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The Canary Islands: Things to Do in Tenerife and Gran Canaria

canary-islands_teror
Sandy Bornstein
Written by Sandy Bornstein

The Canary Islands are a year-round island hopper’s destination. Sun worshipers can choose from hundreds of beaches to bask in temperate climes, while water sports enthusiasts can scuba dive, kayak, or sail. For those who prefer land-based activities, there’s horseback riding, golf, hiking, climbing or off-road biking. Nature lovers can enjoy stargazing, bird watching, whale watching or admiring the volcanic terrain. Basically, there’s something for everyone!

While there are seven large and six smaller islands off the coast of northwestern Africa, most visitors spend their time in Tenerife or Gran Canaria. Here’s what’s in store for you when you visit these fabulous islands:

Tenerife: The Island of Eternal Spring

Tenerife, the largest island in the archipelago, has two international airports — Los Rodeos Airport (North Airport) and Reina Sofia (South Airport). The capital city of Santa Cruz is situated in the northeast part of the island. The facets of city life — history, culture, shopping, restaurants and nightlife — are located here. It’s also a popular cruise ship port.

a-float-at-the-tenerife-carnaval

Image via Flickr CC – Philippe Teuwen

This city takes on a festive and jubilant personality during its famous carnival season in February or March (pictured above). If you want a more subdued vacation, you can relax at the nearby Playa de Las Teresitas in the village of San Andrés.

If you’re traveling with kids, there are plenty of things to do. Families can take day trips to the northwest coast to visit the Loro Parque (aquarium and zoo) and the Siam Park (water park). It’s best to arrive early because these popular venues are crowded during peak times.

mount-teide-on-tenerife

Image by Sandy Bornstein

The focal point on the island is Mount Teide, the highest point in Spain. If you’re fascinated by craters and volcanoes, add Teide National Park to your “must see” list. While it’s advisable to make an online reservation for a cable car ticket and a permit to take the peak path, weather conditions are variable at higher altitudes. Those who don’t mind a bit of physical activity can hike instead of taking the cable car.

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Image by Sandy Bornstein

Another option is to explore the nearby Pared de La Caldera de Las Cañadas, which was formed approximately 170,000 years ago after a landslide destroyed the top of Tenerife and is one of the largest cauldrons in the world.

Many of the best-known white sand beaches and resorts are located in the southern region whereas the northern beaches are characterized by volcanic black sand. The south tends to be sunnier, drier, and slightly warmer than the north. The relaxed beach scene is contrasted with a robust nightlife that’s saturated with bars, clubs and comedy performances.

Gran Canaria

History buffs will recall that Christopher Columbus came to Gran Canaria on his way to discovering the New World. Modern day travelers come for a break from their daily lives. International flights land at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Airport and cruise passengers disembark at the Las Palmas Cruise Port. Most seek out one or more of the island’s black, gold, gravel or stone beaches.

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Image via Flickr CC – Becks

By far the most notable beach is located on the southern tip at the Maspalomas Sand Dunes. Many consider it a miniature desert by the sea. Vendors provide camel rides. Be aware that there are designated areas for nudist, gay and lesbian beaches.

Some prefer to drive north in the northern region. Teror and Arucas offer historical landmarks and restaurants to taste local cuisine. Since the beginning of the 16th century, Christians have made pilgrimages to the Basilico del Pino in Teror. Admiring the workmanship of the handcrafted 16th century wooden balconies on the colonial styled two-storey buildings are an added bonus.

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Upon entering Arucas, you can’t miss the Inglesia de San Juan Bautista (Church of San Juan Bautista). It towers above all of the nearby buildings. This neo-gothic-styled church appears out of sync with everything in the immediate vicinity. This structure would be more at home in a large city like Barcelona. Both towns have small shops and restaurants.

This volcanic island has several craters. Caldera de Bandama (Bandama Crater) is located near Arucas and Teror. This subtle crater can be viewed by standing on the hill overlooking the rim. The volcano rises almost 2,000 feet above sea level.

playa-de-las-canteras-beach

Image by Sandy Bornstein

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the largest European Union city outside the continent. This city is the host to an abundance of shops and restaurants. After touring the surrounding area, a stroll along the expansive Playa de las Canteras Beach promenade is a perfect way to end the day. If time allows, take a dip at one of the best urban beaches in the world.

Are you ready to pack your bags and fly to the Canary Islands? Would you visit Tenerife, Gran Canaria, or both? tell us in the comments below!

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About the author

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at www.sandrabornstein.com.

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