Things to Do in Canary Islands
Spanning 20 square miles (51 square km) of southern Lanzarote, Timanfaya National Park (Parque Nacional de Timanfaya) is a unique and eerie landscape of dormant volcanoes and lava fields. Visitors flock to the park from nearby beach towns to explore the otherworldly terrain that looks more like the moon than the Canary Islands.
Characterized by rugged cliffs, forested trails, and waterfalls, the wild landscapes of the Masca Valley are among Tenerife’s most beautiful. The remote gorge offers a thrilling backdrop for a hike—the trail winds down through the gorge and finishes at a black-sand beach.
The largest and oldest national park in the Canary Islands and home to Spain’s highest peak—Mount Teide—Teide National Park (Parque Nacional del Teide) is one of the top attractions on Tenerife. The rugged landscape of the park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is magnificent—a geological wonder featuring an expanse of rugged lava fields, ancient calderas, and volcanic peaks.
Lobos Island (Wolf Island) is named after the “sea wolves” (monk seals) that used to live here. Now a protected nature reserve, the small, rocky island is home to wildlife—from birds to sharks—beaches, hiking paths, a visitor center, and, at the northern tip, the lonely Punta Martiño Lighthouse.
The Roque Nublo is a unique rock formation on Gran Canaria that truly is a sight to behold. At 70 meters tall, the red basaltic monolith is the most dramatic formation on the island. Translated it means “cloudy rock” and after a short hike visitors are rewarded with panoramic views of surrounding nature. The rocky landscape is dotted with pine trees and shrubbery and drops off into cliffs.
The rock was formed by volcanic eruption on the island about 4.5 million years ago, and today is an icon of the island and is protected as a national monument. On a clear day it is possible to even see the Teide volcano in the distance. Often though, the rock will disappear into or appear out of dense fog and clouds (hence the name.) It is one of the tallest natural crags in the world, and is also a climbing destination. Trekking tours to the rock are available to those who preferred a guided hike.
One of a string of sandy beaches and bays lining Lanzarote’s southern coast, Papagayo Beach (Playa de Papagayo) lies within the Monumento Natural de Los Ajaches Park and is one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. Visit the horseshoe-shaped bay cocooned between sea cliffs and blessed with swaths of pale gold sand for a relaxing day on the beach.
Ranking among Lanzarote’s most unusual geological attractions, Los Hervidores is an extraordinary collage of rocks, caves, and lava tubes that loom over the island’s west coast. Formed during the 18th-century eruptions of the Timanfaya volcanoes, the dramatic coastline was created when hot lava met with cold water.
Situated in Agüimes, on the island of Grand Canary (Gran Canaria), Cocodrilo Park is the principal exotic animal rescue center in the Canary Islands. Here, education and fun come together with live crocodile, bird, and monkey feedings, plus zoo exhibits and opportunities to interact with the animals.
Part natural wonder, part lavish beach resort, Jameos del Agua is one of the Canary Islands’ most distinctive attractions, built within a series of lava caves on Lanzarote’s northeastern coast. The masterwork of local artist and architect César Manrique, the underground complex makes innovative use of the natural volcanic landscape, formed by the eruption of the La Corona volcano some 4,000 years ago, and boasts a bar, restaurant, nightclub and swimming pool.
Built in 1968, Manrique’s creative vision centers around a series of collapsed lava tubes, or ‘Jameos’, where pressure build-up had caused the roofs to fall in, making an atmospheric location for an open-top swimming pool. Additional highlights include a series of underground galleries devoted to the island’s volcanic history, a concert hall that makes use of the natural cave acoustics, and an underground lake, famous for its endemic population of blind Albino Crab (a species found only on Lanzarote).
At 12,198 feet (3,718 meters) above sea level, Mt. Teide (El Teide) is the highest point in the Canary Islands and all of Spain. The towering peak in Tenerife allows visitors to stand atop a volcano and look out over nearby islands including La Palma and Gran Canaria—if the clouds cooperate—whether they get there on foot or by cable car.
More Things to Do in Canary Islands
Stretching out from the shadows of the Teide Volcano and framed by the rolling peaks of the eponymous mountains, La Orotava Valley is home to some of Tenerife’s most scenic landscapes. With its lush banana plantations and vineyards, steep cliffs and pine-clad mountains, this is prime hiking terrain and a number of well-known trails run through the valley.
Highlights include the Mirador del Humboldt viewpoint, which offers an expansive panoramic view over the valley below; the historic town of La Orotava, famed for its unique architecture and botanical gardens; and the volcanic sand beaches of El Bollullo, Martín Alonso and El Rincón.
Los Gigantes (The Giants), are cliffs that extend along a stretch of Tenerife’s western shore, towering up to 2,000 feet (more than 600 meters) above the sea. The seaside town of the same name, perched along the shore, in the shadow of the cliffs, maintains a quieter, more relaxed vibe than the bigger resort areas further south.
Perched on a rocky plateau at 1,400m, Vilaflor is Tenerife’s highest village and it’s a scenic spot, encircled by pine-covered mountains, rugged lava plains and fields of wildflowers. Located in the foothills of the Teide National Park, Vilaflor makes a popular starting point for hiking and climbing treks, as well as being famed for its local wineries and vineyards.
Regional highlights include the Paisaje Lunar (lunar landscape), an unearthly lava valley, where unusual rock formations have been sculpted out of striking white tuff. Nearby, the mineral springs of Fuente Altam, the Sanctuary of the Santo Hermano Pedro and El Pino Gordo (the Fat Pine), the largest tree in the Canary Islands, are also worth a visit.
The Canary Islands sit just 70 miles (113 kilometers) off the coast of western Africa. But the 6,425 acres (2,600 hectares) of rolling sand dunes within Fuerteventura’s Corralejo Dunes National Park (Parque Natural de Corralejo) might have you thinking you’re visiting the African continent as opposed to a beach-filled archipelago.
Far removed from the golden sands of Lanzarote’s beach resorts, El Golfo is one of the island’s most unique geological areas. The star attraction is the bright green crater lake on a black sand beach, which gets its distinctive color from the Ruppia Maritima algae that lives in the waters.
Rising nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, the Bandama Calera is a crater left behind after a major volcanic eruption on Gran Canaria over 5,000 years ago. You can hike at its base, around its rim, or down into the caldera itself to enjoy the impressive natural scenery. Viewpoints, caves, and ponds are all points of interest on its various trails. The lands are part of the Bandama Natural Monument and Tafira Protected Landscape.
Because of the rich volcanic soil here, there is rich wildlife and plant life the call the caldera home. Walking around the area feels almost otherworldly. From its lowest point, you are surrounded by the crater walls extending up from its floor. Its highest point Pico de Bandama reaches 569 feet up in the air. The Pico de Bandama peak and its observation center are also worth a visit.
A cluster of uniquely shaped rocks lying in the shadows of the notoriously volatile Teide volcano, Los Roques de García are among the top attractions of Tenerife’s UNESCO-listed Teide National Park. Formed by years of ancient volcanic activity, the pyroclastic rocks are best known for their impressive stature and peculiar shapes, some appearing to defy gravity and others taking on an otherworldly presence.
The most famous rocks include the ‘Roque Cinchado’, known as ‘God’s Finger’, now one of Tenerife’s most iconic landmarks, and the imposing La Catedral, the tallest at 200-meters high and a popular challenge for climbers. Each rock has its own unique moniker, including ‘El Queso’, ‘Roques Blancos’ and ‘Torrotito’, and the best way to enjoy the views is hiking the circular trail around the valley, which takes around 2 hours.
Cactus gets its due respect at this wildly prickly Lanzarote garden, which was inaugurated in 1990. The Jardín de Cactus is the final brainchild of beloved island native César Manrique, the painter, sculptor and architect whose work famously balanced both art and nature. The cactarium, which occupies a former quarry, is home to 7,200 cactus plants and 1,100 different species, all originating from far-off places such as the Americas and Africa.
While there, you can wander the various levels of the amphitheater-shaped garden by traversing its many paths, all lined by peculiar rock formations, various water features and of course, the thorny plants themselves. Spy the giant Don Quijote-style windmill that tops the garden, then take a garden-break by visiting the artisanal goods-filled shop, or by grabbing a bite to eat at the restaurant and terrace.
The entrancing old barrio at the heart of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, UNESCO World Heritage site Vegueta has its origins back in the 15th century. It is centered around the Plaza Santa Ana, a cobbled piazza surrounded dominated by the twin-spired, heavily ornate Cathedral of Santa Ana; it was the island’s first church, consecrated in the 15th century following the island’s capture by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain in 1478. It is a delightful mixture of Gothic and Renaissance flourishes, surrounded by an array of highly decorative townhouses reflecting architectural styles from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
Among the spider’s web of cobbled backstreets and atmospheric squares in Vegueta are several Baroque churches and the Museo Canario (Canary Island Museum), which showcases the world’s foremost collection of tools, jewelry and pottery utilized by the Guanches, the indigenous island population who were displaced with the arrival of their Spanish occupiers. Another architectural highlight of the district is the ocher-colored Casa de Colón (Columbus House), where Christopher Columbus reportedly stayed on his way to discover the New World in 1492. Its ornate façade is covered with elaborately carved wooden balconies and the interior houses relics of the great Spanish explorer.
However, half the charm of a visit to Vegueta is simply wandering the historic streets, relaxing in sidewalks bars, rummaging in the weekend markets or sampling Canarian tapas and honey rum.
The main draw for Drago Park (Parque del Drago) in Icod de los Vinos, Tenerife, is its towering 800-year-old Dragon Tree, the oldest of its kind in the Canary Islands. It’s a sight best enjoyed from inside the botanical garden, which also features an extensive collection of endemic fauna, birds, caves, and viewing platforms.
You can smell the salty air as the edges of white waves crash into the black sands of Playa del Janubio. Beside the beautiful beach, historic salt ponds sit that have been used to collect and extract salt from the seawater for centuries. Water evaporates in the shallow lagoons, leaving the salt behind. In the days before refrigeration, salt was even more prized for its food preservation qualities. Remnants of the old salt production and trade here, including a small windmill, remind of the area’s past.
Today the beach, formed by the breakdown of black volcanic rock, is still a lovely place to stroll by the sea. Depending on the season you may see a variety of local birds as well. Currents are often quite strong on the beach, and the powerful waves are beautiful to watch from the shore.
Get a taste of Lanzarote in more ways than one at LagOmar, where its museum, restaurant, bar and cottages are all wrapped into one magical lava-rock landscape. Once a private home, the structure was built into a volcanic quarry, lending to an oasis-like setting filled with caves, spectacular island views and unique gardens and architecture.
The private property was conceived by local artist and architect César Manrique, designed by José Soto and later completed by other architects. Perhaps more famous than LagOmar’s creators is the story of its once owner, actor Omar Sharif, who came to the island to film a movie, fell in love with the property and purchased it. But alas, rumor has it that he owned it for only one day before losing it in a bet over a bridge game.
Whatever the history, today’s property can be visited and enjoyed in a variety of ways. Go there to check out its museum, where you can learn more about LagOmar and also view revolving art exhibitions. Or just come for dinner and drinks; by night, the property becomes awash in magical lighting that takes its caves, cocktails and Mediterranean meals to an altogether otherworldly level. Then, you can stick around even longer if you wish, as the Lanzarote getaway also offers two-person cottages.
Those looking a change of pace from the busy beach resorts and lively nightlife of mainland Lanzarote will find the tranquil isle of La Graciosa to be an enchanting place, just a short boat ride from the island’s northern coast. The largest and only inhabited inland of the small Chinijo archipelago, La Graciosa is home to just 600 people, has no roads or natural water supply, and no hotels, making it the perfect spot to get away from it all.
With its dreamlike landscape of sandy beaches, sweeping dunes and volcanic hills, most visitors come to La Graciosa to soak up the scenery and getting around the 30 square-kilometer island is easily done on foot, by jeep or water taxi. Along with swimming and sunbathing, the most popular pastimes for day-trippers include cruising around the surrounding isles, cycling along the coast or scuba diving in the surrounding marine reserve, whereas holidaymakers can rent out one of the traditional whitewashed cottages by the Caleta del Sebo harbor.
A 1.8-mile-long stretch of golden sand fringed by soaring sea cliffs, the picturesque setting of Famara Beach (Playa de Famara) has earned it a legion of fans, among them renowned local artist César Manrique and Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. The dramatic surroundings make the beach extremely popular among locals, and there are ample opportunities for exploring, like walking in the sand dunes, hiking across the cliff tops of El Risco (Lanzarote’s highest peak) or tucking into fresh seafood in the traditional fishing village of Caleta de Famara.
Benefiting from consistent winds and world-class reef breaks, the beach is also a hot spot for water sports, with popular activities including surfing, windsurfing and kiteboarding, as well as hang-gliding from the coastal cliffs.
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