Updated: Apr 13, 2020
The Canary Islands are popular vacation spots for the British because of their location and climate. Located just off the coast of Morocco, the islands are 4 hours away from London. And the islands are part of Spain. The climate is suited for vacation all year round. For a non-beach-goer like myself, the islands offer amazing volcanic scenery and plenty of hiking opportunities. During the winter-time in Europe, the archipelago can provide a good week-long sunny excursion. There are six main islands in the archipelago. I have been to three of them: Tenerife, La Palma, and Lanzarote.
Tenerife is the largest island of the archipelago. The main attraction is the mountainous Teide National Park. El Teide is a volcanic mountain 3718 meters tall. And it happens to be Spain's highest mountain. The islands is also very popular among cyclists. The elite professionals train there during the winter and spring before the competition season starts in Europe.
There are two airports on the island, unimaginatively named as Tenerife Sur and Tenerife Norte. We flew into the south airport and stayed in a small village not too far from the national park. The park is packed with spectacular volcanic landscapes. Although there is a cable car taking you to the top of El Teide, we took the hiking route.
There is a refugio (de Altavista) at an altitude of 3260 meters. It took us 5-6 hours to climb to the refugio from the trailhead. The refugio is very basic. And you have to bring your own food to cook in the kitchen. We stayed in the refugio in order to submit El Teide at sunrise. We were there during the Easter week of 2014. The trail was covered with ice and snow. When we got to the cable car station, the final 200 meters were closed because of the snow. I ignored the sign (sorry) and sneaked passed the gate. At one point, I had to climb over a one and half meters high snow wall to get the summit. It was a bit cloudy. All I remember is the cracks on the ground with sulphur gas pouring out from them. Going back to the refugio was more treacherous. I was surprised that I didn't fall and hurt myself badly on the sharp volcanic rocks.
There are a few quaint little villages on the island. We visited Vilaflor. I took a few pictures of some old dilapidated windows which are not everyone's cup of tea. On the north side of El Teide, the town of La Orotava is well worth of a visit. It had the feel of old Spanish colonial towns.
On Tenerife, we discovered the typical Canary Island cuisine. My favourite is the wrinkly potatoes (papas arrugadas) with sauces (mojo picon, mojo verde and mojo de coriander). You will be surprised that how tasty these homely looking potatoes are.
In 2016 December, we spent a week in La Palma. The island is dominated by Caldera de Taburiente National Park. Although this geological feature was caused by the volcanic action, the big "pot" (hence caldera) isn't a volcanic crater. The general accepted theory is that the caldera is the result of the collapse of a massive volcanic mountain.
There are many hiking trails on the island. Most of the walks take one through the Canary pine forests. I really liked these pine forests. The trees had fresh smells and the green colour looks like the new green of the spring (even in the deep winter) instead of the dark green of the usual pine trees. Because we didn't have a car, we always took a taxi or bus to the beginning of the trails in Caldera N.P. . From inside the park, we walked down to the town of Los Llanos. Some sections of the walks were exposed with a bit Via Ferrata but nothing technically difficult.
The best walk on the island is the so called "trail of volcanoes." It starts from the center of the national park and goes all the way to the southern tip of the island. Depending on your speed, it takes 8-10 hours to complete the walk. It takes you through outlandish volcanic landscapes, with other Canary islands peeking over the clouds in the distance.
For a historical note, Christopher Columbus stopped by La Palma on his way to "discover" America. There is a replica of the Santa Maria at the Museo Naval. It was amazing to see how small the ship was.
Compared to Tenerife and La Palma, Lanzarote is rather flat. It has over 300 volcanoes but none of them is particularly high. The island is also much drier than Tenerife and La Palma. There were no trees, just low bushes. Although it lacks in height, it isn't short of beauty. The colourful volcanic landscapes are almost "other worldly" (not that I have seen any other world). On the east side (facing Africa) the beaches are dotted with tranquil lagoons encircled by jagged black lava flows. On the Atlantic side, one can spend hours looking at the blue waves crashing onto black cliffs.
We spent the first two nights at the fishing village Orzola. Because it was out of season, there were few tourists. Even so, there were still a couple of restaurants stayed open. You could get delicious fresh sea food cooked simply (pan fried or grilled with olive oil) there. From Orzola, we went on to a day trip to the Isla Graciosa. The ferry from Orzola to Graciosa took about 30 mins. There are volcano craters and sea arches on the island. Renting a bike and cycling around was a good way to see the island.
Then we moved to El Golfe on the west side of the island. This was another fishing village just south of Parque Nacional de Timanfaya. Timanfaya is a volcano erupted on 1 Sep. 1730. For the protection of the environment, one can only ride on the park bus inside the park but there is a walk on the coast traversing the whole length of the park. Outside the park, Caldera Blanca is a very impressive crater deserving a visit.
Around El Golfe and at the Los Hervideros, I saw awesome waves crashing on the rocks or in the sea caves. The astounding power of the ocean never stopped to amaze me.
Lanzarote was also the home of the Spanish artist Cesar Manrique. He was a sculptor and an architect. There are many public art works by Cesar Manrique on the island. His home has been converted into a museum. The house is an interesting complex built into the surrounding volcanic lava fields. Cesar Manrique's works are on display with some of his contemporaries including Picaso and Miro.
For more photos of the Canaries, please click the link: Canary Albums.