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Encompassed by the swells of the great Atlantic Ocean some 62 miles off the coast of North Africa, the Canary Islands rise up from the salty waters in precipitous walls of volcanic rock and sweeping swaths of dust and stone and dune, threaded around the edges with scintillating beaches, dotted with white-washed hamlets - half Andalusia, half Berber Morocco—and crowned by the snowy pinnacle of Mount Teide - the highest summit in all of Spain. Most people know this archipelago for its year-round sun, its well-developed beach resorts, family-friendly sands and edgy nightlife strips, but deckchairs, all-inclusive hotels and pools really are only half the story! In Gran Canaria, rugged mountain landscapes abut rolling pine forests at Valsequillo, and Las Palmas shimmers yellow and white in the sun. In Fuerteventura, windsurfers carve their way through the Atlantic spray. In Tenerife, parties thump under the outlines of volcanic ridges. In La Gomera, misty woodlands crown the peaks and mythical monoliths loom, and all the while Lanzarote hosts scuba divers and snorkelers and surfers to boot. No wonder more than 12 million visitors head this way every year!
Boasting everything from five-star luxury complete with private beaches and secluded coves of turquoise sea, to budget family digs and eco cabins in the shadow of the hills, the Canary Islands have accommodation options to suit each of their various visitors—from hikers to sun-seekers to party-goers. On Fuerteventura, the cream of the crop comes in the form of the Sheraton on the Antigua coast, while Lanzarote counters with spots like the Casa del Embajador and luxurious H10 Princess resort. The best of the family options can typically be found clustering around the sandy beaches of Gran Canaria, between Las Palmas and Maspalomas in the south, while for a real break in nature, the rustic homestays and isolated cottages that pepper the backcountries of El Hierro and La Gomera are the perfect choice.
There’s no doubt about it: the Canaries are a culinary chocolate box that rarely fails to impress even the most devout of foodies. On Lanzarote, folksy farm-to-table eateries like Meson La Frontera can be found lurking beneath the dusty volcanic hills, serving up mouth-watering menus that pit Andalusian paellas against regional meats doused in Berber spices. Between the lively resort towns of Tenerife, top-class Michelin action awaits at cosmopolitan restaurants like Kabuki, rubbing shoulders with the ubiquitous Spanish seafood fare at places like La Torre del Mirador. Fuerteventura also makes its mark, boasting bubbling tapas bars in the ilk of La Frasquita and Casa Marcos, along with oodles of high-class hotel restaurants and casual Canarian tavernas.
From the throbbing nightlife strips of Arrecife and the Costa Teguise, to the soaring volcanic peaks of the Teide National Park, the Canary Islands run the gamut of holidaying activities. Ocean canoeing and scuba diving prove perfect alternatives to the usual beach, sand, swim rigmarole that dominates around the resort hotels of the coast on Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, while more intrepid types can rest assured that they’ll never be too far from the beginnings of a winding hiking trail in these parts. For the finest backcountry pursuits, consider heading to the UNESCO-attested confines of the Teide National Park, to the rugged Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera, or the otherworldly, black-sanded beaches of El Golfo on Lanzarote. For adrenaline junkies, windsurfing, wave riding and watersports also abound, while those with a little hedonism in their veins should feel right at home moving between the throbbing cantinas of Playa Blanca, Las Palmas, Puerto Rico, Puerto de la Cruz and Corralejo, sipping sangrias, multi-coloured cocktails, sweet local wines and frothy Spanish pilsners till sunup.
Enjoying temperatures upwards of 20 degrees centigrade and steady levels of sun right throughout the year, the Canary Islands are always open for business. However, because of the huge influx of tourists during the hottest summer months, and between December and January, when they come in search of winter sun, the shoulder seasons in spring and autumn tend to be the prime times to visit—when the beaches, hiking trails and hotel rates are all at their best.