Off the west coast of Morocco, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean lie the Canary Islands, an archipelago of eight characterful land masses, each with their own distinct charms. A dependable sub-tropical climate of hot summers and balmy winters, combined with gorgeous beaches and sapphire skies, make these idyllic isles a popular year round holiday destination. Here are our top five.
Sporting miles of glorious coastline including 12 blue flag beaches, Tenerife is the largest of the Canaries. It is also the most developed, particularly along the south coast where you’ll find golden sands and high octane resorts such as Los Cristianos and Playa de Las Americas. At the island’s centre looms Spain’s highest mountain, volcanic Pico del Teide. A go-to for hikers, climbers and photographers, its 12,000 feet summit wears a dusting of snow for most of the year. The north of Tenerife retains a rugged wildness, crisscrossed with hiking trails past authentic villages lined with cobbled streets and colonial architecture. Prise yourself off your sunbed and check out unspoilt Garachio on the west coast and 15th century San Cristobel de La Laguna, a UNESCO world heritage site.
An hour’s ferry ride from neighbouring Lanzarote, Fuerteventura offers 94 miles of pristine sandy beaches. A popular family destination, the island is beloved for its laid back resorts and turquoise waters including the 6 mile sandy expanse of Costa Calma, and the serene lagoon at El Cotillo’s La Concha beach. Take a quad bike or buggy excursion to explore Corralejo National Park’s majestic sand dunes. Playa de Esquinzo and Playa del Moro are hotspots for surfing, kitesurfing and windsurfing fans. Nature lovers can escape the crowds on an excursion to Isla de Lobos off the island’s north east tip. This protected islet is a haven for seabirds: petrels, shearwaters and Kentish plovers lodge on its craggy shoreline, and you can spot hammerhead sharks and barracudas in the surrounding waters.
The furthest south west of the Canaries, the tiny remote island of El Hierro lies out on a limb in the Atlantic, its rugged coastline and towering 3,000 feet high cliffs braving the elements. The island’s a key scuba destination thanks to the surrounding clear waters which host abundant marine life, and its diverse landscape lures adventurous hikers. El Hierro is a UNESCO designated biosphere; a beguiling contrast of dense pine and subtropical laurel woodlands, stark volcanic lava fields and orchard filled valleys. For a superb outlook over this compact island, visit the Mirador de la Pena, a wonderful viewpoint designed by Lanzarote artist and architect Cesar Manrique.
Gran Canaria hosts a dramatically contrasting landscape, from remarkable sand dunes, to volcanic peaks and fabulous beaches. Most of the tourist action take place along the island’s south coast, where popular resorts such as Playa des Ingles and Puerto Rico offer up the obligatory golden sands, sparkling waters and lively nightlife. For a quieter option, try the tranquil seaside village of Puerto de Mogan. The less travelled north offers unspoilt coves, and a conifer cloaked, mountainous interior popular with hikers. Join a boat excursion and spot the shoals of dolphins which reside off the island’s coast. Don’t miss the iconic sand dunes at Maspolomas nature reserve. Wander the narrow alleys of Vegueta and Triana, the old town district of Las Palmas. Centred on two bays, the island’s attractive and lively capital blends historic 15th century colonial architecture with trendy boutiques, museums, galleries and cosmopolitan bars and restaurants.
There’s an otherworldly feel to Lanzarote, a setting of black volcanic sands and distinctive moon-like topography. The island’s owes an aesthetic debt to 20th century artist Cesar Manrique, the local boy who significantly influenced local planning laws. The tasteful, traditional low rise developments you’ll find across the isle are a result of his vision. Playa Blanca on the south coast is a laid back, attractive family resort, and you’ll find gorgeous unspoilt sandy coves in adjacent Papagayo Natural Park. Surfing and kitesurfing fans should head to Famara in the northwest. Here you’ll find a 3 mile stretch of white sand beach, backed by towering cliffs. Puerto del Carmen is the busiest resort on the island and boasts an expansive sandy beach backed by a lively strip of bars and restaurants.
Don’t miss a trip to the distinctly lunar-esque volcanic landscape of Timanfaya National Park in the island’s centre. Enjoy an exhilarating coach excursion around the steep hairpin bends (the route is only open to official coaches) that carefully navigates around the steep volcanic craters. The dramatic scenery is remarkable and you’ll be glad you’re not at the wheel.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com