Canary Islands Attractions
The Canary Islands are a group of seven large and six smaller islands in the Atlantic, 100-300km/60-180mi off the northwest coast of Africa (Morocco, Western Sahara) and around 1,100km/680mi from mainland Spain (Cádiz). They lie between latitude 27°38' and 29°35' north and between longitude 13°20' and 18°14' west. The archipelago extends for some 500km/310mi from east to west and 200km/125mi from north to south and has a total land area of around 7550 sq.km/2915 sq.mi.
The eastern islands of Gran Canaria (area 1,532 sq.km/592 sq.mi), Fuerteventura (1,731 sq.km/668 sq.mi), Lanzarote (795 sq.km/307 sq.mi), Graciosa (27 sq.km/10.5mi), Alegranza (10 sq.km/4 sq.mi), Lobos (6 sq.km/2.5mi) and Montaña Clara (1 sq.km0.sq.mi), together with the reefs of Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este, form the province of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (chief town Las Palmas). The province of Santa Cruz de Tenerife (chief town Santa Cruz) consists of the western islands of Tenerife (2,057 sq.km/794 sq.mi), La Palma (728 sq.km/281 sq.mi), Gomera (378 sq.km/146 sq.mi) and Hierro (277 sq.km/107 sq.mi).
Origin of name
It is not known for certain how the Canaries got their name. The designation "Isla Canaria" appears for the first time on a Spanish chart of 1339. In antiquity the group was known as the Blessed or Fortunate Islands; later the name Canaria was applied by Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) to the island now known as Gran Canaria. Pliny related the name (canis = "dog") to the large dogs which lived on the island. There were certainly dogs in the Canaries in Pliny's time, though they were not unusually large. The Romans associated the islands with the kingdom of the dead which lay in the west; and it is possible that this had something to do with the name, for in ancient mythological conceptions the dead were conducted into the underworld by dogs. It has also been suggested that the bird known to the Romans as canora (singing bird) may have lived on the islands. Still another possibility is that the name may have come from the cape of Canauria (probably Cape Bojador) on the African coast.
Flora and fauna
The flora of the Canaries is unique in two respects. On the one hand there are found here within a relatively small area species of plants from almost every vegetation zone in the world; on the other there is a strikingly high proportion of endemic species (plants which are found only here). Altogether the flora of the Canaries comprises almost 2000 species, fully 30% of which are endemic. The fauna shows a much narrower range of species than the flora, though here too endemic species are relatively numerous.
There are no large mammals - only rabbits, hedgehogs and bats. It is reassuring for visitors that there are no scorpions or poisonous snakes.
Prominent in the landscape of the Canaries are the extensive banana plantations. Bananas are grown predominantly on the north side of the islands at height of up to 400m/1300ft. At higher levels and on the south side of the islands the main crops are tomatoes and potatoes, together with corn, maize, fruit, vegetables and fodder plants for domestic use. Since the Canaries have a relatively low rainfall, agriculture depends on extensive irrigation schemes or on the use of special dry-farming methods. Stock-farming is of secondary importance. In many areas goats are reared; cattle and sheep farming meets only part of the islands' requirements. Fishing (particularly tunny-fishing) is practiced off all the islands. In general agriculture, once the main means of subsistence, is declining, accounting for barely 10% of the gross domestic product. The production of foodstuffs covers only 25% of local consumption.
Industry contributes about 25% of the gross domestic product. It concentrates mainly on food-processing, but there are also a number of medium-sized woodworking, papermaking and fish-canning plants and factories producing building materials and fertilizers. Craft goods (embroidery, etc.) are produced in small (sometimes very small) establishments.
Since 1852 the Canaries have been a free trade (duty-free) zone, and this has given a great boost to trade. Shortage of water, raw materials and power, however, put a brake on economic development, and as a result the balance of trade has long been in deficit. Imports, principally from mainland Spain, are increasing.
The hotel business may only constitute 15% of the total economic income of the islands but 60% of the gross domestic product is generated either directly or indirectly through tourism. Tenerife alone attracts 2.5million visitors annually. Despite concern for the environment tourist development continues to expand with the smaller islands also wanting their share of the "tourist cake".
The Canaries are believed to have been settled from around 3000 B.C.onwards by at least two waves of incomers. The history of these first inhabitants (often called Guanches, though that name should properly be applied only to the people of Tenerife), living almost totally isolated from the rest of the world, is obscure. There are no written records - apart from some rock inscriptions which have not been deciphered - until the Spanish conquest. From 1402 onwards Castile made serious attempts to take over the islands, and this process was completed by the conquest of Tenerife in 1496. Those of the original inhabitants who were not sold as slaves gradually became assimilated into the Spanish population. The economy of the islands began to develop in the 19th Century with the establishment of free ports, and from the mid 20th century tourism took possession of the archipelago.
There are weekly ferry services by the Spanish company Trasmediterránea from Genoa to Palma de Mallorca, Málaga, Cádiz, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Arrecife (Lanzarote). The voyage from Genoa to Gran Canaria takes six days. There are regular ferry services between the various islands.
There are frequent scheduled flights by the Spanish national airline Iberia from London Heathrow to Gran Canaria (Las Palmas) and Tenerife (Santa Cruz), usually with an intermediate stop at Madrid or Barcelona, and less frequent services to Lanzarote (Arrecife), with an intermediate stop at Las Palmas. It is also possible to fly from airports around the world to Madrid and get a connecting flight from there. In addition there are numerous charter flights from London and other European cities, usually as part of a package which includes accommodation.
There are regular scheduled services between the various islands.
Tenerife, the highest of all the Atlantic islands, with the Pico de Teide (3,718m/12,199ft), is regarded by many as the most beautiful of the Canary Islands. None of the other islands has scenery of such overwhelming grandeur - the bizarre stony desert of the Caldera de las Cañadas, the great expanses of pine forest, the fertile valleys in which bougainvilleas, poinsettias and hibiscus flourish. Its disadvantage is that it has no long sandy beaches. Only in the south of the island are there a few small coves; elsewhere bathers and sunbathers are dependent on beautifully laid out artificial lidos.Santa Cruz de Tenerife, chief town of the Spanish province of that name and of the island of Tenerife, lies in a sheltered bay at the foot of the Montañas de Anaga in the northeast of the island. The town owes its economic importance to the steady development of its harbor since the mid 18th century, making it one of Spain's largest ports. Visitors are attracted to Santa Cruz by its excellent shopping facilities, by far the best on the island.The Pico de Teide (3,718m/12,199ft), and the Caldera de las Cañadas, a gigantic volcanic crater, together form the Parque Nacional del Teide, which occupies the center of the island. Established in 1954, it was Spain's third National Park. The whole area of the park (14,500 hectares/33,300 acres) lies above 2,000m/6,560ft.La Orovata, one of the most attractive and most typical of Canarian towns, enjoys a climatically favored situation which makes possible a highly productive agriculture. Its central feature is the flower decked Plaza de la Constitución, from which there is a superb view over the roofs of the town to the coast which has earned the square the name of the "balcony of La Orotava".Some 300m/330yd west of the square in La Orotava is the church of Nuestra Señora de la Concepción (1768-88). With its high dome and two small towers, it is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture, with some Rococo features.The main sight of Icod, which is included in almost every organized trip around the island, is its famous dragon tree, one of the oldest and finest on Teneriffe.
Gomera, lying 30km/19mi west of Tenerife, is the second smallest of the Canary Islands (after Hierro). It has long been a favorite haunt of devotees of the "alternative" culture, but many holidaymakers on Tenerife also take a day trip from there to see something of Gomera.Gomera's central massif of hills has been declared a National Park, the Parque Nacional de Garajonay. Here tree heaths and laurels grow, sometimes reaching a height of 20m/65ft. The lichens, up to a meter long, which hang from the trees give the area something of the aspect of a primeval forest.
An international body has designated La Palma as one of the three most beautiful islands in the world, and it is easy to see why. The magnificent scenery and fascinating vegetation make an immediate appeal to all who explore the island, either on foot or by car. And because it lacks any large beaches it has remained largely unspoiled by mass tourism.Santa Cruz de la Palma, the island's chief town, lies on the east coast, on the rim of a volcanic crater, La Caldereta. The life of the town is centered on its two main streets running parallel to the coast, the Avenida Maritima and Calle O'Daly (or Calle Real), which have preserved a number of old houses with finely decorated wooden balconies alongside imposing modern buildings.The Caldera de Taburiente, in the center of the island, was declared a National Park in 1954. With a circumference of 28km/17mi and a maximum diameter of almost 9km/5.5mi, it is one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. There is a magnificent view into the crater from the Cumbrecita viewpoint (1,833m/6,014ft), which can be reached by car on a narrow asphalted road.
Hierro, the most westerly of the Canaries, lies 130km/80mi from Tenerife. As a holiday place it is still the preserve of a few individualists.Valverde, the chief place on Hierro, still justifies its name (''Green Valley''), being surrounded by numbers of small fruit orchards, fields of vegetables and flower gardens. It has an 18th century church and two small museums.From the Mirador de la Peña there is an extensive view over the bay of El Golfo on the northwest coast. Below the sheer rock faces is a fertile plain.
Lanzarote is the most easterly of the Canaries, separated from Africa by 115km/71mi of sea. Off its northern tip are the three small islands of Graciosa, Montaña Clara and Alegranza. The holiday settlements are smaller, and the extraordinary lava landscape with its gleaming white towns exerts a powerful charm.
The Montañas del Fuego (Mountains of Fire), on the west side of Lanzarote, are the central feature of the Timanfaya National Park (area 5,107 hectares/20 sq.mi), which was established in 1974.
Gran Canaria draws larger numbers of holidaymakers than any of the other islands. Although its scenery is less spectacular than that of Tenerife, it has the great attraction of the beautiful sandy beaches in the south of the island and is well equipped with sport and entertainment facilities.
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, chief town of the province of that name and of the island of Gran Canaria, lies at the northeastern tip of the island, extending along the coast for a distance of some 14km/9mi. Las Palmas is by far the largest town in the Canary archipelago and the eighth largest in the whole of Spain. It has long been a major center of industry, commerce and communications, much of its economic importance being due to its harbor (Puerto de la Luz). Its favorable situation at the intersection of shipping routes between Europe, Africa and South America has enabled it to become one of the world's largest Atlantic ports. The many thousands of visitors who come to Las Palmas from all over the world, whether as seamen or as tourists, have given it something of an international air. Many foreign visitors prefer to see the sights of the city on a day trip and spend the rest of their holiday in the south of the island with its more reliable sunshine.
Fuerteventura differs from the other islands in possessing many miles of sandy beaches, still almost empty. It is an ideal place for holidaymakers who want to spend as much time as possible on the beach and are content with the facilities for water sports and the entertainments available in the hotels.