenerife. Fred Olsen also has weekly connections from Huelva to Tenerife and Gran Canaria. A detailed map of these three routes can be found on Ferrygogo.
Cruise ships will often plan a stop at the Canary Islands when crossing the Atlantic Ocean or navigating along the eastern coast of Africa. Longer cruises around the Western Mediterranean will also often include a stop at the Canaries, and a few operators like Marella will even offer Canaries-only trips.
Travel between the islands is overly expensive for tourists, and it is generally not worth it since most islands have enough to offer to keep you busy. Transport for locals is subsidised, but the normal price for tourists is widely overdrawn compared to the rest of Europe for such services. Ferry and plane monopolies play into the situation.
By public transport
Public transport is available on most islands, varying widely in price and efficiency though—see the specific islands for more information. Do not expect bus drivers to know more than a couple of sentences in English or German, though they will try to be helpful.
By rental car
Renting a car is often the best option for discovering the remote and wildness regions—Tenerife might be an exception with its very efficient bus system. There are several well-established local rental companies that are well worth considering, already starting at €100/week or less, especially in off-season starting from April. On smaller islands like La Palma, the variety of companies is reduced though.
Local rental companies (always compare!):
- AutoReisen – Cheap, reliable and no deposit—from €9/day. Not very well known nor listed on the common price comparison websites. Pickup and drop-off is only possible at airports and on the same island. You must be at least 23 years old, and the rental price can only be paid by a credit or debit card in the driver's name. Ask around and you will see that people are very happy with them.
- PlusCar Rent a Car – Conditions are similar to AutoReisen—sometimes cheaper, sometimes more expensive. Likewise no deposit.
- CICAR a.k.a. Cabrera Medina – Reliable and well-known. A bit more expensive than AutoReisen and PlusCar, but with a wider range of models and a much denser network of rental branches all across the islands. No deposit for the car (but for the fuel).
- PaylessCar – Affordable and good.
- TopCar – From €12/day, but many people complain about consecutively being charged for fuel or cleaning. Deposit: €500.
- CarzRent (Tenerife only) – Always open, large deposits and avarage prices.
International rental companies:
- Goldcar, Dollar, Interrent – Not worth the stress—they are well known for ripping off their customers. If you still decide to use them, make sure you understand their terms & conditions, since there may be hidden fees or other tricks.
- Avis, Europcar, Thrifty, Hertz, Enterprice – Probably not worth the extra money, unless you have a membership thing or get a good discount.
The rental conditions of the local companies typically include unlimited mileage, a free second driver and free booster seats for your kids. As a general rule, the driver must be at least 21 years old. Fuel is not included, so make sure to fuel up before returning your vehicle to avoid additional costs.
As roads can often be narrow and unpaved, there is a real risk of damaging cars by ricocheting stones and pebbles. That's why most of the local companies include full insurance by default. When your rental car is fully insured, returning the vehicle is as simple as dropping off the key. Otherwise, inspect your rental car carefully before signing the contract, and consider adding insurance to the contract conditions for a surcharge.
Choose a car that is just large enough to fit all passengers and luggage, but try to keep it as small as possible. A small car is much easier to find a parking spot for in the historic centres of towns and cities, and passing another vehicle coming from the opposite direction becomes less of an adventure on narrow mountain roads. If you intend to do a lot of hiking, some extra ground clearance can occasionally come in handy, as paved parking lots can be a rare good in the mountains. Something like a Jeep Wrangler would be overkill for this, but if you've got money to burn, some of the local rental companies offer those too.
Taxis can be expensive, and inside a city they are not worth the money unless you are in a real hurry or cannot balance yourself after a shopping day.
If you want to travel between the islands, a good option might be to take a ferry. Most ferries are modern, but they are pricey unless you have a residency status. Ferrygogo has a good overview of the different routes that are served by the two main companies:
- Naviera Armas / Transmediterránea – Has many connections all across the region with a large mixed fleet of regular and high-speed ferries.
- Fred Olsen – Focuses on high speed connections.
There are also a couple of scheduled water bus and on-demand water taxi connections available for shorter trips:
- Lineas Romero – Short distance passenger ferries connecting Lanzarote with Fuerteventura, and La Graciosa with Lanzarote.
- Fuertecharter – Offers daily trips from Fuerteventura to Isla de Lobos and Lanzarote.
Check their website for the best prices. There is of course also a number of companies offering whale watching tours and the like.
Renting a yacht (or bringing your own) is also a great way to get around if you know what you're doing. The islands offer numerous harbors and more than 30 marinas to moor in. Sailing the waters can be challenging, though, so plan your trip carefully. Some nautical information and useful links are available at the official website.
If you are afraid of the sea, or get sick just by staring at a ferry, then a plane is what you need to travel between the islands. With the exception of Graciosa (which only has a helipad for medical emergencies) all of the larger islands are served by regional airlines:
That usually means a turboprop ATR-72 or ATR-42, especially when going to the regional airport of La Gomera or El Hierro that are too small for regular airliners to land on. They are perfectly safe and adequately fast, as you are likely to spend more time at the airport than in the plane. Especially between Tenerife and Gran Canaria there are also sometimes airlines that fly from further afield and stop in both islands—whether they sell tickets for that last leg alone is rather hit and miss, however.
See and do
The Canary Islands are home to 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites:
- Teide National Park on Tenerife, with at its centre Mount Teide, the tallest mountain of Spain and one of the world's tallest volcanoes.
- The historic centre of San Cristóbal de La Laguna on Tenerife, dotted with colonial architectural gems.
- The subtropical rainforest of La Garajonay National Park on La Gomera.
- The archaeological site of Risco Caído on Gran Canaria.
- Visit the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves in Canary Islands
Otherwise the islands impress with:
- Numerous beaches
- Volcanoes and volcanic landscapes great for hiking
- Historical architecture in the old town of Las Palmas
Exchange rates for euros
As of January 2024:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The euro (€) is the currency of the Canaries. The islands are outside the EU VAT area and have a separate sales tax from the VAT levied in mainland Spain.
Withdrawing money from Spanish ATMs will often result in an extra charge by the machine of €1–8. Cash can therefore be an alternative, but bears certain risks. However, since COVID credit cards are widely accepted as payment option, even for the tiniest amounts—cash-only is likely a source of tax evasion concerns. So, you are probably best off bringing a few €50–100 in cash and paying the rest with credit card, in case you want to avoid ATM fees.
Bizum is very popular with locals, and even some bars and restaurants—as an alternative to PayPal or Venmo. However, you need a Spanish bank account to use it.
Canarian cuisine is a mix between Spanish, Latin and African cultures. Most of Canarian cuisine is a variety of fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, generally light meals, more easy to digest in a warm climate. Meat is usually consumed as a part of stews or as steaks.
- Papas Arrugadas or papa sancochada – Black potatoes boiled in very salty water until they are "wrinkly", hence the name, and served unpeeled with mojo picón, a spicy cold red sauce made with chili and garlic. These are often served as a tapa.
- Mojo verde and Mojo rojo – A sauce that is always served with the papas arrugadas, but usually also with fish and such.
- Goat – If any kind of meat is popular in the Canary Islands, it's goat. Locals and tourists equally will rave about good places they had goat in. If meat is your thing, you should definitely find such a place.
- Conejo en salmorejo – Marinated, then sautéed and finally cooked in the marinade rabbit meat.
- Fish – You will find a wide variety of fish and seafood with restaurants that allow you to choose a fish from their selection (often hand caught), which they will cook for you. Two popular fish dishes from Tenerife are Caldereta, a meal with tomatoes, goat meat and potatoes and the Sancocho Canario, a salted fish, usually white, in a “mojo” sauce.
- Tapas – One of the most delicious Spanish contributions to international gastronomy, tapas are eaten a lot with local specialties including garlic sauces, fried beans and squid. A tapa is a light and small piece of food that Spaniards have either before lunch or dinner, usually with a glass of wine or beer. The tapa can be presented in several ways: as a pincho (with a stick), as a mini-dish of a traditional recipe, as a canapé, etc.
- Morcilla Dulce Canaria – A sweet blood sausage, almost a cake or a pudding, very popular on the islands. The taste feels delicious and disgusting at the same time.
- Arepas – Tortas made from fine corn flour filled with minced meat, cheese, or sweet mango; sometimes fried.
- Almogrote – A spread made of cheese and tomato paste, popular in La Gomera and put liberally onto bread.
- Plantain bananas – The Canary Islands are Europe's only exporter of these famously delicious, and usually fried bananas.
- Gofio – Grain flour used especially at breakfast or to accompany potaje, a local stew.
- Mousse de gofio or gofío amasado – A dessert made from gofio, miel de palma, and plantains.
- Tortilla (potato omelette) and paella (rice dishes) are also common.
- Miel de Palma – Palm honey
- Barraquito – Also called barraco, is a coffee speciality from the Canary Islands and particularly popular on Tenerife but also on La Palma.
- Beer – There are three local breweries (Dorada, Tropical and Reina).
- Coffee – Cafe solo (espresso) and Cortado (espresso with milk) are the most ordered coffee variations on the islands.
- Rum – There are also well known rum distilleries, especially in Gran Canaria (Artemi and Arehucas). The ron miel is a sweet liquor made from rum and honey.
- Wines – There are several brands of wines in the islands. North of Tenerife, La Geria in Lanzarote or La Palma have excellent vineyards.
112 is the common emergency number.
While being a safe place, beware of pickpockets in major touristic and resort areas. Do not take electrical devices, credit cards or large amounts of cash to the beach, if you plan to leave your goods unattended while swimming, or when going out for clubbing. Already many mobile phones have been snatched around the islands from drunken lads, especially at night.
The islands are of volcanic origin, and the latest outbreak on La Palma in 2021 is proof that they are indeed still active. Outbreaks are rare, though, and any seismic activities are closely monitored to provide early warnings to the population. Moderate earthquakes can occur, but they typically do not exceed magnitudes of 5.5. Tropical storms sometimes reach the archipelago and can cause flooding and destruction in the coastal areas. All of the above mean that the terrain can be steep and unstable, making falling rocks and landslides a very real danger. If a mountain road or hiking trail is closed, that is usually because of this.
Episodes of heavy Calima (see Climate) may lead to respiratory problems, coughing, nasal obstruction and itchy eyes. Consider wearing a N95 type respirator outside, hydrate enough, and stay indoors if it gets too dusty.
Heat strokes and sunburn are an underestimated risk, as solar radiation so close to the equator is much stronger than many European tourists expect. The latter is maybe even more of a concern in the high mountains, where the air is thinner and feels more breezy.
There are no poisonous or otherwise dangerous wild animals around, and while mosquitoes may bite you on occasion, they do not carry infectious diseases.
- Spain – Regular ferry connections exist between the Canary Islands and mainland Spain.
- Morocco – There used to exist a ferry connection, but nowadays using the plane is the only option.
- Madeira and Azores – Regular flights are available.