The Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are a small archipelago, consisting of seven volcanic islands off the western coast of Morocco. The islands were home to a native population, and were known to the various cultures fighting for supremacy in the region: Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians all visited the islands over the years before an expedition supported by the King of Castile managed to conquer some of the islands in 1402. Spain and Portugal squabbled over the islands for some time, but in 1479 Portugal officially recognized Spain’s claim. The seven islands are: Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and Fuerteventura. Together they make up two provinces: Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.
Ironically, the name Canary Islands has nothing to do with birds: it is believed that the Romans named the islands after a certain species of dog. The islands are very beautiful, being home to many of Spain’s best beaches and national parks. The islands were formed by a volcanic hotspot, and the Teide volcano on Tenerife is one of the largest on earth. It last erupted in 1909 but is considered presently dormant, which is good news for the hordes of tourists that visit the Canary Islands every year.
The economy of the Canary Islands once relied heavily on sugarcane , tobacco and bananas, but now has primarily turned to tourism. The combination of clean air, gorgeous beaches, pristine national parks and proximity to the rest of Europe make the Canary Islands irresistible to millions of Northern Europeans (particularly British and Germans) every year. Not surprisingly, the second largest industry in the Islands (after tourism) is construction: hotels, restaurants and malls are popping up at an alarming rate.
The Canary Islands are known for water sports such as sailing, windsurfing, fishing, etc. On land, there are no less than four impressive national parks for those who like to camp and hike. They are: Las Cañadas National Park on Tenerife, Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, La Caldera de Taburiente on La Palma and Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote.
Tenerife is the largest island: it draws approximately 30% of the estimated 10 million tourists that come to the islands every year. The capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, is famous for its nightlife and carnival, held every year in February or March.
Gran Canaria, the third-largest island, also gets more than its share of beach-going tourists. It is known for beaches (including Playa del Inglés, a gay beach) and parks.
Lanzarote is a sort of miniature version of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, offering many of the same activities on a smaller scale.
La Palma is home to several major telescopes, which take advantage of its location and clear air. It also features some excellent beaches in addition the La Caldera de Taburiente National Park, which has many streams, hills, small waterfalls and canyons to explore.
La Gomera is a small island known for black-sand beaches and lush, green Garajonay National Park. Christopher Columbus visited the island on his first trip to the New World: he stayed at the governor’s house, now a tourist attraction.
El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, is known for natural beauty, good diving and an endangered giant lizard. It is a bit off the beaten track, and popular with those who want to go to the beach but don’t want to be shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists on the beaches of the larger islands.
Dry, hot Fuerteventura is known for good beaches, rugged natural beauty, and the ruins of some old fortifications built long ago to defend the island from pirates.