While their seaside resorts might get the most attention from international travelers, delving deeper into the Canary Islands allows you to discover a fascinating history of both culture and nature. Whether you’re scaling a mountain or meandering down a historic cobblestone path, these islands off the coast of northwest Africa offer something for everyone to discover.
Here’s a look at 10 terrific things to do during your Canary Islands holidays.
Watch for Birds in their Natural Habitats
There are a range of habitats for bird lovers to enjoy various species on the Canary Islands, from coastal dunes to alpine scrub. Endemic species such as the laurel pigeon, Canary Islands kinglet, and chiffchaff are favorites among knowledgeable birdwatchers.
But you don’t have to be a dedicated birder to enjoy the chorus of chirps and squawks you’ll see here in the woodlands of the Canary Islands. Just look up and say hello!
Wave to El Diablo at Timanfaya National Park
If you pour water onto the ground in certain parts of Timanfaya National Park, you’ll get a geyser of steam in return. This is evidence that the Timanfaya volcano is still active. A statue of “El Diablo” greets visitors to the park, which is also known as the Mountains of Fire. The area earned the nickname (and the foreboding spirit) when more than 100 volcanoes erupted between 1730 and 1736. Despite the presence of El Diablo at the entrance, Timanfaya is not a frightening place these days. Instead, it offers a bizarre and stunning volcanic landscape for visitors to explore via designated footpaths, which exist to preserve the delicate topography.
Visit the Old Quarter of Gran Canaria Island
The narrow cobblestone streets and cozy city squares of Gran Canaria offer a warm introduction to the bustling village life on the Canary Islands. But this is a perennially popular destination for cruise ships, so be prepared for mass tourism crowds. Once you get outside of the historic center, Gran Canaria offers over 60 beautiful beaches. Once you’ve had your fill of history, stock up on local fruits from the bustling markets before you leave. Then relax on miles of gorgeous white sand, soaking in the stunning ocean views.
Lay Eyes on Santuario de La Virgen de las Nieves
An easy two-kilometer hike will bring you to the destination of many pilgrimages. La Santuario de La Virgen de las Nieves is a 17th century church located in Santa Cruz de la Palma. Crystal chandeliers and ornate sculptures adorn the interior of the sanctuary. But the view from outside is just as beautiful, looking over Santa Cruz.
Enjoy the Cool Atmosphere at Garajonay National Park
Garajonay National Park captures what makes the climate of the Canary Islands so unique. The islands’ high volcanic structures allow them to receive the rains arriving from the West, creating a lush and misty atmosphere. Garajonay is rich in vegetation and surrounded by misty clouds. The glittering fog gives this park a magical feel. There’s also a feeling of going back in time here, as so many of Europe’s forests were once part of a similar ecosystem. Garajonay National Park is a living relic of a world that is changing quickly. Yet this piece remains preserved as a refuge for the incredible array of flora and fauna that require this damp habitat to survive.
Visit La Caldera de Taburiente National Park
The severe landscape of La Caldera de Taburiente National Park is a top destination for photographers, who come here hoping to capture the drama of a crater surrounded by the area’s highest peaks. The vertical cliffs surrounding the crater are breathtaking, as are the abundance of plant species, waterfalls, and streams you’ll find there. Located on the Island of La Palma, the national park is a must-see for nature lovers on Canary Islands holidays.
Swimming in Charco Azul
You won’t have to worry about the risk of crashing waves while enjoying the peacefully still water in the pools of Charco Azul. These natural pools are a relaxing way to enjoy the sea without being tossed hither and yon. Since the Canary Islands offer an alluring “endless summer,” swimming pools are a sought-after experience there. The ones at Charco Azul top most lists in terms of both scenery and services. Not only will you enjoy the crystal-clear water, but you’ll be surrounded by lush forests. Charco Azul is located on El Hierro, an island lauded for its green politics. Both cities on the island are operated on renewable resources, and Charco Azul was awarded an “Ecoplaya Flag” in 2013.
Museo Atlantico in Lanzarote
If traditional art museums usually seem like a bore, this one might change your mind. Museo Atlantico, Europe’s only underwater art museum, invites you to dive into the bizarre, exploring submerged sculptures from artist/marine conservationist Jason deCaires Taylor. More than 300 life-size human figures have been artfully arranged on the floor of the sea, where they’re best accessed via scuba diving. The statues were made from marine grade cement, sand, and micro-silica, and serve as an artificial reef system for marine life. Over time the statues become covered in coral, making exploring them an otherworldly aquatic experience.
Volcan El Teide
Spanish seafarers once used the commanding height of Volcan El Teide to navigate the ocean. Back in the 15th century they presumed it was the tallest mountain in the world, and they weren’t far off! Volcan El Teide is the third highest and largest volcano in the world, based on volume. Today you can still capture the lay of the land by hiking to the top of the stratovolcano. Three routes will allow you to explore the base, but only one will reach its peak. But note that hiking Route No. 10 requires a free permit from Teide National Park's administration. You can also skip the intense five-hour hike and take the cable car to the top instead. Either way, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the surrounding islands.
Experience Pre-Hispanic History at Cueva Pintada Museum & Archaeological Park
The geometric shapes that adorn the inside of this cave are thought to correspond to the lunar and solar calendars. The cave and its interior decorations were discovered by a local farmer in the early 19th century. The museum that’s now constructed here offers a glimpse at life in the Canary Islands before the conquistadors.
Britany Robinson is a freelance writer with bylines in BBC Travel, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, Green Global Travel, and more. When she's not at her computer, she's probably outside, hiking or camping with her dog.