Canary Islands Guide
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The Canary Islands
By Lucy Corne

Politically part of Spain but geographically belonging to Africa, the Canary Islands have a unique identity. Obviously the Spanish influence is great – the islands were colonised in the 15th century and today the language, architecture and much of the food here is reminiscent of what you’ll find in the rest of Spain. But the Canaries have long been a stopover on the route to the Americas and Latin culture has really made its mark on this small archipelago.

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The local version of Spanish has more in common with that spoken in Cuba or Venezuela than the crisp Castellano of the mainland and the laidback attitude to life is delightfully reminiscent of Latin America. Sadly, little is left of the pre-Hispanic culture as the islands’ aboriginal inhabitants were virtually wiped out within a few years of the Spanish conquest. Each island has a couple of aboriginal sites, a museum or two with pre-Hispanic relics and a lot of folklore, though the most obvious pride in the early culture is in the curious place names which clearly don’t have Spanish roots.

The archipelago is made up of seven islands: Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, Fuerteventura, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. The mini archipelago of Chinijo is officially part of Lanzarote and only one of its six diminutive islets is inhabited. The islands are well known in Europe for their sun and sand, though have received an unfair reputation for being nothing more than winter resorts for northern Europeans trying to escape the cold or young holidaymakers looking for a perpetual party. While the weather is virtually perfect year-round and the beaches are plentiful, the islands have plenty more to offer. Volcanic in origin, most of the islas are paradise for hikers and provided you don’t mind mountain driving, most of the top spots can be seen by car.

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Each of the islands has its own character and unique appeal, so where you head depends on your interests. Lanzarote and Fuerteventura are flatter than the other islands and lack good hiking routes. The former is perfect for art lovers and anyone fascinated by volcanoes; the latter is a sun-worshipper’s paradise with over 150 beaches. Fuerteventura is also known for its world-class windsurfing. Gran Canaria and Tenerife are the most populous islands and offer a good mix of tourist resorts, beaches, hiking, quaint villages and bustling cities. The western islands are smaller, quieter and lack golden sand, though their black sand beaches are still appealing. La Palma is the best island for hiking, with two superlative treks. La Gomera and El Hierro are the best places to get a feel for real Canarian culture, particularly with their traditional food and handicrafts.

Next: Tenerife Island

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Canary Island photographs provided by Lucy Corne.
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Links updated December 2011