The Canary Islands- Not quite what you pictured …

The Canary Islands–a lovely tropical paradise with exotic birds flying overhead. Not exactly! It is a common mistake for English-speaking people to associate the Canary Islands with the canary. The Canary Islands, however, aren’t named for the brightly-colored birds, but are actually named Canaria. Translation: dog (seriously!). So, it is actually “The Dog Islands.” Hmmm, that’s a completely different picture …

About that lush, tropical imagery, well, that is not quite right either. In actuality, most of the islands are rather desert-like. You might think the Spanish archipelago was off the coast of España. Wrong again; it is off the western coast of Africa.

Offshore Tenerife in the Canary Islands

Tenerife holds a luckless place in history; it is the site of the most deadly aviation accident ever. It was in Tenerife, in 1977, where two Boeing 747 passenger jets collided on an airport runway, killing 583 people. It was a heartbreaking event in which miscommunication, misunderstanding, circumstance and bad weather coalesced in the worst possible way.

Your preconceived ideas about the Canary Islands may be entirely wrong. You will be so pleasantly surprised by what they actually ARE, that you will not be disappointed in any way!

If you are a beach lover, forget about those lackluster, brown-sand beaches in your past. You will be overwhelmed by the beauty of these volcanic islands, especially their black- and white-sand beaches. Completely amazing!

A beautiful black-sand beach        

There are seven main islands, the largest is Tenerife.

Map of the Canary Islands

The Tenerife landscape is dominated by Mt. Teide, an active volcano and the third tallest volcano in the world (when measured from its base on the ocean floor). Teide National Park is a very popular eco-tourism destination where you can view “evolved magmas”–meaning that they have been altered over a long period of time. Pico Viejo, the second highest volcano in the Canary Islands, is also located within the park boundaries. The park is designated as a world heritage site and had spiritual significance to the aboriginal Guanches who worshiped there, believing it to be the gate to Hell. Mt. Teide is sometimes snow-capped, even though the islands have a subtropical climate. Below is a small print of the island that was purchased from a street vendor. It captures the beauty of this small volcanic island in the Atlantic Ocean.

A print purchased in Tenerife      

One of the most interesting things about the Canary Islands is how different the landscape can be on the seven main islands. Some areas are very dry and desert-like, while others have large patches of greenness. You will marvel at the jagged peaks interspersed with pine stands. Note the brightly-colored houses and terraced farmlands that make their way up the sides of mountains. The island chain also has microclimates, including a cloud forest on San Sebastián de la Gomera, the second smallest island of the Canaries.

The Canary Islands are not some Johnny-come-lately, stop-off spot, but instead have a long and rich history. The Canary Islands were the last stop before Christopher Columbus began his journey across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492. There’s a Casa-Museo de Colόn on the island Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Although it is called “Columbus House” it is unlikely that Columbus actually stayed there, but they do display a crucifix (on the galleon model on the ground floor) that is said to have come from Columbus’ ship. Now that’s pretty cool!

There are many historic structures that feature beautiful Spanish architecture.

A church in Tenerife

There are also several pedestrian-only streets, which make strolling along and taking in the sites quite enjoyable.

Strolling along a pedestrian corridor in Tenerife           

There is a Hop-On Hop-Off bus in the downtown area of Teneriefe. It provides an overview of the downtown and a little bit of the history about the Canaries.

Downtown Tenerife

It’s always interesting to browse a local market when you are traveling. There is a multi-storied market with a butcher shop that features severed pig heads in a row in the deli case. Supposedly, pig cheeks are delicious. There were also large animal carcasses hanging from hooks in the ceiling. This might be a bit different from how you buy your food back home!

A market in Tenerife (Sorry, no pictures of the pigs heads!)

Is that not what travel is all about? Extending ourselves beyond our own little worlds and broadening our experiences? That is the fun of it! It is fun to ride in (and on) things, taste and touche things that you certainly would never have experienced at home. That is all part of the adventure.

The Canary Islands have a lot to offer the traveler, from historic sites to the rich geology/ecology of Mt. Teide and the surrounding area. And if relaxation is at the top of your list, then kick back and soak up the sun on the stunning black-sand beaches.

So put the Canary Islands on your travel list and come experience what these beautiful islands have to offer. You will love it there (even though you probably won’t see a single canary!).